Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to reach (pronunciation) goals

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Based on Halverson's book on accomplishing goals, an anonymous website which I occasionally consult for health and fitness ideas, came up with this pretty much standard list for achieving fitness: (a) Imagine! (b) Dream Big! (c) Stuff is rarely enough! (d) Be realistic! (e) Be specific! (f) Assess! and (f) Zip it! That is also a very interesting template for highlighting some key aspects of pronunciation instruction (particularly EHIEP!). For example:
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A. Imagine - Especially using visual models of what the learner should move and sound like and can be used for mirroring occasionally.
B. Dream Big! - This one is quite controversial today. Should the model be the native speaker of some dialect or a near-peer model. I still favor the native speaker--with the proviso of "D" below.
C. Stuff is rarely enough - This one, too, is very much in the spotlight in the field today. The range of technology coming online is amazing. It is going to revolutionize pronunciation instruction. But not just yet. The EHIEP system is designed to be compatible with virtual reality instructions but also somatically-grounded (body-based). My view is that full body engagement with technology will be key.
D. Be realistic! - The problem here is that it just takes time to work with the individual to create both goals and a path to get there--not necessarily the "ideal" probably impractical model. The demands on the instructor to frame this well require both experience and time. (See C, above!)
E. Be specific! - Here, too, getting to specific can simply be expensive, especially (ironically) if the instructional program is excessively, individualized too soon in the process. (See earlier posts on this topic and how it is done well!)
F. Assess! - There is great promise here for technology, both in terms of measuring progress and providing remediation and practice. The EHIEP perspective is that changing sounds and sound-processes requires working from haptic anchoring (the felt sense of sounds, not what is "coming in" through the ears!) and also monitoring change, at least in part, somatically.
G. Zip it! - In earlier posts on "hypermentalizing" the research was reviewed that demonstrates that talking too much about goals is actually counterproductive, in effect creating the "felt sense" that more is being accomplished than what actually is.
                                                                                                                  So, how fit is your method? 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

One touch at a Time: Anchoring Academic Word List Vocabulary

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Clip art: Clker

The "H-Team" (Haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation research)--Michael Burri, Brian Teaman, Karen Rauser and myself--is submitting two proposals for the TESOL 2013 conference. The first is a workshop on using EHIEP protocols in anchoring AWL vocabulary: "This workshop presents a word-list, tactile/kinesthetic-based approach to better enable noticing, uptake or encoding of target academic vocabulary in memory and subsequent recall. The main innovative feature of this system is the strategic use of haptic anchoring (movement and touch on prominent word and phrasal elements) to facilitate long-term learning." Hannah Dissen has proposed a similar workshop for the upcoming 2012 JALT conference in October. (Teaman and I have also got a couple proposals in for that conference as well.) 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pronunciation "Vowel-age"

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Caveat emptor: This is a long post. Turn back now, O ye of little faith or short concentration span--or those who find discussion of bodily energy fields disorienting or otherwise!

As described in earlier posts, the types of vowels in the EHIEP system are characterized using "textural" terms, for example: "rough" (for lax vowels), "smooth" (for tense vowels), smooth-dynamic (for diphthongs) and "rough-dynamic" (for lengthened lax vowels preceding voiced consonants.) General phonetic descriptions of English consonants often use terms with obvious "textural" qualities such as fricatives, affricates, liquids, glides, etc.

 Within each of those vowel types, the felt sense of different vowels can be productively described for students in terms of a system or circuit of energy flow, intensity or "voltage," (aka "vowel-age!") in several senses. (There are some other "mystical" senses as well which will be avoided here, of course!)  The configuration or locations of the vowels in the visual field (a general mirror image of the IPA vowel chart for English) involves a set of nodes, one for each vowel, where the hands touch on prominent syllables.

Each node represents a point in the visual space in front of them where the nexus of texture, intensity (voltage) and vowel formants (resonance) of the vowel (and/or word) are anchored.  The analogy I have often used is Kirchoff's circuit laws: (a) the total energy going into a node in a circuit is equal to that leaving it. (A node does not absorb energy, only transfers for redirects it.) and (b) the sum of voltage around a closed system is zero.

