Sunday, December 9, 2012

L2 "Speech-ture:" Why anchoring pronunciation change with gesture works

Clip art: Clker
I am often asked why associating a new sound or word with a gesture is an effective and efficient method for changing pronunciation. There was a time when a response of "just common sense" or "30 years of classroom experience"was adequate--no longer. Now the retort is "Well . . . show me your fMRI!" Research just published in Plos One by Straube, Green, Weis and Kircher entitled, "A Supramodal Neural Network for Speech and Gesture Semantics: An fMRI Study," almost does just that.  In essence, the study demonstrated that at the highest level ("supramodally," that is spanning or connecting modalities), gesture and speech production are initiated neurophysiologically in the same neural network--but "after" meaning.

The apparently "obvious" distinction between the meanings inherent in verbal and nonverbal expression is a false or at least very complex one: they both seemingly emanate from the same source. That is consistent with Damasio's notion that the "feeling" (or unconscious intuition or meaning) in some sense comes before the words or cognitive embodiment. More precisely perhaps, in real time, once a meaning has been chosen to be expressed by the brain/mind, appropriate body movement and speech associated with that concept or unconscious response are then activated by the same governing network. It is almost as if we need a new term here, something like: "speech-ture."

That may be one reason why haptic anchoring of L2 sound by L2 learners can work: the sound is associated with a unique "speech-ture," not that of the L1 or the current interlanguage, transitional form that may still be less than comprehensible in context. In part for that reason, in haptic-integrated work, to "correct" a mispronunciation, the emphasis or conscious focus is on the pedagogical movement pattern, not the sound or auditory image produced by the learner at the time. That is perhaps the defining (or most innovative) feature of haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation work. Regular practice of the PMP (and the accompanying oral production) for a week or so, independent of the use of the associated sound in a word or context, should generally establish the "correct" or approximate target sound(s)--with little or no further intervention from the instructor. Not infrequently, in fact,  a learner can initially produce the "correct" sound using its PMP but still not be able to hear the difference or change . . . in a manner of "speech-turing!"

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