Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cultural body image in haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
I am often asked if there aren't some students and instructors that feel uncomfortable with moving their hands, arms and upper bodies in anchoring pronunciation. There are occasionally. In previous posts I have looked at factors that may influence a learner's ability to benefit from haptic engagement and the kind of attention management that is involved. There is an extensive research literature related to  personality, body image, self-confidence, self-esteem, culture and gender. For example, this  MA thesis by Baird at Western Kentucky University  or this gender-based study of body image and self-esteem by Cheanneacháin and Quinn at Dublin Business School.  In our work, it is, of course, important to be alert especially to the cultural "gestural constraints and spaces" of our students. Over the years I have "discovered" any number of potential pedagogical movement patterns, especially related to hand movements across the visual field and facial configurations, that violate rules in some culture. In general the current inventory of PMPs has been thoroughly tested on all the main cultural groups that we encounter, but there will always be surprises. When we do encounter a  resistent or reticent learner the underlying cause of the problem seems more often to be related to the fit between learner's satisfaction with some idealized L1 "body culture' and his or her own. In the Cheanneacháin and Quinn study, the typical female-bias in terms of body image dissatisfaction was not evident; in the Baird study, it was the African-American males' perceived or identified fit to that culture's male ideal that affected body satisfaction and identity. Body satisfaction in full-bodied interventions (FBIs--see recent posts) is always a factor, at least initially. Time to hit the gym? (Consider taking a couple of your more recalcitrant students with you!) 

Screening learners in pronunciation instruction

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In a couple of earlier posts, the question of the potential impact of field dependence on haptic-integration work was considered. The same concept as been researched extensively in several field: understanding individual variability in attention management, being more or less affected by environmental distractions, whether visual, auditory or some other potential sensory "background interference or clutter." Kwallek of the University of Texas, in describing the same personality style as it plays out in interior design, makes an interesting observation on the effect of red-coloured walls in working spaces:

"Studies have found that some individuals are more easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli, leading to decrement in performance. Other individuals actually improved their performance on task when irrelevant stimuli were introduced. These differences may be associated with an inability to automatically screen out less important stimulation. Individuals who are most adept at screening out the less relevant stimuli of their environments are referred to as high screeners, while individuals who typically cannot screen out incoming stimuli are referred to as low screeners."

Multiple modality engagement (See recent posts referring to FBIs--full-body interdictions!) should work to the benefit of both high and low "screeners." For low screeners, background interference is immediately curtailed; for high screeners, who may at first be stimulated to better performance by "red" walls, have also probably some advantage initially in haptic work, it heightens attention to the resonance of sound and inherent body movement involved in producing speech, both of which enable change and anchoring. (The backside of the screening style, however, is that low screeners also tend to be more at ease in interpersonal engagement.) Try wearing a red dress or red T-shirt next time you do an FBI and report back . . .

Friday, September 28, 2012

Paying attention to pronunciation - II (the FBI approach)

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
Following up on the previous post, it appears that a little non-attention is perfectly normal--in fact, essential. In a study by Constantino, Pinggera, Paranamana, Kashino, and Chait of the UCL Ear Institute, summarized by Science Daily, "Detection of appearing and disappearing objects in complex acoustic scenes," it is demonstrated how the brain prefers to attend to novel sounds and may often not even notice the absence of sounds in the background. That explains, in part, why an experienced instructor can often hear one "deviant" sound segment being produced by one student in a class of 30. The question is, why should we occasionally bother to stop and briefly do a choral (full-body) interdiction (FBI) for just one "problem?" By "FBI" I mean having students do the pedagogical movement pattern (PMP), which generally includes articulating the sound along a upper body movement/gesture of some kind. For the 29 who have an acceptable version of the sound already, the PMP serves to momentarily reestablish (for the required 3 seconds!) what we might call "somatic speech awareness," where sound production can generally be monitored in speaking without seriously interfering with things like . . . thinking, while at the same time, for some, defusing anxiety and promoting relaxation. And the beauty of that is, of course, you probably won't hear the that one "error" again either! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Boring pronunciation teaching? Pay attention.

Here is definitely one for the "Well . . . duh!" file. In a relatively "Ho-Hum" summary by Science Daily of the work of group of scholars at York and Guelph Universities, the parameters of what it is like to feel bored are revealed. Here is what they have discovered:
clip art: Clker

  • "We have difficulty paying attention to the internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli) required for participating in satisfying activity.
  • We're aware of the fact that we're having difficulty paying attention.
  • We believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state (e.g., "this task is boring," "there is nothing to do")."

