Thursday, January 24, 2013

Synesthesia alert: No magnetic letters on your refrigerator!

Image credit:
Especially if you have toddlers in the house! Well, not really. This study, by Witthoft and Winnawer of Stanford University, summarized by Science Daily, reports on what may well be a rather spurious or at least indirect correlation between the development of synesthesia and the presence on our refrigerators of those cute, plastic colored letters with magnets for young children to play with. What they found was that synesthetes, when given lists of colorless numbers and letters , tend to pick the same colors as those refrigerator magnet letters, whereas non-synesthetes' responses are pretty much random. How could that be? They don't say really, stopping short of suggesting that there is some direct relationship between the synesthesia and those letters being on the refrigerator during child development. Hmmm.  I just posted the following on an NLP discussion list:

"Interesting. Go to the website and take the test. When you do, before you respond to the query for your read on the "color" of the number or letter, say the number or letter out loud slowly, like a kid might. Note the overall felt sense of that articulation, where it lands in your head and vocal tract… and then pick your vowel. Better yet, look away from the grapheme when you do that. I can almost get to the synesthesia threshold that way . . . The research design neatly ignores controlling for how subjects get to making a decision, what cognitive and experiential process they lead with. (It is apparently done as a web-based survey only.) I am very suspicious of any direct link to childhood letters. That the letters happen to have been assigned those colors in the first place by the initial designers is probably more where it all leads."

So what does that have to do with haptic-integrated pronunciation work? Everything. The phonaesthetic   and somatic felt sense qualities of vowels, both in visual and articulatory terms, are well researched from several disciplines. Where the vowels are placed in the visual field in EHIEP and how the vowel sounds are presented and identified (or mis-identified) with letters in phonic characterizations, as in the "Refrigerator" study, does make a difference. (See earlier posts on the pedagogical application of vowel color such as this one.) Keep in touch.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Washing your hands (of/during) pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
This one is too much fun to pass up. Three (female) researchers, Lapinski of Michigan State University, Maloney of University of Pennsylvania, Braz of Westchester University, and Shulman of North Central College did this study at Michigan State University of male hand washing behaviour in campus men's restrooms. What they found was that if you put up a good poster showing a guy how to and accompanying note that 4 or 5 of them do wash their hands . . . and then watch them after they read the sign . . . you find that hand washing goes up nearly 10%. (The summary in Science Daily doesn't indicate the gender of the wash room observers, actually. That certainly COULD be a factor here!) They then go on to extoll the potential benefits to public health. Interesting.

In several previous posts there have been references to hand sensitivity in haptic work. (I often use an aromatic mint-based hand cream, especially in working with small groups or individuals--and almost always in training workshops.) Clearly, in our work being able to attend closely to the felt sense of the haptic anchor (hands touching each other or some part of the body on a stress syllable)--for about 3 seconds according to research-- is highly advantageous. I have tried any number of "treatments" over the years from lotions to lofa. All seem to work, at least temporarily. (Speaking of "temporarily," check out this recent article by Asher on why TPR works and why Rosetta Stone may not for long.)

Need a hand in keeping your pronunciation work "awash" with attention and engagement? You might try a poster . . . or just go check to make sure that at least the boys have washed their hands before class. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

EHIEP Haptic Pronunciation Workshops

Here is the basic announcement format of the courses we are beginning to offer this year in various venues. (If you'd like one in your neighbourhood, let us know.) Later this year, we'll have the online version ready as well. Keep in touch. 

This is a 10-week, noncredit course to help nonnative speakers of English improve their pronunciation and accent. The course meets Tuesday afternoons, from 3 to 4:15, beginning January 29th.  

Preference is given to graduate students, but any student or staff member of any level of English proficiency is invited to attend the course. Class size is limited to 24. 

If you are interested in joining the class, a brief telephone interview is required. Required textbook: Oxford Basic Dictionary of American English.

The course fee of $90 includes a student workbook and 9 basic video files.  Ideally, students should have access to a computer or smart phone for practice but that is not absolutely necessary.

·      The topics of the 10 classes are:
o   Introduction to the course
o   Warm up and dictionary orientation
o   Vowels and consonants I
o   Vowels and consonants II
o   Stressed words and phrases
o   Intonation and melody of speaking
o   Speaking fluently
o   Conversational speaking style
o   Expressiveness and pronunciation self-improvement plan
o   Public speaking style

Each week students
o   Discuss their homework at the beginning
o   Are introduced to the pronunciation topic
o   Practice the exercises with a video model and their instructor
o   Practice the pronunciation topic in a everyday conversation
o   Practice a list of words that use the pronunciation topic and are valuable for them, individually.
o   Prepare for homework
§  Students should practice their homework 3 times per week, if possible. (20 minutes each time)
§  Students may purchase optional, downloadable video and audio files for additional practice

Effective (pronunciation) learning techniques

You may have seen a media report on this new research monograph, Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology by Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan and Willingham (published online by Psychological Science in the public interest). If you have the time, it is worth reading through. Here's why. The research focused on 10 learning strategies used by students, mostly in high school and college. By "learning strategies" the authors mean, for the most part, what students do on their own, outside of the "curriculum," in studying (for tests!) and homework.

Credit: AMPISys, Inc.
Among the the "winners" of the 10 are "distributed practice" strategies such as taking practice tests and spreading out study sessions. The bottom three were: underlining, rereading and using "mnemonic devices." The monograph itself is a great piece of work (although at times a bit overly optimistic on what "Cognitive and Educational Psychology" is up to or worth). What was fascinating was the general conclusion that "educators" (not specifically defined) do not do enough with this area. At least some of the blame goes to teacher education where, in the review of current TT textbooks, little or no mention is made of research into learning strategies/techniques and what students do "on their own" and how they learn to do what they do.

EHIEP is based on the idea of providing instructors and students with a range of strategies for anchoring pronunciation work and (by extension) using those outside of class. Although the basic curriculum is designed to be carried out successfully in a classroom setting-without depending on students practicing outside of class in any systematic manner, the optional Student Workbook and accompanying haptic video and audio packet are strongly recommended whenever possible. (The complete system will be available at the 2013 TESOL conference in Dallas for the first time. Some of the new demonstration videos will be linked here off the blog next month.) Keep in touch.