Sunday, December 29, 2013

Time to change your (pronunciation) teaching system?

Yes. Well . . . maybe. Systems change theory as it relates to pronunciation teaching and body-based training methods has always intrigued me. (See several previous posts on that and related topics.) One of the delights (and basics) of graduate instruction is helping practitioners articulate explicit models of how they, themselves, do things--before they encounter or are forced to work with new frameworks.

Not surprisingly, most who have a coherent method that they have either developed or adopted/adapted and have substantial experience using it in the classroom--prove to be reasonably good at evaluating, modifying and/or dumping it. (Definition of coherent method: internally consistent and held together by a simple, transparent theory of some kind.)

Photo credit: Mens
There was recently a nice article posted on the Men's Health website by Dan John, a popular trainer. I have not linked to that piece directly because of "adjacent" material in the margins that might be distracting . . . but it ends with this note: "Dive into a new program every so often and immerse yourself in it. Then, after you finish it, go ahead and critique it. Mine the gems, and then adapt and adopt them into your normal training. But, first, finish what you started." You can, by the way, find  Dan's awesome kettlebell program --which I am dying to try in its entirety, of course, sometime--here!)

Bottom here. Pronunciation teaching is in a very important sense a "physical (as well as cognitive) practice." Haptic pronunciation teaching balances brain and body engagement better than most anything else around. If you are happy with your pronunciation method now--and can fairly assess its results based on experiencing it as a "coherent system," . . . good! If not, try out AH-EPS v2.0 from Dan's experiential perspective: Do it, then critique it. It'll at least ring your "kettlebell." Promise. (Email me at if you want more information before it rolls out next week.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Exciting pronunciation improvement: the "Harvard way," so to speak!

Note: Decide whether to process "exciting" as a gerund or adjective--or both (preferred) before reading this post. 

Photo credit:
After decades of trying to dial down anxiety in pronunciation teaching, having students calm down, relax or get in the zone affectively, leave it to Harvard researchers to "discover" that getting excited is actually a better state of mind to be in when preparing for what would normally be some anxiety-provoking activities or challenges. The results of the experiments, reported by  Brooks of the Harvard School of Business, and reported by Science Daily, demonstrated, "that simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety."

That is big. The basic premise of the studies was the value of having subjects practice saying things out loud like "I'm excited about X," or, alternatively, "I'm calm about X . . . "  Those using the positive approach turned out to be consistently better at performing the task ahead.  Furthermore, Brooks notes that, "  . . . It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement." What the "excited talk" subjects experienced was both more excitement up front and lower anxiety during the performance task itself (measured in part by heart rate.)

Such applications of "Positive"psychology" have been around for a long time. The mechanism behind such results is clear: professed motivation, even if somewhat "insincere" and artificial, in some, relatively limited contexts works well. The Harvard studies appear to have focused primarily on public oral performance, such as giving a speech. Speaking. See the connection? The subjects were already speaking more confidently before they had began . . . speaking.

In haptic pronunciation teaching (and probably every good public speaking training system), in part because of the"full body" engagement, we see the same phenomenon: learners do, indeed, get "excited" (or maybe even a bit agitated?) up front, but then demonstrate less anxiety in responding to modelling and during oral practice and error correction. Exciting, eh?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The "kitchen sink" of pronunciation teaching and research

Have a little quiz for you. Before you read the rest of this post below the "bottom line," look over the list of activities from the description of a pronunciation/accent improvement course in a 2012 study by Mirtoska of South East European University, Tetovo, Macedonia. It is reported to have included, (a) awareness raising activities, (b) pronunciation coaching by native speakers, and (c) authentic language exposure activities, including:

  • a semester-long course, "Phonetics and phonology," prior to the study
  • peer presentations
  • role plays
  • series quizzes (based on watching "Desperate Housewives" as homework)
  • segmental and suprasegmental teaching and activities using the book “Pronounce it perfectly in English,” among other books 
  • (oral) reading activities
  • Smith/Beckman (2005) Noticing-Reformulation task work

Question: Assuming that the activities were reasonably appropriate for the (college student) English BA student population in Albania, does that not sound like a great set of procedures?
Of course, it does. The problem in this case--as in almost all class-room based pronunciation teaching research--is that the report in the article gives us not a clue as to how much of any of those procedures were done or how effectively they were done. In fairness, the focus of the research was not specifically on what works but does anything work in that context to improve pronunciation.

The results of the study are fascinating. With all of that great looking, "theoretically state of the art" instruction, the control group did about as well as the experimental group. "Both groups were pre- and post recorded over a period of one semester which is approximately 4 months at this university. The participants were recorded before (and after) the semester . . . using a test consisting of three parts; spontaneous speech, for which they answered three questions, reading a paragraph out loud and reading tongue twisters." Both groups demonstrated about equal, yet statistically significant improvement in "accent" by those measures. 

Why? What may have helped improve pronunciation (or why the control group did so well) could not be factored out or even speculated on. That is actually not a bad picture of the "State of the art" today in the field. In controlled experiments, it is now well established that pronunciation teaching can make a difference. (What a relief, that "science" has at least confirmed that!)

Once pronunciation work goes into the classroom, however, the dynamic nature of that setting makes evaluating the effectiveness of any one or several procedures simultaneously exceedingly difficult. Fair enough.