Clip art: Clker
Recognize any of those student reactions and behaviours? If so, your pronunciation lessons may be . . . (gasp!) . . . boring--or possibly focusing a little too much on the "inner game" of pronunciation learning, especially in relation to bullet #2. There are certainly problematic features of the haptic-integrating EHIEP system, but generally not boring, unsatisfying and aversive -- or ineffective attention management! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pronunciation teaching without repetition?

Clip art: Clker
Indeed. In a good paper in the Proceedings of the 2011 PSLLT Conference, Messum, applying his application of Gattegno's work, Teaching pronunciation without using imitation: Why and how," makes that argument persuasively. As noted in previous posts, I am a fan of Messum and Young's PronSci. The problem with their framework, as he readily concedes, is that it takes a rather radical change of approach and re-training to work within "Silent Way" methodology. That it works in some contexts is irrefutable, with over 50 years of "data" and experience to draw on.

(To repeat again!) my reservations about that approach are only that it (a) is relatively difficult and time consuming to learn to do well, that it (b) has a strong "visual-auditory" bias in basic classroom "inter-diction," and that it (c) depends on associating approximation of motor control of sounds with auditory schema, mediated by color-coded symbols. In other words, the anchoring and keys to accessing anchored sounds are essentially visual-auditory, not haptic as in EHIEP. Our experience is simply that haptic-integrated anchoring is more efficient and accessible to instructors, especially for those with little or no previous training in linguistics and pronunciation teaching.

But don't take my word for it or Messum's. Get trained in the Silent Way so you can work with it in one class and see how it works . . . and then get the complete EHIEP system of haptic videos (which will be available in late Spring 2013) and let it train you and your students in 8, 30-minute weekly segments . . . Note: Versions of many of the basic EHIEP system haptic videos are linked off the blog in earlier posts. If you are interested in seeing some recent, pre-release stuff and perhaps field testing it in your class for us, let me know (!

Full citation: Messum, P. (2012). Teaching pronunciation without using imitation: Why and how. In. J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 3rd Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Sept. 2011. (pp. 154-160). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Accurate mirroring in (haptic-integrated) pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Mirroring, having learners move along with a model, is a common technique in pronunciation teaching, especially at more advanced levels such as this by Goodwin at UCLA. There are any number of applications of the concept, for various purposes. In EHIEP work, mirroring figures in prominently from the beginning. As noted in previous posts, some highly visual learners find imprecise modelling by the speaker being mirrored to be very disconcerting. For example, one pedagogical movement pattern (PMP) involves moving the left hand across the visual field in an ascending motion as a rising intonation contour is spoken. For sometime we have been looking at the possibility of using avatars that would perform perfectly precise PMPs in new versions of the haptic videos to compensate for the fact that a human model (namely me on the current videos) cannot possibly be consistent enough to satisfy the few most radically visual learners. Research by Thomaz at Georgia State University seems to suggest that the only way to do that with robotic models--would be to build in "human-like" variability of motion into the repetitions of PMPs in training. In other words, the slight differences in the track of the gestural patterns is essential to creating a sufficiently engaging model to effectively keep subjects' attention. Rats. Better go back to figuring out both how to be more "humanly" precise in modelling PMPs and developing techniques that will assist the "visually-challenged" in loosening up a bit. Figuring out exactly what acceptable deviations from ideal PMPs are is, in principle, doable, of course. Just a matter of studio time and field testing. Keep in touch. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Raising expectations by lowering pitch

