Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An "object lesson" in the use of gesture in pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Forgive the lame double entendre in the title of the blogpost--there is, nonetheless, a potentially useful finding (or insight) in this recent research on the interrelation between gesture and speech. (The equally lame title of the Science Dailey summary, "Gestures fulfill a big role in language," also does not do justice to the importance what is being investigated!) Although there have been numerous other studies that have explored the role of gesture in communication and the brain, this one highlights a slightly different perspective--which I like: the brain tends to expect speech to accompany gesture except when the hand is holding or manipulating an object. In pronunciation work the use of gadgets, machines and other "tools" is common place. For years I was an enthusiastic applier of many of them: rubber bands, balls, batons, pencils, boxing gloves, kazoos, sticks (some of which I still use occasionally), red gloves that look like tongues, plastic sink traps that go from mouth to ear, bananas, cuisenaire rods, marbles, plastic earthworms, juice harps, slide whistles, bongo drums, xylophones, desk tops, etc. As noted in earlier blogposts, even clapping hands in doing rhythm work may not be all that effective or efficient. (In EHIEP instruction, the use of objects is extremely limited, except in the case of initial focus on some problematic consonants.) If it is the case, that linking speech with objects may work against our natural neurological wiring, that touching an object in effect may serve to partially "ground out" auditory processing and memory, what might that imply for pronunciation teaching? Using such paraphernalia may be, at best,  little more than a gesture . . . 


Angelina Van Dyke said...

This is rather liberating to know!

I came across this explanation of how Islam is reinforced in adherents:

The relationship between prayer, recited words, and ritualistic movement forms the second of the five ‘pillars of Islam’. Words by themselves fade from memory and vanish in the air. However, words—and general theories which are constructed using words—can be given mental stability through repetition, either by repeating the words themselves or by associating these words with actions which are repeated.

Bill Acton said...

I concur. Your last point is interesting. I suspect that the "optimal" system from that perspective employs a very dynamic balance between speech, movement and repetition, which is realized differently depending on the state of development of the learner, etc.

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