So what is a practitioner to do? For the time being: Either throw in everything (that is theoretically or methodologically acceptable/correct at the problem) but the kitchen sink, as was apparently done here--or use a coherent system that embodies only essential, scaffolded, haptic-integrated procedures. I can even recommend one in fact . . . (AH-EPS, v2.0 will be available soon.)

Next post will look at how to evaluate a pronunciation teaching system--and how not to. Keep in touch.

Monday, December 23, 2013

(Haptic pronunciation) movement training: mouse to mouth?

Clip art:
New study by Kording of Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, summarized by Science Daily, purports to show that " . . . computer use not only changes our lifestyle but also fundamentally affects the neural representation of our movements . . . " Really? The research compared the "movement generalizability" ability of heavy computer users with those who were not. Those proficient "mousers" were, not surprisingly, able to more quickly learn new mouse patterns.

What is of particular interest to haptic pronunciation teaching, however, was that after about two weeks of specifically designed mouse-based computer game playing, the former "non-mousers" had, in effect, caught up. Their brains and hands had achieved what appeared to be the same "broad movement generalization" capability. This helps explain a key phase or problem in haptic pronunciation learning--and suggests something of a solution. 

For some learners, being able to follow along with the pedagogical movement patterns (hand and arm movements across the visual field accompanied by speaking a word or phrase, concluding in hands touching on a stressed syllable) used by instructors can be initially difficult. In our experience it may take up to a month for them to be able to begin easily generalizing a movement pattern of a vowel, for example, in practicing pronunciation of new words.

There are any number of studies reported here earlier considering why that may be the case, from pedagogical to psycho-social to neurological. The concept of training learners to be better at learning movement first, in a low key, maybe even "fun" set of procedures, however, is intriguing. Whatever the cause, if "simple" movement training, rather than more radical intervention--or giving up in despair, can enhance haptic pronunciation learning and teaching up front, that is indeed big. 

Will try designing some kind of analogous "Mini-Mouse Module," or perhaps just require a few minutes of iPhone game work before or during class regularly to keep everybody up to speed!

 Keep in touch!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Haptic pronunciation teaching as theatre, Part Two: EXPRESSIVE

This is Part Two of two that explores how to understand EHIEP and AH-EPS training, based on the Association of Theatre Movement Educators (ATME) characterization of both the physical and expressive dimensions of movement training.

I have excerpted out the basic focus of the four features of theatre movement related to "expressiveness" that follow and have inserted in italics after each one the relevance to haptic pronunciation teaching (HPT): 
  • . . . use of the body as an instrument of perception and expression . . . (In addition to enhancing general expressiveness, HPT creates in the learner the ability to "record" and recall words, phrases and sentences based on what it feels like to articulate them and what body movement accompanies each, what is often termed, kinaesthetic memory) 
  • . . . externalize and communicate . . . inner state through movement . . . (Any sound or group of sounds can be represented using speech-synchronized gesture systematically in the visual field, terminating in hands touching on the focal or stressed syllable)
  • . . . concentration, observation, and sensitivity to others . . . (Perhaps the most striking effect of haptic pronunciation training is the management of attention, if only for brief periods of time, to concentrate on the target sound or word.)
  • AMPISys, Inc.
  • . . . skill, confidence and freedom of expression . . . (Public speaking instructors are generally good at using movement and body-based techniques to promote a feeling of confidence and greater expressiveness. Learners doing EHIEP consistently report increased confidence in speaking and ability to express their feelings more effectively.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Haptic pronunciation teaching as theatre, Part One: PHYSICAL

Probably the best source on the web for connecting up to the wide range of disciplines that work systematically with body movement is the Association of Theatre Movement Educators (ATME). This is Part One of two that explores how to understand EHIEP and AH-EPS training, based on the ATME characterization of both the physical and expressive dimensions of movement training. 

The description of a movement specialist could, with a little (haptic) lexical substitution describe an
Clip art: Ckler
EHIEP "haptician" as well:

" . . . the movement specialist/teacher works with the development of the intuitive and kinaesthetic understanding of the performer. . . . devise(s) a process for creating an articulate body that demonstrates technical proficiency, full physical commitment and ease, along with the integration of physical skills." 

Among the (9) specifics are: (Italics are mine!)
  • Teaching of movement skills . . . to increase strength, flexibility, control . . . and as elements of improvisation (Haptic work is especially valuable in integrating new pronunciation and vocabulary into spontaneous speech.) 
  • . . . training the body to be emotionally and physically connected to the specifics of the text (This is done in EHIEP with movement, vocal resonance and touch of hands in the visual field, as the text, word or phrase is articulated.) 
  • . . . (developing) the ability to inhabit a physical and experiential reality other than one’s own . . . (Although the 3rd parameter, becoming an "actor" in the L2 physical culture, is not an explicit goal of EHIEP work, it is reported consistently by those who work through the complete system. The connection of body representation to identity is foundational in many fields.)
Does that sound like fun? Keep in touch. (AH-EPS v2.0 will be "center stage" shortly!)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why "Out of body" haptic pronunciation teaching!

This post is a bit long, but also long overdue. Short answer: "Haptic Video Bill," is at least better than you are!
Clip art: Clker

As we get ready to launch AH-EPS v2.0 (Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System), I was reminded of one of the most important FAQs: Why use video (of me in v2.0!) to train students to do the pedagogical movement patterns initially, rather than do it yourself, in front of the class?