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
At least in North American culture, lowering the pitch of one's voice has relatively predictable consequences. In the 2012 research summarized by Science Daily, summarized by Anderson at Duke, both men and women perceived female politicians with lower pitch to be stronger, more competent and trustworthy. Only males, however, perceived the lower pitch in men as a sign of strength and greater competence. Women apparently saw the lower-pitch male voices as only more trustworthy. Exactly why that happened, the researchers would not speculate, of course, but there are times when advising a student to assume a voice lower or higher in pitch does or does not make sense. The process of helping learners do that often involves haptic or kinaesthetic techniques to establish new awareness of the voice and resonance centers. It is relatively easy, in fact, using body-based procedure to achieve at least temporarily the appearance or feeling of being more confident, what a colleague terms the "Whistle a happy tune" effect. Whether you should explicitly suggest that to students as a strategy, given their respective cultures and interlanguage "identities"-- or even alter your own voice simply to achieve that effect--is another question entirely. In most cases, probably not. Generally, better that the indices of confidence emerge over time, progressively from success and integration of L2 (especially pronunciation) and self, rather than de-contextualized, affective staging. Caveat Emptor . . . 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Washing your hands of pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Your students think doing pronunciation work is wrong, find it threatening or just too messy? Have them wash their hands before class. Earlier posts have linked to research related to the benefits of attending to the state of the hands before haptic-integrated work, including my (regular) use of Mary Kay "Mint Bliss" on the hands before having learners work through instructional haptic videos. According to 2008 research by Schnail, reported in Science Daily, "When we exercise moral judgment, we believe we are making a conscious, rational decision, but this research shows that we are subconsciously influenced by how clean or ‘pure’ we feel." For example, "if the jury member had washes [sic] their hands prior to delivering their verdict, they may judge the crime less harshly." In the study reported, undergraduates responded in a similar fashion after washing their hands in a controlled game of "right and wrong." The same principle, as reported earlier as well, also applies in haptic research with various textures influencing unconscious perception and emotional response. Now will that work as well when done before an upcoming half hour of mind-numbing minimal pair drills or before student evaluations are handed out at the end of an especially bad course? Could be . . . Worst case, it'll just be a wash . . . 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Virtual boundaries in pronunciation instruction

Clip art: Clker
 If a picture is worth a thousand words, it appears that a virtual boundary may be even more valuable in pronunciation instruction. As reported by Science Daily, a series of research studies by Lee at Columbia, and Zhao and Soman at the University of Toronto have demonstrated that those who see themselves " . . . in-system individuals [those who perceive themselves as being inside a virtual boundary of specific types] demonstrate increased action initiation, persistence in completing tasks, and overall optimism." Those types of situational boundaries include, for example, visual markers of waiting queues, recurrent verbal messages indicating one's precise place in a system, or imagined pathways. What the research suggests is that once one moves inside the boundary, what they refer to as the "in-system boundary," either figuratively or literally, the effect can be striking.
Clip art: Clker
The parallels in pronunciation work include (a) visual schema, such as vowel charts; (b) auditory schema such as model sentences used in instruction and practice; (c) kinaesthetic schema such as range of motion of the lips, tongue and jaw in articulation; (d) tactile schema such as points where teeth touch the lips; (e) somatic schema such as vowel resonance; (f) situationally, the boundaries present in signalling a time interval identified for attention to pronunciation or focus on form, and, of course, (g) haptic-integrated schema such as EHIEP pedagogical movement patterns which terminate in touch. The key, of course, is how those boundaries are established, maintained and managed. Step outside yours for a bit and consider how they function for your students. If they are problematic, it may well be time that you get more in touch. 

Sweeten your pronunciation work to get it moving again

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Ever been tempted to try using M&Ms to motivate students in your pronunciation work? (I have used that treatment in other contexts quite successfully, in fact.) New research by DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan suggests that there is an interesting connection between desire to overindulge in eating sweets, for example, and the neostriatum, an area of the brain earlier associated primarily with movement. The Science Daily summary even notes a "moving" occasion: " . . . what happens in our brains when we pass by our favorite fast food restaurant and feel that sudden desire to stop."(Emphasis, mine.) As other research has demonstrated recently, there are often very direct connections between the metaphors we use and the physical sensations and event. (See earlier posts on textural metaphors, for example.) Maybe the more important effect of handing out a few M&Ms before class is just to get neostriatums in gear. In haptic-integrated work, readiness for performing and perceiving pedagogical movement patterns is essential. And at 3.4 calories per M&M, in a couple of minutes you can almost certainly burn off enough calories with a few PMPs to come out even. Sweet. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cooperative pronunciation (fluency) learning