The analogy to EHIEP work, taken largely from Lessac, for the learner is this: First, voltage or energy is redirected, expended and captured by performing a pedagogical movement pattern. The action is both communicative and energizing. (You use energy and intensity to perform/say the vowel but it is simultaneously "replaced" or balanced by the voltage experienced and "stored" in anchoring in memory.) Second, although different vowels have different inherent "vowel-ages" or vividness (see posts on the inherent phonaesthetics of vowels, for example, this recent one), the key is to experience them as a system, a whole, not as individual, isolated elements.

That is especially important when the learner's L1 appears to have vowels similar to the L2. One way to demonstrate that, for example, is to do a vocalizing "tour" of the "universal" vowel space, moving a hand slowing throughout as the vowel quality changes accordingly--done admirably by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, of course! So check your "vowel-age" regularly. It is certainly worth the time--and energy!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In-gender-ing pronunciation change

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So which kind of learners, according to this 2006 study and this 2012 study would you guess would be the better at language learning in general or (haptic-integrated) pronunciation change? Those (a) high in sensitivity, warmth, and apprehension, and rely heavily on memorizing words and associations between them--or those (b) high in emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness, and vigilance, and rely primarily on a system that governs the rules of language? Assuming that personality characteristics should  make a significant difference, on the face of it, it appears to be a no-brainer. For general intelligibility, however, it seems to be a wash. Research runs the gamut from yes to no to maybe. There is no readily accessible research on variable success at approaching the "high end" in terms of L2 accuracy, where social integration and mastery of a wide repertoire of conversational and written styles come into play. Anecdotally, there may be some evidence that one profile may have something of an advantage there--but not in "regular" classrooms that present a more or less balanced program that is compatible with that range of personality and cognitive styles. (And I am not in the least interested in the question of the theoretical possibility of acquisition of a native-like accent. I assume that Scovel's offer of $10,000 still stands: to anyone who can bring him a seemingly fluent L2 learner who can pass for a native speaker, who has acquired English from scratch after puberty--who has no accent--even when stressed, sleep deprived and interrogated for hours by half a dozen speakers of different social dialects.) To quote my favourite quote from the philosopher Bertrand Russell: A difference that doesn't make a difference, doesn't make a difference. Haptic-integrated pronunciation work done well must proportionally "embody" all those "characteristics" at different times, to differing degrees in the process-- a "marriage" of mind and body!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sound memory? Of mice and men . . .

In this 2007 Yale University study, summarized by ScienceDaily, it was found that both exercise and mental stimulation (Details not specified but we can assume it was some kind of metacognitive "inner eye" candy . . . ) enhanced memory in "old" mice. In middle aged and young mice, however, only physical exercise did the trick. Now what are we to make of that? (I know . . . "Warning! You are now entering the usual Acton Analogical Zonenubergang, not to be confused with the high-end olfactory AAZ--which could be the next frontier in HICP exploration, of course!) Maybe this? For very "mature" learners, which I will categorize as either older than I am or prematurely "pre-frontal" (victims of too much metacognitive, explanatory massage or too much linguistics--brand unspecified), deductive, pronunciation mind games and explanation-to-the-death soliloquies (see previous post) may, indeed, pay off in better anchoring and memory for sounds and vocabulary. For the rest, it may serve some other function--like buying time or buying off the non-kinasethetic for the rest of the lesson. I have for some time suspected that we have some old, very haptic-averse mice connected to some researchers and methodologists in the field, but there is hope! Gotta get one of those!

Friday, May 25, 2012

To dictionary or not to dictionary . . . that is the question?