If there are a couple of generally unspoken reasons why instructors may resist converting to haptic (or more kinaesthetic) pronunciation teaching, it may be these: either the assumption that (a) "I can do it better than video!"; or (b) "I just do not like drawing attention to my body when I'm teaching--or anytime." I used to think it was more (Western) cultural. See nice 1997 summary of research on body image by Fox that establishes that as a more universal phenomenon.

As we have seen in decades of experience with using kinaesthetic techniques in this field, the latter is unquestionably the case, even with just requiring a discrete tapping out of rhythm or word stress on the desk. For some, that simply demands too much coordination, brain integration--or risk taking. All I have to do is ask one question of a trainee: Do you like to dance? From that I can predict at least how quickly, he or she will "get" kinaesthetic and haptic work. Finding a successful (technology-based) approach to that obstacle has been key to the effectiveness of the AH-EPS project.

In a highly publicized 2011 study of 'Out of body experience," it was observed that, although we all may experience such momentary sensations, those who have serious, recurrent episodes have particular difficulty in adopting " . . . the perspective of a figure shown on the computer screen." (That is performing the movement or posture mirror image to the model on the screen.)

One early discovery in AH-EPS work was that the video model had to be presented in mirror image, so that when the model moved to the learner's right, for example, the learner would move in the same direction, simultaneously. Doing that, alone, modelling the gestures in person in class, at least in training is--to put it mildly-- very "cognitively complex!" I now rarely, if ever, attempt to train students in person, face to face; I am SO much better on haptic video! (With apologies to Brad Paisley!)

The research and clinical reports on why that should the case in "body training" and body-based therapeutic systems is extensive. (If interested, be glad to share that with you. It is pretty well unpacked in the v2.0 AH-EPS Instructor's Guide.)

AMPISys, Inc. 
Once students are "trained by the video," however, a process taking perhaps 15 minutes, an instructor or peer can easily then use the pattern for anchoring presentation or correction. For example, the training for the vowel system includes 15 vowels of English.

A correction of a mispronunciation, on the other hand,  involves using the pedagogical movement pattern (PMP) for just one vowel typically--a quick "interdiction," as we call it, lasting maybe a minute, at most. In that case, the PMP is performed as the model is spoken or as the learner practices the new or enhanced pronunciation of the word or phrase, 3 or 4 times.

That was . . . quick!

Keep in touch!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving aural comprehension "a hand"-- in haptic pronunciation training

A common question we get is something to the effect of "How do the pedagogical gestures (PMPs - movement across the visual field terminating in touch on a stressed element of a word) work?" 2012 research by Turkeltaub and colleagues at Georgetown University, reported by Science Daily, suggests how that happens. In that study
it was demonstrated that what you are doing with your hands may affect what you hear, or at least how quickly you hear it.

In essence, subjects were instructed to respond by touching a button when they detected a heavily embedded background sound, either with their right or left hand. Right handed response was better at detecting fast-changing sounds; the left, better at slow changing sounds, according to Turkeltaub, " . . . the left hemisphere likes rapidly changing sounds, such as consonants, and the right hemisphere likes slowly changing sounds, such as syllables or intonation . . . " Well, maybe . . .

The study at least further establishes the potential connection between haptic work and L2 sound change. In this case, when the learner performs a PMP, mirroring the model and listening to the model of the target sound--without overt speaking--anchoring should be enhanced, more efficient. Part of the reason for that, as reported in several pervious posts, is that "fast" sounds tend to be in the right visual field (attached to the left hemisphere) and "slower" sounds, the left.

AMPISys, Inc. 
In the EHIEP protocol for intonation, for example, the intonation contour or tone group begins in the left visual field with the left hand moving to the right until it touching the right hand on the stressed syllable or focus word. (See Intonation PMP demonstration linked off earlier post.) In the vowel protocols, similar PMPS are involved as well as the visual display reflects the "fast and slow" phonaesthetic quality of the vowels. (See earlier post on that as well.)

Keep in touch! (v2.0 will be released next week!)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When is AH-EPS haptic pronunciation teaching best?

Quick answer: Most of the time haptic video-based AH-EPS (Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System)  is better than EHIEP live, at least in initial instruction! In all modesty, for what AH-EPS does, it is pretty much unbeatable, too.  This is a follow up to the earlier post on when EHIEP is best.

How is it possible that students learning PMPs (pedagogical movement patterns--synchronized with speaking the vowels, consonants, rhythm groups, stress patterns, intonation contours and tone groups) could be better done by using a video (of me!) than learning "live" from an instructor?

Clip art: Clker
There is actually a considerable amount of research and decades of experience in several fields that identifies when video may be more appropriate and effective. Be happy to unpack that later in
comments to this post, in fact. Here are the ETPs (elevator talking points) for when/why AH-EPS is better.

  • AH-EPS can do a substantial amount of the initial, basic pronunciation instruction for the inexperienced teacher, which can then be followed up in regular classroom instruction, modelling and correcting. 
  • Haptic pronunciation teaching, and haptic work in general, is highly susceptible to visual and auditory distraction. The haptic video framework (movement and touch performed along with the video modelling) maintains attention well. 
  • For many instructors--myself included--leading the class in initial PMP training can quite "cognitively and affectively" complex. Trying do the precise movements leading the class and visually monitoring student performance at the same time is challenging, at best. When you are really tired, nearly impossible, especially if you are even slightly ambidextrous. (See earlier posts on that!) 
  • Most importantly, it is essential that the PMPs be performed with precision by the model, so that hand and arm placement is done consistently across the visual field. If not, some highly visual students will not be able to "nail down" or anchor where the touch occurs at or near the end of the gesture. 
  • And finally, we have about eight years of experience and field testing using the PMPs in many different instructional settings. 