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
For most learners, efficient pronunciation change requires having consistent opportunities to practice the new sounds socially, in "friendly" situations and groups. I learned early that in most cases small group pronunciation work is consistently superior to one-on-one tutoring, from several perspectives. New research by Rand and colleagues at Harvard on what enables effective cooperation in groups suggests something of why that might be. In essence, cooperative communication or engagement proceeds much more efficiently when participants interact or respond "intuitively" or "quickly" without undue pausing to reflect, think or plan what they are going to say. Of course, the right kind of classroom-based group conversation activities can create those conditions consistently, where learners not only can but must experiment with the new or changed forms. The key is in the task design and "community of practice" that allows both targeted usage and corresponding supportive social setting. In that environment not only can learners speak and respond spontaneously but targeted feedback by both the instructor and their classmates can be experienced as absolutely appropriate. The bottom line here: Don't even think about not doing it in your work . . . 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scattergun2: Integrated vs haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction

I am really getting into this "scattergun" metaphor lately . . .
Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
A recent blogpost, "Scattergun . . . " revisited the idea of what it means to be systematic in integrating pronunciation instruction. Here is a link to a solid, 2007 Independent Study by Bradly-Bennett, a Colorado consultant, apparently designed for those who have no background in pronunciation teaching. (There are even a few nice "visual/physical" recommendations included!) One of the "uses" of the course is defined as: "After reading the Introduction and Theory continue to Best Practices, where you will find descriptions of strategies and techniques you can use in your own classroom, using your own core curricula, to improve the oral production of your students." That is, from the standpoint of most methodologists today, an almost perfect "recipe" for integrating pronunciation instruction. The key notion there is beginning with the "core curriculum" and then inserting procedures wherever the content, activities or potential targets of opportunity allow. That is certainly a step in the right direction, of course, but what experience shows us that that approach tends to result in numerous "mini-presentations and exercises" with relatively little follow up, whether in homework or later, related "inter-dictions" by the instructor or learners (See Baker, 2011, for example.)  So what is the answer? Haptic-integrated systematic integration! (You saw that coming, eh!) The EHIEP approach is based on the idea of all students doing the same set of (8, 20-minute) scaffolded instructional videos, either in class or out of class, which take them through the set of principles and techniques that instructors MUST make use of in class on an ongoing basis in integrating and dealing with pronunciation issues at any moment in the instructional process. That is not to say that the EHIEP system is the only way to do that . . . just the best! What that does, however,  in a sense, is bring back the idea of the learner needing to have a good sense of how it all fits together and what to do about it, not all that different, in principle, from Gilbert's well-known "Pronunciation Pyramid." (Which I highly recommend, by the way!) Gilbert's approach is essentially the same as that of Bradley-Bennett (acknowledged clearly as a matter of fact.) Gilbert does the presentational/practice side of things well but does not, for very principled reasons, "dictate" a clear order of march or provide much corresponding direction on moment-by-moment "interdictions." We can do that; we must. Keep in touch. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teach rhythm before pronunciation, Baby!

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: CLker
Think that it is time we extracted "rhythm" from the concept of "pronunciation."  Whenever pronunciation priorities  are mentioned, the usual follow on is "rhythm, stress and intonation--and segmentals, of course." Now why "rhythm" should appear first has only to do with certain phonaesthetic and phonotactic rules of English, certainly not based on real practices in the field. Were that the case, the order would probably be more like: stress, intonation, segmentals--and rhythm, if at all. According to new research by Zentner and Eerola, reported by Science Daily, babies, it turns out, have it right, however: " . . . that infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech . . ." and " . . . the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music the more they smiled." Will one of us please do a study on how rhythm is taught in pronunciation work and language teaching in general? There are, of course, any number of systems that foreground rhythm to varying degrees, especially in working with children, but few with adults, other than recommendations for doing songs, jazz chants, poetry, etc., occasionally--and procedures that focus on analysis of rhythm grouping and listening activities to identify rhythm grouping in speech (all very valuable contributions, nonetheless.) But the idea of systematically establishing rhythm up front first is, for the most part, absent--with a few obvious exceptions such as Chela-florez 1997--one of my very favorites, by the way, which almost gets there but stops short of providing an easily adoptable system of kinaesthetic or haptic anchoring. (I won't bother mentioning how the EHIEP system attempts to do it right . . . ) Just the idea of starting out each pronunciation "inter-diction" (doing a quick, impromptu pronunciation focus during speaking instruction for correction or modelling or anchoring, for example) by doing a little taiko-drum-accompanied dance work would at least be enough to make students smile apparently . . . 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Scattergunning: A-systematic pronunciation instruction