In earlier posts I have looked at dictionary use in pronunciation instruction, including the EHIEP "haptdictpro" procedure that we have presented at several conferences. Dictionary training in some form is often noted in action research reports, almost never including detail as to how it was done, for example, in this 2007 doctoral dissertation that outlines a three-week training program that appears to have begun with it. (There is a nice summary/comparison of other-than-kinaesthetic pronunciation teaching strategies in Appendix B that is worth a look at, however!) This morning I was nearly thunderstruck by what "The Bard" had to say about the importance of haptic work: (HAMLET):

"To be, or not to be . . . 
          [accessing pronunciation from a dictionary]
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That is the question:
          [You gotta get it someplace!]
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
           [relying mostly on cognitive strategies and "pointing-outs"]
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
           [unacceptable pronunciation as judged by inhospitable speakers of the L2]
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles . . . 
          [moving them across the visual "sea" or field with haptic anchoring on prominent bits]

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I have been unable to find any accessible research on the emerging use and efficacy of online sound sources which provide immediate auditory models and brief meanings and usage examples--other than short-term experimental studies on computer-assisted pronunciation (not dictionary) systems. In many respects, the experiential nexus between sound, meaning, grammatical features and usage is becoming potentially even more fragmented. (For a number of reasons, I am still very much a proponent of print-plus-electronic sound sources--that you can touch!) What role should dictionary work and student "dictionary competence" play in your method? That is the question! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pronunciation "workouts" and "work-ins!"

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Clip art: Clker
Getting the attention of body and mind, or creating sufficient flexibility for pronunciation change, is essential. If you do a separate pronunciation class--a vanishing phenomenon, to be sure, but one that not long ago was the standard format--then a comprehensive body workout like Marsha Chan's is ideal. (The link goes to a Powerpoint but also available on her website is access to a "follow along" video as well.) The EHIEP approach attempts to accomplish something of the same thing by integrating the focus and flexibility in a couple of ways. First, by training students in a 3-minute warm up protocol that gets everything going, which should be employed at the beginning of a speaking class and before beginning pronunciation homework. (Earlier versions of that have been linked on the blog several times. A new one will be up shortly!) Then, second, by embodying physical relaxation and (attention grasping) haptic anchoring, in effect, whenever pronunciation is the temporary focus of "noticing" in any lesson, it is as if the benefits of the physical workout are allowed to come back online continually, something of an integrated "Work-In!" Of course, the underlying mood or felt sense of good instruction should be that of an engaged workout, where optimal energy and relaxation go, as we say, "hand in hand." Work that in. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Experiential pronunciation learning: sing first, think later

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Clip art: Clker
Here is a 30-minute video by Per Bristow which is worth watching. (You might have to sign up for his free newsletter to view it, unfortunately . . . ) It takes him about 25 minutes to get to unpacking his method but when he does, as you will see, it is worth the wait, very consonant with HICP thinking. His basic approach is to set up what he calls a mind set of the "rapid or creative learner," beginning with kinaesthetic awareness, which leads to self awareness and beyond--from an almost entirely experiential learning perspective. Nothing he advocates is inconsistent with that of Lessac, for example, although it would be almost worth buying his DVD and signing up for his program for one of my students, just to see if and how it works. Being a singer, myself, what he says makes real sense and is probably not all that difficult, in principle, to manage--with a little self discipline and desire. But his basic pitch, that of developing a good, healthy voice, is dead on and well presented. (Even his accent is interesting!) If you don't have one yet, you should get one. 

Exceptional flunk'n pronunciation!

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Clip art: Clker
So I'm looking for frameworks for describing a "perfect" native speaker's pronunciation, and I find this fascinating "Exceptional-level" assessment "criterion" used for grading public speaking performance, on the website of an (anonymous) "arts and sciences division" at a university (italics, mine): "The speaker has exceptional pronunciation, grammar, and articulation, and makes exceptional use of vocal variety in a conversation with forethought of delivery. That is, the speaker exhibits exceptional flunk[sic], properly formed sounds which enhance the message, and no pronunciation or grammatical errors. In addition, the speaker’s vocal delivery is exceptionally and appropriate well paced, easily heard by all audience members, and variety in pitch to enhance the message." Now if the reference there is to the vocal style, let's say, of the Norwegian band, Flunk, then it all makes sense, but otherwise this appears to be but another case where poor proofreading (or poor writing, or worse) is just as problematic as poor pronunciation . . . or worse.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

TESOL 2013 in Dallas (March 20-23, 2013) Proposals due!