AH-EPS v2.0 will be launched shortly.

For more info:

Keep in touch.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

When is EHIEP haptic pronunciation teaching best?

I got that question yesterday at the conference after our Tai Chi and linking workshop. (Shine, Olya and I will do a blogpost on the specifics of that next week.)

Quick (modest) answer: In many contexts.

Here are your basic EHIEP "Elevator talking points!")
Clip art: Clker

When . . .
A. Integrating new or changed pronunciation into spontaneous speech is a prime concern.
B. Learners' immediate need is anchoring new vocabulary or basic intonation contours.
C. Presenting new vocabulary, especially terms that are not easily contextualized.
D. Doing on-the-spot correction of mispronunciation, especially in class.
E. Holding learners' attention during pronunciation work is problematic (due to environmental distraction or other "internal" factors).
F. Doing focused peer correction of basic prosodics (intonation, rhythm and stress) using oral reading conversational texts.
G. Learner pronunciation homework is critical to success.

Those are EHIEP-based (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation), the basic model we have been developing here and elsewhere for sometime. (For more info and a free copy of the draft v2.0 AH-EPS Instructor's guide, email: For demos of what the basic pedagogical movement patterns look like see this earlier blogpost. (Do that soon; the links are only live until 11/30!)

Tomorrow's post will be focus on when AH-EPS, the haptic video system for doing EHIEP, is best.

Keep in touch!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teaching linking in speaking with touch and Tai Chi

Clip art: Clker
This one will be fun. If you are in Vancouver next Saturday, join us: 

Workshop to be presented at the BCTEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference in Vancouver, BC, at Columbia College, November, 23, 2013, 1:30-2:30. 

(Hapticians: JaeHwa Hong, Olya Kliuyeva and myself)

Pay attention to pronunciation!

As reported in earlier posts, no matter how terrific our attempt at pronunciation teaching is, if a learner isn't paying attention or is distracted, chances are not much uptake will happen--especially when haptic anchoring is involved. No surprise there. A new study by Lavie and colleagues of UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, focusing on "inattentional blindness" entitled,"How Memory Load Leaves Us 'Blind' to New Visual Information," just reported at Science Daily, sheds new "light" on exactly how visual attention serves learning.

In essence, when subjects were required to momentarily attend to an event or object in the visual field and remember it, their ability to respond to new events or distractions occurring immediately afterward was curtailed significantly. (The basic stuff of hypnosis, stage magicians and texting while driving, of course!)

What is of particular interest here is that, whereas the visual image that one is attempting to focus on can strongly exclude other competing distractions, that effect works precisely the other way around in haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. It helps explain the potential effectiveness of pedagogical movement patterns of EHIEP and AH-EPS:

  • Carefully designed gestures across the visual field 
  • Performed while saying a word, sound or phrase 
  • With highly resonate voice, and
  • Terminating in some kind of touch on a stressed vowel, what we term "haptic anchoring." 
It also explains why insightful and potentially priceless comments from instructors coming in too close proximity to vivid and striking pronunciation-related "visual events" . . . may not stick or get "uptaken!" 

See what we mean? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Embodied cognitive complexity--with haptic-integrated pronunciation!

I'm doing a plenary at the BCTEAL regional conference next week. Here is the abstract:

"This interactional presentation focuses on three of the most influential ideas in research in the field today: e-learning, embodiment and cognitive complexity. Taken together, the three help us address the question: How can students effectively acquire a second language--and especially pronunciation and high level cognitive functions--when more and more of their learning experience is mediated through computers?"

The point of my talk will be the power of haptic anchoring (as a form of embodiment), both in developing technologies such as the iPhone and in representing and teaching very complex concepts--even pronunciation! Those two perspectives are converging rapidly today, especially when it comes to dealing with today's media-immersed and media-integrated learners. Ironically, embodied methodologies, where explicit training and control of the body and management of its immediate physical milieu, provide both great promise and great cause for "a sober second look," as Canadians often remark. 

I'll spend more time on the former but will return to the latter here in a later post. If you'd like to initiate that discussion now, feel free! (Note: Unfortunately, I have had to switch to moderating all comments on this blog. If you do propose a comment, I'll review it quickly. Promise!) 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Announcing new AH-EPS v2.0 packages and Demonstration videos!

Along with release of v2.0 of Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System will be a new set of 4, 2-module packages: Vowels and word stress, rhythm and linking, intonation and expressiveness, and fluency and integration. Any one of those packages can be used as a set. Each also includes some basic introductory material to AH-EPS for students as well. 

Also for a limited time, links to Vimeo-streaming demonstrations of the haptic pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs--See the Teaman and Acton paper) are available, included below. Each video will give you an idea of the basic haptic (movement + touch) gesture that is used in presenting, practice and correcting pronunciation in that module.  (If you cannot access Vimeo, email for a demonstration DVD or further information.)

NOTE: Some of the demo links below are now password protected but will be available shortly as part of AH-EPS v2.0, either on the AH-EPS DVDs or as streaming off If you would like to view some of the demos, please email me at for a temporary password!