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
Nice set of slides from Derwing's plenary: What should L2 learners be able to expect from their language classrooms? A research perspective. from Pronunciation Symposium at the recent ACTA conference. The current case from a research perspective for what should be the focus of pronunciation-related instruction is (as usual) well articulated. The last two slides are worth the tour through the other 62: Moving from ~ Moving to. One in particular: (Move to) "Focus mainly on problems likely to interfere with communication--as opposed to "Scattergun pedagogy, giving everything equal importance." Interesting. The idea that limited, highly selective attention to problematic targets of intelligibility is the optimal approach in integrated pronunciation instruction needs to be (re)examined carefully. One of the "casualties" of current thinking on achieving greater intelligibility for learners is disregard for the systematic nature of speech production. For example, just because final devoicing of word endings seems to be the presenting problem does not mean that rhythm, stress and intonation can be neglected--in part because re-integration of change seems to depend critically on prosodic involvement. Likewise, orienting learners briefly to "problems that they don't have" may have any number of tangible benefits, from general awareness of the sound system and "healthy" vocal production to affirmations of "Hey, I can do that!" A little integrated pronunciation "scattergunning" may not be a bad thing after all . . .  Much more on this topic later!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tattooed with accent

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
Working as we do with both the body and pronunciation, the analogy between the L1 gestural repertoire and that of the L2 as "accent," not unlike that evident in pronunciation, is often discussed. The changing, contemporary attitude toward tattoos shows another striking parallel. (Tattoos are one of the amateur semiotician's favorite targets of opportunity!) Check this fun (moderately tongue-in-cheek) post from "semioticsfromtheedgeoftime" Tumblr blog:

"In the past there was one reason, and one reason only, to ink up: A tattoo confirmed your status as a scary outsider rebel carny outlaw sociopath. “Don’t mess with me because I am insane,” was the intended message. And it worked. . . Cut to today: Having a tattoo has lost its original meaning. Having a tattoo now has no meaning. Having a tattoo means that you have a tattoo." 

For the word "tattoo" in that comment, substitute in the word, "accent." Many in the field would have us believe the convenient fiction that accent, as well, no longer has social meaning worthy of attending to in the classroom. Tell that to nonnative English-speaking job applicants with foreign language accent written all over them . . . 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

De-fossilizing pronunciation instructors

Clip art: CLker

Clip art: Clker
Very nice 2010  study by Boettinger, Park and Timmis of Leeds Metropolitan University, entitiled, "Self-directed noticing for de-fossilization: Three case studies." It is good from a couple of perspectives, first in how well it describes the  highly meta-cognitive, strategies used by three researchers (themselves) in attempting to de-fossilize aspects of their own L2 speech production and second, by the absence of virtually any reference to somatic or kinaesthetic strategies, other than to engage in more "facial effort" in producing a vowel more accurately. The study focuses on "autonomous de-fossilization," in that the three researcher-participants did not attend classes or consult with each other during the period of the study. The strategies they came up with and their reflections on the process are revealing, especially in the fact that in their own attempts to solve their problems  they occasionally even had to fall back on traditional, less theoretically-correct techniques such as . . . repetition! Overall, the range of strategies arrived at--and the overwhelming faith in meta-cognitive, self-reflective techniques--is wonderfully illustrative of the general aversion to analysis of embodied practice, even when it there. In reality, from indirect references in the three narratives, I think we can safely assume that the ability of any of the three to use awareness of movement and vocal resonance in their de-fossilizing may have been substantial. In the report on the study, however, it is  for the most part absent, perhaps assumed to be a predictable consequence of disciplined, meta-cognitive direction and prodding. For some learners, especially those at the head of the class, that is unquestionably true--for most, nonetheless, in de-fossilizing pronunciation, explicit, systematic body engagement is a necessity. Required reading. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Short-term and long-term pronunciation change