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June 1st, in fact! I'm working on (a) a one-day, pre-conference institute proposal on haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction, as usual. (That has been turned down now four times but hope springs eternal!), (b) a workshop on integrating pronunciation change into spontaneous speech, (c) a reprise of the haptic dictionary demo from 2012 (That went just great but the title was clearly not zippy enough!), (d) one workshop being prepared by graduate students on NNEST intonation teaching and (e) another student demonstration or poster session on "haptic-integrated or embodied L2 identity," and (f) a workshop on haptic-integrated vowel instruction. I am only the lead presenter on the PCI. Also, will have the entire haptic-video system available for download by then and am planning a HICPR (haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation research) meeting in the networking area at the conference as well. How about you? If you are considering submitting something "haptic," let us know! Keep in touch! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Body movement on tonic stress and emphasis

In this 2009 study in the Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, Bull and Connelly make a striking observation about the relationship between emphasis and tonic (word or phrasal) stress in English as expressed paralinguistically by native speakers. In essence, some kind of synchronized body movement was (visually) evident on most tonic syllables in the study. Emphasis, on the other hand, tended to be evident in more exaggerated head and arm movement, mapped onto tonic syllables. What it points to is the felt sense of English rhythm: moving along with and on tonic syllables, most of that grounded in subtle (or not so subtle) upper torso nods or movement generated in part by the diaphragm contracting and pushing more air "up" on stressed vowels. So, does it make sense in EHIEP work to practice haptically-integrated rhythm groups (with some kind of touch located on the tonic syllable)? It does from a couple of perspectives, in fact. First, it anchors the stressed element of the word or phrase. Second, most of the pedagogical movement patterns are designed to be synced with a slight head nod and upper torso nod--although the explicit focus is only on the arm movement and hands touching. (In some cases, the PMP is preceded by explicit "breathe in" and executed with controlled exhaling of air as well.) I cannot emphasize enough how effective that anchoring can be. Tonic syllables are definitely worth stressing (and moving) over!

Is physical exercise good for the brain--and pronunciation?

Probably, according to this recent research--unless, of course, you do not have quite the right genetic profile (without the correct BDNF balance), are a little too old, are a sedentary male, or some combination of those factors.

According to the summary, if you are a rat who is ADHD, that is another story, however! I know a couple of those, in fact. There is some research (some of which I participated in as a grad student and have yet to recover completely from) that other "treatments," for example, alcohol, valium, hypnosis, empathy--and a few others, may improve pronunciation, at least temporarily.

So the question is: How do the multiple-modality, directed body movement and rhythmic, dance-like routines employed in EHIEP fit into that framework? Are they closer to push ups, a good massage, a glass of wine or a Vente Carmel Frappuccino? My own read on this from about 30 years of body-based pronunciation work is that there is certainly something to it, that exercise is at least good for enhancing mind-body connectivity, body awareness, concept embodiment, kinaesthetic monitoring of speech performance and staying loose so you can learn.

At least for the time being, none of that seems to hold up too well under close empirical scrutiny. Bummer. I'd better go out for a run. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau - Resquescat in pacem

Like many, one of the great voices that inspired me to become a music major and later study German Lieder, was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Here is a concert video of him recorded a "few" years ago. Enjoy!

Keeping your pronunciation teaching house in order (the Martha Steward checklist approach!)

Following up on the previous blogpost on PTC, I came upon yet another kind of capital, what let's term "Integrated House Keeping Capital!" And where better to find out about that then at the "Source," Martha Stewart! Check out that deceptively simple, 6 Things to do Everyday Checklist. All six TBDs represent principles of system integration that work regardless of context, especially where it is critical that attention and time be managed efficiently. Let me interpret the application of those to our work: (This is, of course, really obvious in some respects, but the specific connection to haptic-integration is worth foregrounding.)