Credit: AMPISys, Inc. 
A module typically includes instructional and student materials, plus a set of videos, including:

(b) Demonstration of new PMP
(c) Review of PMP from previous module(s)
(d) Training in new PMP
(e) Practice of new PMP
(f) Practice of new PMP in conversational dialogues

Package 1. Vowels and word stress
(Module 2) Short vowels (lax vowels) DEMONSTRATION
(Module 3) Long vowels (tense vowels, and tense vowels + off glides) DEMONSTRATION

Package 2. Rhythm, phrasal stress and linking 
(Module 4) Syllable grouping DEMONSTRATION
(Module 6) Rhythm training and linking DEMONSTRATION (rhythm training only)

Package 3. Intonation and expressiveness
(Module 5) Basic Intonation DEMONSTRATION
(Module 8) Expressiveness (discourse intonation) DEMONSTRATION

Package 4. Fluency and integration
(Module 7) Conversational fluency DEMONSTRATION
(Module 9) Integrating pronunciation change DEMONSTRATION

Each package includes:
Instructor materials: Complete Instructor's Guide download and Vimeo video streaming of 2 modules (hardcopy and DVDs available)
 Student Workbook materials from 2 modules: Workbook download and Vimeo video streaming of 2 modules (hardcopy and DVDs available)
Cost will be about $35 for download/streaming version, or $90 plus shipping for the hardcopy/DVD version.
Cost of other packages will range from $50 (consonants) to $400 (including student practice DVD/videos for a class of 12).

In addition to complete AH-EPS packages of Videos and materials (in download or streaming versions), the 2-module packages will be available later this month.

Keep in touch!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pronunciation anxiety? Don't worry, be "haptic!"

Have done several previous posts that "touch" on the effects of interpersonal touch, such as "healing touch." In our kind of haptic pronunciation teaching, for a number of reasons, we use only "intra-personal" touch, typically the hands touching or hands touching the arms and shoulders or the outside of the hips. Generally, that's it. A new study by Koole and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam, reported in Science Daily in a summary entitled, "Touch may alleviate existential fears in people with low self esteem," re-opens that intriguing area of research and development for me.

Credit: AMPISys, Inc. 
I earlier explored interpersonal touch in private work, for example where a couple or two female learners practiced the EHIEP pedagogical movement patterns together, where one touched the hand of the other on stressed syllables in anchoring new pronunciation. (Have also had reports from instructors who work with child L2 learners that various group-based hand clapping or "give-me-five" gestures seem to work well, too.) The reports from the students were quite positive. Have always wanted to get back to figuring out culturally and interpersonally appropriate use of interpersonal touch.

There are certainly good reasons for that. Koole's work suggests that even our "intra-personal" touch gesture work may "work" better than we thought! Although this is close to being filed in our "Well . . . duh! file" (a study that empirically validates common sense), in essence, interpersonal touch, even touching inanimate objects, for some people, lowered anxiety--and anxiety can easily cancel out any kind of instruction, let along haptic engagement. What caught my eye was the last sentence: "The researchers are currently exploring the possibilities of simulated interpersonal touch through the use of a "haptic jacket," which can electronically give people the feeling that they are being hugged."

Hug your local haptician . . . and bring your teddy bear to class today. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Minding your P's and Q's: Pronunciation Change Mindfulness at work! Quiet!

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As unpacked in earlier posts, "mindfulness" theory is often a good point of departure for understanding and managing pronunciation change, both as it is initiated in the classroom and "worked at" outside of class. A 2013 piece entitled, "Mindfulness-based emotional intelligence: Research and training," by Ciarrouchi and Godsell of Wollongong University, presents an interesting and useful set of parameters for optimal functioning of emotional intelligence, based on mindfulness theory and mindfulness training:

  • Identifying personal emotional states
  • Managing "incoming" emotion, recognizing intent of emotion expressed by others and appropriate responses to it
  • Countering fusion (counterproductive influences of emotion in ways that undermine concentration, analysis, logic, learning or self concept)
  • Clker
  • Expressing emotion
How does that apply to our work? It is a good set of guidelines for learners to review as they practice, being mindful at all times as to the state of their "mindset." Especially in haptic-integrated pronunciation practice, some degree of mindfulness is essential to ensure that targeted sounds get their basic 3~8 seconds of undivided attention:

  • Focus intensely on the present moment and task at hand, with controlled, emotional engagement,
  • Work at anchoring the new or changed sounds quickly, speaking out loud in an expressive and resonant voice (accompanied by a haptic, pedagogically-designed gesture, of course!)   
Students can be trained to do that. Should be. At the very least something to be mindful of . . .

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Introduction to some haptic gadgets - II

Kudos to CNN Tech Trends for this nice 14-slide piece by Arion McNicoll on haptics and new haptic gadgets. If you are just getting "in touch" with haptics, you'll like this. See especially slide #8 on Tesla Touch. I have done some research on that technology recently, an approach that may have promise for our AH-EPS haptic pronunciation. (See also the recent blogpost linking the TED talk on haptics, too.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Aha! change uptake!" versus the "practice" of haptic pronunciation teaching

For a while I had a special label for research reports that managed to confirm what any teacher with a modicum of common sense had figured out already, the "Well . . . duh!" category. There are any number of studies that demonstrate that practice, in addition to in-class work, is essential--in many different fields. In this field there are only a few. I cited one earlier, a 2010 study by Yoshida of Purdue University: those students who practiced pronunciation outside of class did better, significantly so.
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With only a few exceptions, and for the most part with good reason, classroom-based research focuses on in-class or in-lab treatment, not what happens beyond those contexts. In part that is because, contemporary methodology often implicitly must assume that nothing is going to happen outside of class of theoretical interest, whether the context is EFL or elsewhere. 