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker

How often do you have learners who can do the "right," temporarily improved pronunciation of 'th', for example, but can't do it next day? According to a 2011 study by Schweighofer and colleagues at the University of Southern California, to the extent that the change was motor-based, that may make sense, depending on what else was being focused on during the classroom session and how things were sequenced during the lesson. Ironically, woking on a sound in several "passes," rather than just bearing down on practice the sound in isolation may be a much more effective approach. ". . . if your brain can rely on your short-term motor memory to handle memorizing a single motor task, then it will do so, failing to engage your long-term memory in the process. If you deny your brain that option by continually switching from learning one task to the other, your long-term memory will kick in instead. It will take longer to learn both, but you won't forget them later." That is an intriguing comment. It suggests something about the roll of repetition, integration and attention management--particularly in haptic-integrated work, which relies heavily on awareness of movement and somatic resonance in the upper body. Here's the question: When you decide to work on the articulation and integration of a consonant, let's say, 'th,' in what order do you first lead them through the various parameters of articulation of that sound: (a) lip configuration (b) tongue movement and positioning, (c) jaw movement/teeth opening, (d) aspiration, (e) voicing, (f) resonance and, of course (g) timing? Then, in what phonological and usage contexts do you next situate the "corrected" segmental for anchoring and practice? That is the essence of clinical pronunciation: management of real-time engagement and interaction. Take your local speech pathologist and aerobics instructor out for lunch. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Clinical "Pronouncephobia": Had-beens and HIPs

Clip art: Clker
Clker: Clip art
 If you ever need a quick personality test on most anything, go to the BBC Science site. Sometime ago, half tongue in cheek, I combined the succinct definitions of Idealist and Strategist there to come up with "Theorist/Researcher," especially those who used to or had been teaching pronunciation in the classroom earlier (Had-beens)--and Realist and Performer, to come up with "Pronunciation Teacher," especially "haptically-integrating" practitioners (HIPs). As I look back on it now, it actually helps explain why many leading theorists in pronunciation-related areas are still not genuinely interested in the clinical side of our work yet. They are still principally concerned with how pronunciation is acquired and what is taught--not how, at least not on a moment-to-moment basis. (Never forget Yogi Bera's dictum: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice--in practice, there is!") They are, both types, important to the field, of course, just in different ways!

  • Make sense of the world using inner values AND quiet, easy-going and intellectually curious
  • Focus on personal growth and the growth of others AND use logical, objective thinking to find original solutions to problems
  • Think of themselves as bright, forgiving and curious AND think of themselves as logical and individualistic
  • May sometimes appear stubborn AND may forget practical issues, such as paying bills or doing the shopping
  • Loyal and steady workers who meet deadlines AND performers
  • Believe in established rules and respect facts AND prefer hands-on learning to reading a book
  • Think of themselves as mature, stable and conscientious AND think of themselves as enthusiastic, sociable or sensitive
  • May appear too logical or tough-minded and forget their impact on other people AND may forget about commitments--because they're having so much fun! (Rather like in this blogpost!) 
I know many "Had-beens" who are becoming hip, in fact. If you are now, or are moving in that direction, join us at the organizational meeting of the International Association of Haptic-integrated Clinical Pronunciation Researchers (IAHICPR - "I, a hiccuper!") at the TESOL international convention in Dallas next March. (The earlier announced meeting date has been moved from February 2013 to March; a first order of business will be to change the name of the organization!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conducting pronunciation instruction . . . kinematically

Clip art: Clker
Photo courtesy of TherapyToronto 
Ever wondered how orchestra conductors are able to get really great music out of their orchestras? Now we know. The secret is apparently in the baton! In a 2012 study by Luciano Fadiga of the University of Ferrara and colleagues, as summarized on the TherapyTornto blog, (or in the original study, here) it was found that " . . . the performance was considered higher quality when the movements of the conductor and musicians were more closely correlated . . . "specifically related to the strength of the coordination between the violinists' bows and the baton of the conductor. Use a "baton" much in your teaching? Not the baton pictured off to the left but a "baton," as defined in nonverbal research, a baton-like gesture on a word that increases emphasis or loudness. You probably do it all the time, if not holding a pencil then just with your hand "beating" out the stressed syllable of a word in the air--or on the desk. One of the most effective EHIEP pedagogical movement patterns, in fact, uses an actual baton or something similar, such as a chopstick or big pencil. In one application of the technique, students move their "batons" along with their instructors, embodying a couple dozen rhythm patterns and intonation contours, along with anchoring stressed syllables. Later, students use the baton to assist them in studying and anchoring bits of language of varying sizes and intensities. What the research suggests is that the baton practice, itself, with learners closely mirroring instructor baton movements may enhance both the expressiveness of the language being targeted and the relationship between leader and followers. Must "conduct" some research on that, myself!

