Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blame it on your Alpha: why some people don't learn pronunciation well

Clip art: Clker
According to 2013 research by Dinse from the Neural Plasticity Lab of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and colleagues, reported in Science Daily, the answer seems to be that " . . . the main problem is not that learning processes are inefficient per se, but that the brain insufficiently processes the information to be learned." Hmmm. Now why could that be? The study is relevant in that subjects were trained to be more touch sensitive and then, using EEG technology, researchers explored why some were better at developing that heightened sensitivity. Exactly why is not clear, but there was a predictably correlation with alpha wave frequency: in an awakened state, higher alpha frequency related to better tactile learning. (Counter to that, lower Alpha in restful, semi-conscious or sleep states has long been related to more effective learning, both conscious and "unconscious" in nature.)

What is interesting is that the main effect, although the researchers relate it to perceptual learning in general, is at the very least touch-related: "The results, therefore, suggest that perception-based learning is highly dependent on how accessible the sensory information is. The alpha activity, as a marker of constantly changing brain states, modulates this accessibility." (Italics, mine.) So how do we make "sensory information" about pronunciation more "accessible?" The implication there is that one way is some kind of direct stimulation and management of alpha that might lead to better learning in that context.

Clip  art: Clker
Haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation work, in general, should fundamentally do just that: promote heightened sensual awareness (of physical sensation in the body) and at the same time, more relaxed, less-stressed physical/somatic (body awareness-based) states. The flowing pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) create a sense of fluidity, rhythm and emotional coherence; simultaneously, the hands touching on stressed syllables in words, phrases and sentences evoke a very much heightened "felt sense" (balanced physical + cognitive processing) and foregrounding of the prominent elements or words in discourse.

Why some don't learn well? They may just be "out of touch!

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