Decades ago, when ESL was still the conceptual center of pedagogy, you could tell students to go out there and practice, letting yourself off the hook. No longer. We talked about bringing the world into the classroom. For many, the "world" of language learning is now limited to the classroom--and maybe with random assistance of "my technology."

Pronunciation instructors who assume that just in class instruction, without any formal follow up, either face to face or as monitored homework, is sufficient may get lucky occasionally. There are, indeed, those rare, highly receptive students and memorable "Aha! change uptake," teachable moments when a lesson is life- or interlanguage pronunciation- altering, when explanation and insight and contextualized practice and uptake all collide! If you recall one, however, please describe it in a comment to this post! (Generous reward offered!) 

For Essential haptic-integrated English pronunciation model (EHIEP), and its haptic video offspring, Acton Haptic-integrated English pronunciation system (AH-EPS), practice is the sine qua non of pronunciation change. Haptic anchoring (gesture, plus vocal resonance positioned in the visual field consistently), sets up the process well but requires follow up, either in integrated focus on form by the instructor and peers, or practice outside of class, preferably with a technology assist. 

Haptic engagement, by its very nature is exploratory and at least temporarily very somatically attention grabbing (emotionally gripping.) But it is not sufficient. (That is, in part, why gesture work, in general, feels so good but rarely, by itself, sticks, to use a good haptic metaphor.) 

Next post will back up a bit and look at research underlying the relationship between haptic anchoring and subsequent noticing and practice. Keep in touch. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Introduction to haptics and some possible applications

If you are new to the idea of haptics and "haptic," here is a neat 6 minute TEDYouth 2012 talk by Kuchenbecker of University of Pennsylvania (Hat tip to Karen Rauser.) Our work in haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching is something of the flip side of this. Whereas Kuchenbecker's work digitizes touch and movement to accompany video, we create the haptic felt sense of sound (through awareness of vocal resonance, upper movement and touch) to accompany the positioning of the hands and arms in the visual field. Have been working on the outlines of a TED talk proposal myself for next year. Keep in touch!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction: Techniques

Here is the abstract and URL for a paper by Brian Teaman and myself just published in the JALT Conference Proceedings: JALT 2012:

In this paper we describe a series of new techniques for the teaching of pronunciation using movement and touch. The “haptic approach” described here assumes that speaking is essentially a physical act that engages the entire body and not just the speech organs. This paper reviews the theoretical foundations of a haptic system, describes 9 haptic-based techniques, and explores the specific application of these techniques with Japanese learners of English.


Haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction: Preliminaries

Here is the abstract and URL for a paper by Mike Burri, Amanda Baker, Brian Teaman and myself just published in Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference / Iowa State University:

This paper reports on aspects of a haptic (movement plus touch) integrated system for classroom pronunciation instruction. It is based, in part, on established pedagogical practice in the use of somatic/kinesthetic techniques such as gesture in language instruction (Acton, 1984, 2012; Celce-Murcia, Brinton, Goodwin & Briner, 2010; McCafferty, 2004), and management of vocal resonance in singing and voice training (Lessac, 1997). The pedagogical method is designed for use by relatively untrained instructors and is generally best delivered through video with classroom follow up. Relatively recent research and development in haptics, especially in the areas of gaming, prosthetics and robotics, provides a rich source of potential principles and procedures from which to draw in exploring and rethinking the “clinical side” of pronunciation work. The use of haptic integration procedures in various teaching systems, in the form of designated movement patterns accompanied by various “textures of touch” has been shown to more systematically coordinate sensory modalities involved and greatly enhance both effectiveness and pace of instruction. In field testing the basic English pronunciation system to be described, this application of haptic procedures shows promise of also enhancing efficiency in anchoring sounds, words and phrases and in facilitating both recall and integration of targeted material in spontaneous speech.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hmm! . . . Correcting English pronunciation (the Haptic-mimetic method)

Clip art:
Have been holding back on publishing this post on a somewhat different application of the EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) or AH-EPS (Acton Haptic - English Pronunciation System) for some time. One reason was that I didn't have a term for how it works: mimesis or mimetic. In essence, by "rich" imitation. (There is actually much more behind that choice of term, which will be unpacked in upcoming blogposts.)

The other consideration was part theoretical, part bottom line: In some contexts, "Hmm!" can be carried out quite effectively-- without the students even being introduced formally or trained in the haptic system. That would be slick, of course, and also very inexpensive. (I need to make at least a little money on this, eh!)

Here is how EHIEP usually works:
A. Typically, students and instructor work through a 30-minute training video that teaches a haptic pedagogical movement pattern/technique for correction or presentation. (See previous posts for PMP description and links, including this one for lax vowels and this one for tense + off-glide vowels. Note: A PMP is one movement + touch for one vowel in those cases.
B. From there, students can either practice the technique in short dialogues or word lists immediately.
C. An additional option is for students to do 1-3, additional 30-minute homework assignments working with special practice video lessons.
D. Ideally, after A or B or C, the instructor begins using the PMP or technique in class for correcting or presenting.

Note: AH-EPS will work in classes of almost any size; Hmm! seems to work best in small classes where the Instructor already has good rapport and communication with students.

Here is how Hmm! may work: 
A. Instructor simply uses the PMP for correction in integrated classroom instruction-- without any explicit explanation or previous training of students.
B. Students "uptake" the correction almost as if they had been trained in haptic anchoring previously.