Disembodied pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
In an interesting 2008 review of " . .  . recommended pronunciation teaching approaches and techniques that are otherwise dispersed throughout the literature . . "Gilner, of Nagoya Foreign Language University, presents what I would term the "state of the art in disembodied pronunciation teaching." (See earlier post on pronunciation teaching as performance art.) It is actually a pretty good summary of the various approaches, basically two paragraphs on each. A concise reference . . . sort of.  What is missing is any reference to the somatic, other than a note from cognitive phonologist Fraser (2006) that ", , , methods that work well “are based on the insight that pronunciation is a cognitive skill… [and] involves both ‘knowing’ things (subconsciously) about language, and being able to do things physically with the body . . . '"

Although most generally mention that you might use kinaesthetic anchors such as rubber bands, hand clapping or other "things with the body," at least paying "lip service" to kinaesthetic--or even haptic engagement, that is, I think, an accurate picture of the field today. Gilner is also right about the pieces of methods being "dispersed throughout the [body of the] literature." This is clearly the end of pronunciation teaching as we know it, scattered and disembodied . . . or the beginning. Keep in touch. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Aping good pronunciation teachers

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
(I could also have titled the post "EHIEPing . . . !) Have often been asked about the impact of having learners mirror the pedagogical movement patterns (PMP) of instructors. For example, in doing a correction of the stressed vowel of a repaired word or the rhythm or intonation patterns of a phrase or clause, we generally ask the learner to do the PMP along with us as we both articulate the word, simultaneously. Although learners can learn the PMPs from the haptic videos, instructors can do the training themselves, which involves having learners "dance" along with them for periods of about 3 minutes at a time. (See earlier posts on the meaning of "3-minute" physical routines in learning, in general.) In psychotherapy, the importance of mirroring, both by client and therapist is well understood and practiced very systematically. What Yale psychologist, Santos, confirmed in the case of Capuchin monkeys was that "people warm up to us when we unconsciously mimic them." Apparently what that implies is that your students may not love you anymore if they are EHIEPing your PMPs but you will have no choice but to give them better grades. What a concept! It works in both directions. As Santos notes, the effective communicator mirrors the verbal and nonverbal communication of the other unconsciously anyway (as does his or her mirror neurons as well, of course!) So, EHIEP your students and they'll ape you in return. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pronunciation coaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Coaching is big. In many ways, the model of the pronunciation-integrating teaching (PIT) is that of a coach, as defined by the International Coaching Federation: "Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential." To get a better sense of what coaching is really about, especially as it relates to physical training, I went to one of my favorite coaches, Tom Landry legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys. EHIEP work tends to be more "coaching" related than more traditional instructor roles. Here are a few quotes from Coach Landry, with the obvious EHIEP application of the principle involved:  
  • "A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be." Providing realistic assessment, along with achievable goals that learners can grasp, is critical. 
  • "Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan." Exercise persistence depends primarily on a plan that produces consistent evidence of incremental progress.
  • "I don't believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game." Developing confidence in class and in homework practice, outside of authentic conversation, is both achievable and essential. 
  • "The secret to winning is constant, consistent management." Management of the pedagogical  process, attention within the visual field and expression of emotion is, indeed, the secret. 
And also from Coach Landry, "Right after the game, say as little as possible." Same principle applies before and during as well. I'll leave it at that . . . 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The six worst mistakes in pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Stumbled onto a nice list of "the 6 WORST things you can do if you want to ignite your body's own fat-burning furnace and get lean, strong & totally ripped in less time," at When it comes to efficient exercising, these are the people who know what it is about. And, as I have said more than occasionally here, the principles involved in training the body (Lessac 1967) generally apply directly to pronunciation work, both in class activity and homework. So, not surprisingly, do the "mistakes:"
  • Doing isolated exercises - Working on pronunciation out of context has been pretty much discredited by leading theorists. In practice, however, research suggests that most instructors probably don't know how to do that very well. 
  • Working out with machines - Exercise machines isolate muscles. Using "machines" exclusively, at least at this point in the development of computer assisted instruction, still seems to be of marginal benefit to most learners. The EHIEP system does introduce techniques with video but that is done primarily to prepare learners so that instructors can use those techniques in class. 
  • Doing long bouts of cardio - The research on the effects on the body of extended periods of accelerated aerobic exercise such as running are clear: it does "clear" the mind (and conveys some related, long term benefits) but does relatively little in terms of building the body or permanent weight loss. Likewise, in pronunciation work, highly motivating procedures that depend upon inordinately on fun and excitability, for example, are probably not the most efficient uses of the learner's time. (There are several earlier posts that address this issue.) 
  • Doing crunches and sit ups to get six-pack abs - "Abs" are the great cosmetic "Holy Grail" of the exercise industry. Like the first two bullets above, isolated decontextualized, nonsystemic practice of individual sounds generally does not work. A learner with a "th" problem, for example, needs a systemic way to integrate back in all the words that have a repaired "th" in them. In general, that includes a pre-practice warm up of some kind and very focused rhythm work. 
  • Repeating the same workout routines, over and over. There are any number of reasons for that, but the most important is that the body will almost inevitably "beat you" in finding a way to avoid the pain and not continue improving. The same goes for excessive repetition of wordlists, etc. (There are some systems that do a great deal of repetition effectively but those generally involve choral repetition with a very savvy instructor.) The EHIEP system focuses on efficient anchoring, with as few repetitions as necessary, generally 4 or 5, max. 
  • Doing long workouts - One of the greatest breakthroughs in the last decade in physical training has been the discovery that relatively short, highly selective, sequenced and spaced exercise is far more effective than long sessions--and never on consecutive days. We've discovered that short, 1 or 2-minute interventions in class and 20-minute homework practice routines (done every other day) are best. 