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Photo credit:
Martha Stewart Living
  • Make the bed - (Tidiness begets tidiness.) The interplay between planned integration and impromptu anchoring of "targets of opportunity" such as mispronunciation of a key word during discussion is critical.
  • Manage Clutter - (Insist that everyone . . . do the same.) Especially visual clutter is often toxic to haptic anchoring.
  • Sort the Mail - (Keep a trash bin near . . .) Skill at strategic decision making as to what to anchor or correct in the course of spontaneous classwork develops with experience. That is, in fact, one of the best indices of "time in grade." 
  • Clean as You Cook - (Don't "sink" too much!) Ultimately, the simpler, more focused interventions and corrections of pronunciation are optimal. Simple "pointing out" or "noticing" is generally at best a waste of time, potentially leaving more distraction than lasting anchors. 
  • Wipe up Spills while They're Fresh - (e.g., sauce and make up!) Context, context, context. Timing, timing, timing. 
  • Sweep the Kitchen Floor when you're done - (Makes mopping up much easier!) In addition to having a good closer and picking up loose ends, especially with haptic interventions, "seal off" the felt sense of the lesson so that learners are not "sinking about" the anchored sounds or words as they walk out the door. (See earlier posts on effective in- versus out of class practices.)  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pronunciation Teaching Capital?

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Clip art: Clker
In doing some research on effective online instruction, I discovered this article on "pedagogical capital," which led me to go back and consider some related "capitals": social, psychological and human--among others. (Those linked definitions are included only for their brief outlines of the concepts involved, not serious, in depth discussions!) The point is that if you wanted to characterize adequately "PTC," you'd need to bring in principles from at least those four types of capital: trust-related, network-related, personal identity-related and cash-value-related (minor details such as skills, materials, curricula, etc.) In our work, creating haptic-instructional videos, the term PTC (piece to camera) is also very relevant. I could never have imagined how difficult it is to produce an aerobics-like video for learners to follow in teaching the EHIEP protocols! Trust me (a little pedagogical capital being spent there!) it is. Have been working on a simple,  "capital-based" framework or set of parameters for introducing the EHIEP system. For each of the four categories, how's yours? Capital idea, eh!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

EHIEP Protocols: What are they and why "protocol" anyway?

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Got an email recently asking me that question. A good place to begin is the medical definition: protocol [pro´to-kol]

1. an explicit, detailed plan of an experiment. I love that one!
2. the original notes made on an autopsy, an experiment, or a case of disease. Sort of like this blog!
3. a detailed written set of instructions to guide the care of a patient or to assist the practitioner in the performance of a procedure.That is a great fit to an EHIEP protocol! 

Update: There are now currently 9 basic and 6 optional protocols in development, each providing one or more techniques for classroom instruction or independent study. Each of the main protocols involves a 30-minute haptic-video lesson (composed of 4 video clips) and 3, 15 minute haptic-video homework assignment videos:

  • (Optional) EHIEP system introduction
  • Warm Up Protocol (WUP)
  • (Optional) Body Flex Protocol (BFP) 
  • Matrix (visual field) Anchoring Protocol (MAP)
  • (2 basic; 2 optional) Vowel and Word Stress Protocols (VWSP)
  • (Optional) Vowel Resonance Protocol (VRP) 
  • Rhythm Group Butterfly Protocol (RGBP)
  • (2) Intonation Touch-i-nami Protocols (ITP)
  • TaiChi Fluency Protocol (TFP)
  • Rhythmic Feet Fight Club Protocol (RFFCP)
  • (Optional) Baton Integration Protocol (BIP) 

There are also 8, 5-minute Consonant "Protocolettes" (th, r, l/n, f/v, w, y, s/z, sh/zh) haptic-videos.
Each complete protocol includes 7 short video clips: (a) Demonstration, (b) Training, (c) Rhythmic practice, (d) Classroom procedure, (e) Homework 1, (f) Homework 2, and (g) Home work 3.
Each protocol includes Instructor guidelines and Student workbook. The complete system will be available later this year. The videos will probably be downloadable from iTunes or a similar web source. The system is designed for the relatively untrained instructor, equipped with only video player appropriate for the class size of some kind. The demonstration clips and some of the consonant protocolettes will be available here (for free!) soon. Keep in touch. 

Happy with your pronunciation teaching?