To train yourself to work with Hmm!, all you have to do is get the Instructor's Guide and accompanying videos (either off Vimeo or DVD format) and practice along until you can do the PMPs for the most typical pronunciation problems that you encounter daily in your classroom. To get it, go to the GETONIC shop and order it!

More on Hmm! shortly, Keep in touch!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Guidelines for using (haptic) gesture in pronunciation teaching

Literally for decades I was working under the assumption that gesture and general body movement work, in principle, was a good way to loosen learners up and get them engaged, let alone teach aspects of pronunciation. For some, it is, but the impact on others, especially those from less "gesticular" cultures, can be unproductive, at best. I have evolved, somewhat at least, from cheerleader to coach/consultant in that regard. A few general principles:
  • If you do make extensive use of gesture with adolescents and adults, you must be able to explain why FIRST, at least initially persuade them that it is research and success-based. 
  • The directed movement must be highly controlled, both in terms of range of motion and emotional loading, and very easy to teach and to follow. 
  • The gesture work is most effective when done "in chorus," as a class, with learners visually attending to and following the instructor, not being able to see what each other is doing. 
  •  It must not be forced. If a learner choses not to participate, or do so only minimally, that is fine. (Research on mirror neurons and years of experience with this kind of teaching confirms the power of engaged observation.)
  • The gesture must be consistently coupled with strong vocal resonance to make sure that it is well anchored. That is based, in part, on the work of Lessac in voice training.
  • Learners must experience early success. Using baton-like gesture on stressed syllables to enhance memory for vocabulary is often a good start. 
  • The gestural patterns, what we ("haptic" pronunciation teachers) term "pedagogical movement patterns" need to be used consistently in integrated classroom instruction, presentation and correction. 
If you'd like to see an example of what the haptic patterns look like, here is a demonstration video clip that shows the set that can be used for presenting (not training in or practicing) the lax vowels of general American English. Especially the set of low and mid-back vowels in that demonstration would have to be adjusted accordingly were you working with specific regional dialects of English or "World Englishes." 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Haptic pronunciation teaching presentations at TESOL 2014 in Portland!

There were at least a dozen explicitly "haptic" pronunciation teaching proposals that were submitted for the convention that I am aware of. (See earlier blogpost on that.) There are also always a number of other "near-haptic" presentations that focus on kinaesthetic techniques and those that involve touch+movement-based procedures indirectly. I'll report on those later, once the program is published. This year, four being done by myself and "haptician" colleagues were accepted:

Workshop: Essentials of haptic (kinesthetic+tactile)-integrated pronunciation instruction
    Kielstra, Baker, Burri, Rauser, Teaman and Acton

Practice-oriented session: Speak fast; speak easy: The Fight Club technique 
   Burns, Serena and Kielstra

Research-oriented session: Exploring research supporting haptic (movement + touch) pronunciation teaching
   Rauser, Acton and Burri

Workshop: Teaching basic English intonation by non-native English speaking teachers
   Lam, Zeng, Hong, Takatsu and Donkor

If you know of any others, please let us know!

See you there!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Use of (haptic) gesture in pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
An excellent general framework, or place to start, in looking at the use of gesture in pronunciation teaching is Natalie Hudson's 2011 dissertation, "Teacher Gesture in a Post-Secondary English as a Second Language Classroom: A Sociocultural Approach," done at the university of Nevada, Los Vegas. The study looks at the use of gesture by both instructor and student in a pronunciation class. The detailed analysis includes examination of both consciously directed and incidental or "involuntary" use of movement in instruction. There is, for example, one short pronunciation-related section on "Haptic gestures of voice," where the instructor touches her throat to "concretize" consonant voicing.

Where haptic engagement comes much more into play is in anchoring lexical concepts related to smell, hearing taste and touch. That section is closer to what we refer to as haptic anchoring. Although the study is descriptive of what we do "naturally," it points very clearly--at least to me--toward the systematic use of directed movement, and especially haptically anchored pedagogical movement patterns, in pronunciation teaching.

Required reading for any HICP instructor-in-training.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The "touch-ture" of haptic pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
A new study by researchers from Laboratoire de psychologie et neurocognition (LPNC) (CNRS/Université Pierre Mendès France/ Savoie University) in collaboration with Geneva University's Faculté de psychologie et des sciences de l'éducation and Les Doigts Qui Rêvent (Dreaming Fingers) in Talant (Côte-d'Or, France), reported by Science Daily, demonstrated the positive impact of variable texture on image comprehension in blind children. In essence, by providing materials with different, distinctive surface textures for the hands to survey, subjects were able to learn and recall more effectively. Research has long established that the blind develop superior touch-based senses that serve to replace visual--often in the same areas of the visual cortex as the sighted use.

The same principle should also apply to the application of touch and movement in our work. In the EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English pronunciation) approach, there are "roughly" a dozen distinct types of touch, each having its own texture. In principle, the "touch-tures" are related to the phonaesthetic and somatic qualities of the sound or sound process. For example:

For lax, or short vowels (such as: I, ae, a, Ə, U), the "touch-ture" is a light tap of both hands
For tense vowels+off glide (such as iy, ey, ay, ow, uw), the "touch-ture" is a brushing motion of one hand across the other as the first part of the vowel is pronounced. The moving hand then continues on to a location in the visual field associated with either glide, w or y.

