Sunday, May 26, 2013

Motion "IQ" and haptic pronunciation teaching

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A few decades back, the distinction between field independence and field dependence was investigated extensively in this field and others. (Several previous blogposts report often seemingly contradictory findings.) A new study reported by Science Daily, by by Melnick, Harrison, Park, Bennetto and Tadin, at the University of Rochester, on the relationship between general intelligence and ability to suppress some types of background motion in the visual field adds a new "wrinkle."

They found a striking correlation between IQ and ability to screen out small, background moving "clutter" and score on a standard IQ test. Even more surprisingly, according to the authors, they discovered that the high "IQ" subjects were correspondingly much worse at detecting large background shifts in the visual field itself. (According to the article, you can even test yourself on motion "IQ" with this YouTube video!)

Translation/relevance: Whether you are high or low IQ, being able to function in a non-distracting visual field makes you functionally more intelligent! (Being sensitive to movement of the larger field has been indirectly related to general empathy and relational awareness, which is also a good idea in language learning.)

In haptic pronunciation teaching, that principle is paramount. In the classroom, when doing haptic work  (movement-plus-touch) related to sound learning and change, visual distraction must be limited as much as possible. Anything that pulls the eyes and attention away from the pedagogical movement pattern can potentially "kill" or greatly limit the effectiveness of the haptic anchor in associating the gesture with the sound.

The design and format and background of the AH-EPS haptic video system is centered on that same concept: (a) black background, (b) clean, uncluttered movement, and (c) careful management of placement in the visual field. (For example, it is important to stay as close to the center of the visual field for general ease of maintaining attention and control.)

Just a little background for you there . . . and I mean a LITTLE!

Friday, May 17, 2013

In search of a "touch" for pronunciation teaching

Scott Thornbury, of the New School, recently gave a plenary at TESOL-Spain that at least had a great title: The Human Touch: How we learn with our bodies. (His blog, An A-Z of ELT, is a good read; one of his 2010 posts on embodied cognition I have linked to earlier.) From the abstract, it is clear that the "touch" in "human touch" is the more general, metaphorical use of the word, although the tactile dimension will certainly figure into his comments, particularly as developments in this area have begun linking more and more to the neurophysicality of touch (See earlier blog on the texture of touch in haptic pronunciation work, for example.) Hopefully we can get access to the text or video of the plenary. Thornbury is always a "moving" speaker.

In HICP work the application of touch, within the larger notion of embodied cognition,  is in connecting vocal resonance with some type of pedagogical gesture, what we call: pedagogical movement patterns. For some time I had been puzzled as to why there wasn't more--or much of any--research on the use of touch in teaching, distinct from movement and gesture in general.

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What I have only recently discovered, in preliminary "re-reviews" of some seminal gestural research is that touch, as a component of gesture, is often reported almost as an aside or simple descriptor in studies of gesture-synchronized learning or vocal production. In other words, some gestures involve touch; some do not. (One of the early influences on the development of HICP was the observation that in American Sign Language (ASL) the predominance of signs that carry high emotional loading also tend to involve touch.)

In other words, interesting "data" on the effect of touch within gestural systems seems to be there, buried in earlier research. As far as I can tell, it has for the most part just not been isolated and examined as a relevant variable in learning or expression. My current research reanalyzing earlier language-teaching related gestural studies already shows promise. (More on that in subsequent blogposts and other publications, I'm sure!)  If you know of published research that unpacks that role of touch, please link it here! In the meantime, KIT!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In"gender"ing pitch and frequency change in (haptic) pronunciation work

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Ever wondered exactly when change in voice quality created by testosterone therapy during the sex change process signals the transition from X to Y or Y to X when making an 's' sound? (Now stay with me here!) There is a very interesting side to this study by Zimman of CU-Boulder, summarized in a CU-Boulder press release. (Actually, you'll need to keep wondering a little while longer . . . the summary doesn't say what the threshold is exactly but it does highlight the difference between perceived pitch and vocal resonance--and something of how it can be modulated.)

One nice observation: " . . . a voice could have a higher pitch and still be perceived as male if the speaker pronounced “s” sounds in a lower frequency, which is achieved by moving the tongue farther away from the teeth." And a second: "(Vocal) resonance is lower (that is focused more in the upper chest than in their sinuses) for people whose larynx is deeper in their throats, but people learn to manipulate the position of their larynx when they’re young, with male children pulling their larynxes down a little bit and female children pushing them up . . . "

In AH-EPS, rich vocal resonance, whether perceived as more "male" or "female," is essential for effective anchoring of sounds. (That may explain why new or vibrant vocal resonance is often experienced as representative of one's new L2 identity.) Here is one of the haptic video techniques used for enhancing "both ends" of the vocal resonance range. (There is some additional touch involved that is not immediately evident in the video.) 