If I'm not mistaken, that sums it up pretty well!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Perfect form in pronunciation teaching

(Note: Stress is on the 2nd syllable of the first word in the title of this post!) Probably the best way to "grasp" (to use our favorite haptic metaphor) the place of form in both learning and memory is to use your favorite sport or musical performance "instrument," the one you have some extended experience with, the one you learned or seriously worked at from scratch. Mine, as you may have guessed, is running. This 2004 article from Runners World on perfect running form, with a "touch" of analogical extension could apply equally to any physical art (See recent post on pronunciation work as art form.) The categories of attention management are:
Photo credit: Runners World
  • "Head Tilt . . . ahead naturally . . . scan the horizon . . . Don't allow your chin to jut out."
  • "Shoulders . . . should be low and loose . . . remain level "
  • "Arms (and hands) . . . When you feel your fists clenching or your forearms tensing, drop your arms to your sides and shake them out for a few seconds . . ."
  • "Torso . . . If you start to slouch . . . take a deep breath and feel yourself naturally straighten . . . "
  • "Hips are your center of gravity, . . . think of your pelvis as a bowl filled with marbles, then try not to spill the marbles by tilting the bowl." (Losing your "marbles" lately?)
  • "Legs/Stride . . . your feet should land directly underneath your body . . . your knee should be slightly flexed. . . " 
  • "Ankles/Feet . . . Keep your ankle flexed . . . roll onto your toes . . . feet should not slap loudly . . . springy and quiet." (I love those last two descriptors!!!) 
clip art: Clker
One of the "challenges" for us haptic-integrating instructors, of course, is presenting a"visual speaking" model such that our body rhythm and posture present an appropriate model for students, not just in anchoring but in all classroom engagement and discourse. No need to be perfect, of course, but we should always be working on perfecting it, along with our students. Check with your mirror or your latest moving video of yourself in the classroom. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The pronunciation of vocabulary acquisition

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
There any number of studies, especially in computer assisted instruction, that include some consideration of the contribution of pronunciation instruction to vocabulary acquisition. Although it is intuitively obvious that knowing the pronunciation of a word (or attention to pronunciation while it is being learned and anchored) helps in learning its meaning and using it later--if only in writing, it is, of course, not essential, as in the case of the deaf or others who can read an L2 reasonable well but have no idea how the words are pronounced.  It has been difficult to find credible empirical research that isolates the "benefit" of pronunciation work to vocabulary acquisition. (If you know of a good study, please link it to this post.) There are many that include some kind of relatively informal student opinion response data from questionnaires on the subject such as this from Huang and colleagues at Taipei Teachers College that focus on general phonological awareness training. Likewise, the case that haptic anchoring enhances learning of new and changed sound seems a relative slam-dunk at this point but how that process also supports vocabulary acquisition may be an even more important question. Anecdotally, from our experience with the EHIEP pedagogical movement patterns and pronunciation teaching experience in general, that seems a near slam-dunk as well. So, how pronounced is your "vocabulary instruction?" More on this in upcoming posts--and hopefully a workshop at the 2013 TESOL Conference in Dallas next March!