University of Missouri researcher, Sheldon, " . . . a nationally recognized scholar in the field of positive psychology," provides the following "tips" for being happy: "Change what you do, not what you have . . . .Pursue the right goals, for the right reasons . . . Your “social character” should match your “unguarded self. . . . The more evenly you distribute your activities and obligations the happier you’ll be . . . Do what you choose, do it well and connect with others." Let's translate that into guidelines for "happy-tic-integrated" pronunciation--or any pronunciation work:
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  • Consistently and creatively work with targeted pronunciation features in all skill settings. (Of course, using the 8 EHIEP protocols for anchoring change and introduction of new sounds and vocabulary!)
  • Have a limited set of targeted features with clearly "future" paced benchmarks,  "measurable" outcomes such that achievement can be "checked off." 
  • Aim for staged, explicit integration into spontaneous speaking.
  • Maintain a very tight task-based structure where pronunciation is involved.
  • Once learners have been introduced to a protocol and it has been subsequently used by the instructor in class, they should be able to identify when and how to use them in their own, self-directed language study.
  • And finally, the "evidence" should be evident, post hoc, to learners in everyday, conversational interaction, especially with friends. 
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I feel better already . . . 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The secret to sticking 3-second pronunciation anchoring: timing

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Clip art: Clker
A favorite quote from another of my heroes, Robert Reed, former forward for the Houston Rockets pro basketball team: "There are 3 secrets to success in basketball: Timing, timing and timing." In a comment to the previous post on visual anchoring, Smith points to the critical role of timing in multiple-modality instruction. To get the perfect picture of timing, leave it to a pro--like Reed! What could be a better source than a 1.25 minute Youtube training video on learning how to "stick" a free throw? (If due to lack of experiential grounding on the court your mirror neurons don't instantly get the analogy, try reliving an intricate, "Wowee!" Texas 2-step move with your BFF, effortlessly driving a ball 10 yards further than ever previously off the first tee, or sliding an absolutely perfect omelet into the middle a romantic breakfast made in heaven . . . ) Timing. Notice the principles laid out in the video: (a) "physical mechanics, mental mechanics, rhythm and timing" (b) minimizing movement--which minimizes the chance of error, and (c) timing to maximize consistency. Next, the steps: (a) Complete pre-shot routine, (b) Take a deep breath, (c) Do the shot in 3-seconds (See blogpost before last!), which involves three distinct movements (elbow positioning, knee bend and follow through.) That basic framework "works" for almost any HICP pedagogical movement pattern as well: Focus (mental and eye fixation)--Breathe in--Hand positioning--Breathe out and Move one hand across the visual field--and Touch and follow through, in 3 seconds! Put that on your Swish! list!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Fontastic" anchoring of sound!

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Credit: Science/AAAS
Taken a close look at a learner pronunciation book lately? (I have some insider information here . . . ) The assumption is that, other than the usual selection of boldface, italics and underlining, the character of the visual display presented in working with sound is essentially no different than any other subject matter. The best analogy might be teenage middle school social science texts--the book making one last effort to mimic the web. Even if the text has brilliant color, artistic images and other text manipulation as a few do, to paraphrase a recent pop song far too often: What happens in student books . . . stays in student books! INTEGRATED pronunciation instruction? Now that is another matter. Sorry, that's about all the special effects blogger will allow: boldface, italics, underlining, all caps, font color and background color. The research on those text features in marketing and advertising is extensive, all of which seem to come to the same conclusion: Try to hold the eyes hostage for a bit. A recent study (using fMRI, of course) summarized by ScienceShots looked at the relationship between font size and emotional response " . . . emotional signals [in the brain] elicited by the larger font size lasted a total of 180 milliseconds longer. The results are similar to emotional responses to large and small versions of pictures with fearful, disgusting, or sex-related content. Pictures hold biological relevance for people, since a big photo of a predator probably signals proximity to you." And then comes a classic "Well . . . Duh . . . ": "Similar emotional effects on font sizes probably reflect the importance language holds in our society, the authors speculate. " (Italics, mine.) So what is the bottom line here in creating classroom-visual materials in haptic-integrated anchoring of pronunciation change, especially in terms of prominence? More and more teacher-based publishers are going to e-Materials, where you can adjust font and visual display characteristics yourself. For the time being, however, --after the Pedagogical MOVEment Pattern is anchored, of course--stick on a few extra milliseconds of visual processing whenever you can--anyway you can. And may your FONTs be with you! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

3-second hugs and pronunciation practice!