Managing the frequency and tongue position of the standard, North American English alveolar "hissing" grooved sibilant ('s'), which helps separate it from "sh" and varieties of the sound that are considerably more fronted than in NAE, is not too difficult either, done "haptically." Notice in the video the effect of the technique in "pulling apart" 's' from 'sh.'  It uses the dynamic hand gestures and sensation of aspiration "touching" the hand initially, along with lip rounding and un-rounding, to guide the tongue either up and back or down and forward in the mouth. 

Does that resonante? If not, pick a different gender and do the videos again. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Paying attention to touch in pronunciation teaching. (No applause, please!)

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The most frequent question we get at workshops is: "How does haptic work, anyway?" This 2011 study by Blankenberg of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin (summarized by Science Daily) was instrumental in helping me understand how using touch and movement, synchronized with speech could function to enable both encoding in memory and subsequent recall. The key, it turns out is something analogous to Gendlin's notion of "felt sense:" both touch and conscious attention to the haptic "event" are essential to effective pedagogical or therapeutic intervention. According to the research, access to haptic or tactile memory can happen at any of several levels, from conscious to unconscious.

For example, having touched the table as you say a stressed syllable of a word may help you remember both the word and the stressed syllable in it later in spontaneous speaking. It might not--but consciously recalling the sensation of the event when you touched the table should increase your chances considerably. In other words, touch may not automatically activate memory of the "nexus" of the word but consciously focusing on the tactile dimension of the event may.

Earlier posts and the linked research studies have examined why clapping hands on every syllable of a word but doing a stronger clap on the stressed syllable to anchor stress may not work: all those "touches" are preserved almost as equals in memory, at least for a time. Unless something more is done to mark the stressed one (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or some combination), the contribution of touch, best case, can be a wash: worse case, it compromises the focus of the gesture.

In other words, as we have seen in many different studies, touch acts as the "exploratory glue" that helps bind the senses together, creating the multiple modality experience we call "haptic anchoring." So why call it "haptic anchoring" then? Just to better bring it to your attention--whatever haptic pronunciation target that you happen to touch upon . . . 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Motivating pronunciation practice: Where seldom is heard a discouraging (or encouraging) word* . . .

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Following up on a recent post on the value of self-affirmation, or affirmation in general in learning, a 2013 study, "You Can Do It: the Efficacy of Encouragement in Motivating the Weak Link to Exercise Longer During an Online Exercise Video Game," by Irwin of Kansas State University, reported in Science Daily It. looked at optimal workout partners in exercise persistence and effectiveness. What the study found was that " . . . individuals tend to work out longer when their partner was perceived to be more skilled and was one who kept verbal encouragement to a minimum." (Bold face, mine!)

That should be the hallmark of HICP, especially when using haptic video in instruction. (See sidebar on  AH-EPS.)

How well encouragement to practice, do independent work and homework is consistently "delivered" in a course is probably one of the best indicators of the general method, approach and competence of the instructor. The important distinction there is between "getting students going" and "keeping students going." The first can be accomplished in any number of ways, from highly verbal and meta-cognitive (involving detailed planning, etc.), with all kinds of explanation and exhortation--to "direct orders." The second, ongoing directive engagement in the process, is in many ways another matter entirely, much more indirect, noncognitive, emotional and nonverbal in nature.

How is your method in that regard, partner?

And, of course, what do you say to that?

*The song "Home on the range" was in one of the course books + audio cassettes I was assigned to use when I was just starting out in the field. My upper beginner-level students loved to sing it, even though the materials provided almost no explanation of the vocabulary and cultural context. The students understood something that many in the field today downplay: there is much more to songs than words and "situatedness."  (BTW, the Youtube audio, with Pete Seeger singing the song, is a classic.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Haptic Pronunciation Teaching @ TESOL 2014 in Portland!

Time to start preparing our proposals for TESOL 2014 in Portland! TESOL 2013 in Dallas will be hard to beat but Portland is also a great venue--and it is a much shorter drive from Vancouver, of course!
At Dallas we had four haptic events: (a) a PCI, (b) a workshop EHIEP intonation for NNS instructors, (c) a workshop a haptic approach for working with the Academic Word List, and (d) a "Breakfast with the Stars," where I got free burritos for talking with a dozen or so around the table about EHIEP!