We often have learners close their eyes or use eye tracking as they execute various pedagogical movement patterns across the visual field in presenting or correcting pronunciation. More focused attention to the "felt sense" or "touch-ture" of the hands in the process and the attendant vocal resonance has always been understood to be very important. Here is more evidence why. Keep in touch. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Haptic Integration of AWL Vocabulary Instruction

Credit for image:
Amanda Baker, Mike Burri and myself are proposing a chapter for a proposed book on integrating pronunciation into other skill areas. (No guarantee it'll be accepted, of course, but here is a draft of that proposal): 
The Academic Word List (AWL), a compilation of 570 word families, has generated much interest, discussion and research in the past decade, and is now widely used, particularly in English for academic purposes (EAP) contexts (Coxhead 2000, 2011). Current theory on optimal acquisition of vocabulary suggests that it is best learned in context, using a more task-based approach (Nunan, 2004.)

However, recent research reveals an interesting twist. File and Adams’ work (2010), for example, demonstrated that isolated (not contextualized) vocabulary instruction may lead to a higher rate of retention than some forms of integrated instruction. Such research partially vindicates more traditional, paradigmatic practice that incorporates such practices as the use of word lists, attention to derivational and affixational morphology, along with basic etymology and word-family-association.

That research serves as point of departure for this proposed chapter. A classroom-tested, haptic (movement + touch) pedagogical overlay and extension of that study is proposed (Acton, Baker, Burri & Teaman, in press.) A key assumption of the chapter is that a word may be “processed” more experientially (haptically), in such a way as to better anchor (committing to memory) its meaning, pronunciation, structural and "familial" properties. That may or may not include a relevant -usage sentence or phrase, associated with a high value conversational or EAP context.

The key principle is that both contextualized and non-contextualized attention to AWL words can be equally effective. Research in several disciplines has shown that appropriate "haptic engagement" in instruction can serve to effectively link together disparate features from different learning modalities (e.g., Fremdenback, Boisferon & Gentz, 2009.) In this case, the structural, physical and systemic features of the word can be linked enabling better recall and retention.  

The chapter presents a vocabulary list consisting of academic, multi-syllable words featuring the 14 most frequent word stress patterns occurring in the AWL (cf., Murphy & Kandil, 2004), followed by a set of four haptic protocols specifically developed to assist second language learners in anchoring (committing to memory) and acquiring high-value academic lexical items more effectively.

The protocols involve gesture-based movements that are linked to the following: word stress differentiating between stressed and unstressed vowels; prominent syllables and syllable grouping; phrasal collocations; word-level intonation; stress shift anchoring, and word family/paradigm-review

To illustrate, a "syllable protocol" (Acton, 2013) addresses primary stress and unstressed/secondary stress or rhythmic beats, each linked to a syllable in a word. For the syllable with primary stress, the learners tap their right hand on their left shoulder firmly. For all other syllables, the left hand touches the right forearm near the right elbow, one tap for each unstressed syllable. For example, in visualization, there are three small taps near the elbow (vi-su-al-), followed by one strong shoulder tap (-i-) and then two additional elbow taps (-za-tion). All of the protocols involve similar, gesture + touch movements that help learners focus their attention on the targeted term and recall it better, later.


Acton, W. (2013). AH-EPS B-FLY-Demo,, retrieved September 25, 
Acton, W., Baker, A. A., Burri, M., & Teaman, B. (in press). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. M. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Aug. 2012. Vancouver, BC.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.
Coxhead, A. (2011). The academic word list 10 years on: Research and teaching implications. TESOL Quarterly, 45(2), 355-362.File, K. A., & Adams, R. (2010). Should vocabulary instruction be integrated or isolated? TESOL Quarterly, 44(2), 222-249.
File, K., and Adams, R. (2010). Should vocabulary be isolated or integrated? TESOL Quarterly 44(2): 222-249.
Fredenbach, B., Boisferon, A. & Gentaz, E. (2009). Learning of arbitrary association between
visual and auditory novel stimuli in adults: The “Bond Effect” of haptic exploration. PLoS ONE, 2009; 4 (3): e4844 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0004844.
Murphy, J., and Kandil, M. (2004). Word-level stress patterns in the academic word list. System, 32, 61-74.
Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Teaman, B., & Acton, W. (2013). Haptic (movement and touch for better) pronunciation. In N. Sonda and A. Krause (Eds.), Proceedings of the JALT 2012 Conference. Tokyo: JALT.

Conferences at which the content has been presented:

Acton, W., & Burri, M., Rauser, K., & Teaman, B. (2013, March). Anchoring academic word list vocabulary: One touch at a time. Workshop presented at the 47th Annual TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX.
Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Kielstra, N., Rauser, K., Teaman, B., & Van Dyke, A. (2013, March). Essentials of haptic (kinesthetic + tactile) - integrated pronunciation instruction. Pre-conference Institute presented at the 47th Annual TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX.
Acton, W., Baker, A., Teaman, B., & Burri, M. (2012, August). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. Paper presented at the 4th Annual Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Vancouver, BC.
Acton, W., Burri, M., Teaman, B., Goertzen, M., & Brodie, A. (2012, March). Getting optimal pronunciation from learner English dictionaries and beyond. Workshop presented at the 46th Annual TESOL Convention, Philadelphia, PA.
Acton, W., Burri, M., & Teaman, B. (2011, October). Moving pronunciation, meaning and usage from the dictionary! Workshop presented at the 2011 Tri-TESOL Conference , Des Moines, WA.