Talk about short attention span. Turns out that most everything we do as humans (and the same applies to animals) is processed at some level in 3 second chunks--even hugs. Research in language development and use confirms the same principle: relatively short chunks of speech or text are fundamental to understanding. What is fascinating about that study and others like it is what it may tell us about how to best present and work with language, especially pronunciation. In other words, if we want something to be "absorbed" or anchored well, there is an optimal packaging, rhythm or even visual configuration. There is in fact, as shown by studies of learning and training in various disciplines. As elaborated in several earlier blogposts, HICP is based on the idea of using "pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs)," hands moving through the visual field with one touching the other on prominent syllables. None of the PMPs are 3 seconds in duration but the time interval occupied by one such action, including the "silence" preceding and following certainly fits within that model. A sentence or phrase may be longer than 3-seconds, of course, although for conversational interaction, at moderate speaking pace, that can be pretty demanding for beginning and intermediate learners, but it will typically still consist of two or more PMPs when practiced--reflecting basic conversational rhythm. Just imagine--in some other less interpersonal touch-averse culture and time--a typical "hug-as-haptic-anchor" used in the classroom with the "peak" squeeze occurring on the prominent syllable of a utterance being articulated such as "How wonderful to have interACTed with you in class today, Joe!"

Effortless pronunciation learning: a la The Matrix!

(Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, NSF)

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According to this ScienceDaily summary: " . . . it may be possible to use brain technology to learn to play a piano, reduce mental stress or hit a curve ball with little or no conscious effort. It's the kind of thing seen in Hollywood's "Matrix" franchise." That may be a bit over the top, but note this: "The most surprising thing in this study is that mere inductions of neural activation patterns corresponding to a specific visual feature led to visual performance improvement on the visual feature, without presenting the feature or subjects' awareness of what was to be learned." The "skills" being enhanced in this research by basically implanting neural routines in the brain were essentially visual, such as ability to discriminate fine detail, but it looks impressive: "The result, say researchers, is a novel learning approach sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance." The extension to aural and tactile mapping is only a matter of time. In fact it is easy to see it working with the EHIEP vowel matrix.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pronunciation rehabilitation

Had a great dinner last night with a friend who is a kinesthesiologist and was reminded once again of the close affinity between what we do and what he does. The word "rehabilitation" in the blogpost title should be understood in two senses: (a) HICP as an approach to assisting learners in "getting" pronunciation more efficiently and (b) an attempt to rehabilitate (and integrate) the way certain aspects of pronunciation teaching are done, specifically taking the focus of instruction and ensuring that optimal attention is paid to it and the new material is best integrated into spontaneous speech. In other words, the focus is as much on how pronunciation is taught as what phonological processes are chosen. A typical 6 hour "lesson" with the kinesthesiologist goes something like this: (a) 20-minute group walk around the park, (b) warm up, (c) specific exercises tailored to each individual's injury recovery, (d) assigned "education" modules such as  planning of exercise regimen, time management or diet, (e) specific work-context physical task simulations, and (f) closing "mindfulness" module focusing on relaxation, integration and attention management. Does that set of six functions look familiar? The balance between mind/body, cognitive/affective, conscious/unconscious, context-dependent/context-independent, and, of course, "hands on/hands off" is striking. And before any of that "course" begins, there is extensive consultation with a team of experts from four for five related disciplines to carefully plan the path of each individual's rehabilitation. What a great model! I am going to try something analogous this summer with a few "fossilized" guinea pigs. Any volunteers? 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Getting students to buy haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching

Several posts have considered how to get instructors and learners new to HICP initially oriented to this kind of instruction. I have approached the problem from many perspectives, including citing research studies in related fields, demonstrating some of the techniques on video or in person, having those who have used the system give their "testimonies," presenting theoretical workshops and papers, etc., The only sure clincher, however, is having the person experience it, especially as described in this post following the 2012 TESOL Convention. This 2009 research study on the effect of touch or holding an object on customers considering buying the item at an auction may suggest one factor involved: touch enhances psychological attachment. (The same principle applies of course to haptic anchoring of sounds and words as well!) The underlying neurophysiological basis of that effect has also been studied from many perspectives. I was asked recently why it can be difficult for some instructors to accept the idea of waving their hands around like a "choral conductor" in class. (I have several theories about that, including considerations of personal cognitive preference, which have been addressed in earlier posts as well.)  For years I attempted to develop a strictly kinaesthetic system (movement only; no principled touch involved) with relatively limited success. The introduction of systematic touch in about 2006 has since greatly enhanced both effectiveness and "buy in." (Along with occasional echoing of the great Nike mantra: Just DO it!--and an interactive demonstration using a relatively low energy version of  one protocol, the Rhythmic Feet Fight Club sans gloves.) The difference is simple: "hands on" experience. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Triggers that "figure" . . .

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
When you look at that picture to the left of the trigger (or Picasso) fish, what does it bring to mind? An aquarium that you like? A scuba diving trip to the Bahamas? A recent Disney movie? A paint-by-number project you did in elementary school? A favorite sushi? What memory (or appetite?) does it trigger? In a couple of earlier posts I reviewed research on the effect and mechanisms involved in triggering. This piece from does a nice job of informally characterizing triggers and prescribing what to do about them to manage those in your life and work more effectively. The previous blogpost on how anchors work, especially the role of visual (and auditory) triggers in haptic-integrated pronunciation work, was addressing much of the same idea. The Lifehacker review of a couple dozen techniques for dealing with them in just organizing the clutter around your laptop could easily be translated into a recipe for design and monitoring of optimal classroom milieu (cf.,"boutique" Suggestopedia method.) It takes a little semiotic extrapolation, of course, but once you get into that temporary "hyper-sensual" frame of reference--where virtually everything in the instructional environment can potentially affect everything--you are at least capable of making some new choices. And when you do, the impact on learner attention, and yours, will at least for a time work for you. Go figure . . . then "pull the trigger" (in either sense!) 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

See what it feels like? (How haptic anchors work.)

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
In a fascinating study by USC researchers, it was demonstrated that, " . . .‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch . . . this suggests that human brains capture and store physical sensations, and then replay them when prompted by viewing the corresponding visual image." Haptic anchors, as used in HICP work, generally consist of one hand touching the other at specific location in the visual field as a word is articulated. (The learner may or may not be simultaneously looking at or visualizing the orthographical representation of the word or phrase as well.) When that anchor is recalled later, for example by a student in the class observing the instructor perform the anchor in response to an error in pronouncing the target sound, the research would suggest that that visual image should serve to activate in the brain of the student the physical sensations of both the touch event and the body-based resonance in the upper body and vocal track associated with the word--and possibly the alphabetic representation (letters) as well, depending on the cognitive preference of the learner. I can see you are getting a feel for it already . . . 

The "Well . . . duh . . . " Factor: Emotion can shut down the brain!

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
This is just too good to pass over. What a revelation! Researchers have made " . . . the surprising discovery [in bilinguals] that our brain shuts down . . . unconscious access to the native language when faced with a negative word such as war, discomfort, inconvenience, and unfortunate [in the L2]." The "primal" reptilian part of the brain responsible for this temporary shutting down of higher brain functions is probably depicted in the diagram to the left in light blue and yellow. (The Science Daily summary does not specify.) Furthermore, "We were extremely surprised by . . . a cancellation of the response to the negative words [as observed by fMRI, in the L1]." Can we then assume the converse, that positive words such as peace, comfort, convenience and fortunate in the L2 link up better? That apparently was not studied or at least not reported. What does this mean for pronunciation change? Simple, maybe. Stick with anchoring the felt sense of warm, fuzzy words and phrases only--for the time being. I'll stay with this for you. How did we ever teach anything before the advent of the fMRI? Well . . . duh . . .