If you are thinking about going to Portland next March, here are a few of the topics that we have been considering. If you'd like to join as a co-presenter--or do one or something else yourself--let us know:

A. Another PCI on basic of haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching.
B. A paper re-interpreting previous research on gesture in SLA to show how haptic engagement has been there but, in many respects, just "not noticed." (my current project, but would love to share that w/somebody!)
C. Workshop on haptic anchoring of vocabulary (more general than the one last year on AWL)
D. Reports on ongoing research on the effectiveness of EHIEP techniques
E. A workshop on pronunciation homework, with haptic focus
F. Another NNS instructor-oriented workshop on "expressiveness" (i.e., more advanced intonation)
G. fMRI-based study on basic haptic anchoring
H. Haptic approach to teaching contrastive vowel systems in pronunciation teaching
I. Haptic phonetics (I may do that one or get a colleague here to do it!!!)
J. Haptic pronunciation discussion group (usually @ 7:00 a.m.)
K. A booth in the exhibition area (We will have an AH-EPS booth there to sell AH-EPS, of course, but will also try to figure out how to promote and sell other haptic "devices" and instructional programs.
L. Aerobic haptic demonstration (That went so well at BCTEAL in Vancouver that we have to do it at Portland, too!)
M. Poster sessions (There are any number of pieces of the basic EHIEP approach that could be done very effectively in a poster format.
N. Electronic village presentation of AH-EPS (absolutely essential this year.)
O. EHIEP and L2 identity embodiment (a former grad student has great data on that one)
P. Haptic pronunciation modelling in elementary ESL/EFL work (I'm doing a plenary in Korea in January on that topic
Q. Application of HICP principles to the teaching of sound systems of other languages.
R. Workshop on annotating written dialogue (especially with haptic parameters) for use in pronunciation teaching
S. Action research report on EHIEP protocol implementation in college EFL class (the data is available for that now)
T. Research summary report on the basis of HICP (similar to the one Karen Rauser and myself just did in Vancouver)
U. Demonstrations of AH-EPS (a freebee because we'll be paying for a booth at the convention)
V. Demonstrations at the AH-EPS booth throughout the conference (You can't up that on your CV, but it will be fun!)
W. Workshop on basic haptic pronunciation teaching techniques
X. Workshop on using haptic pronunciation techniques with graduate students
Y. Workshop on making your own haptic videos
Z. Get together of "hapticians" who are members of IAHICPR (Was supposed to have an organizational meeting at Dallas but we were having too much fun!)

I could go on . . . but I've run out of letters . . .KIT

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Haptic cinema and EHIEP-tic pronunciation training

My discovery of "haptic cinema" and that approach to experiential entertainment and teaching about 6 years ago was a game changer. The integration of the senses, especially the place of perceived texture in that media became the phenomenological model for "haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation," and still is. Here is a great example, "Haptic cinema: a sensory interface to the city."  It is about 11 minutes long. Put on some earphones, sit someplace where you'll have no visual distractions and experience it. 

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That is what it should feel like, the felt sense of haptic anchoring in EHIEP instruction, when the learner articulates a sound or word with rich vocal resonance as hands move across the visual field (with some degree of eye tracking) and the hands touch on the stressed vowel--possibly followed by a short continued movement completing an intonation "denouement." 

To prepare for watching it, you might go outside and hug a tree first . . . 

Monday, May 6, 2013

The sound of gesture: kinaesthetic listening during "haptic video" pronunciation instruction

In the early 90s a paint ball game designer in Japan told me that my kinaesthetic work was a natural for virtual reality. Several times since I have explored that idea, including developing an avatar in Second Life and, more recently, creating an avatar in my image to perform on video for me. (Have done half a dozen posts over the last three years playing with that idea.) How the brain functions and learner learns in VR is a fascinating area of research that is just beginning to develop.

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In a 2013 study by Dodds, Mohler and Bülthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics reported in Science Daily, " . . . the best performance was obtained when both avatars were able to move according to the motions of their owner . . . the body language of the listener impacted success at the task, providing evidence of the need for nonverbal feedback from listening partners  . . . with virtual reality technology we have learned that body gestures from both the speaker and listener contribute to the successful communication of the meaning of words."

The mirroring, synchrony and ongoing feedback of haptic-integrated pronunciation work are key to effective anchoring of sounds and words as well, whether done "live" in class or in response to the haptic video of AH-EPS. (In the classroom, with the students dancing along with the videos the instructor, as observer, is charged with responding in various ways to nonverbal and verbal feedback such as mis-aligned pedagogical movement patterns or "incorrect" articulation or questions from students.) What the research suggests is that listener body movement not only continuously informs the speaker and helps mediate what comes next, but that movement tied to the meanings of the words contributes significantly, apparently even more so than in "live" lectures.

There any number of possible reasons for that effect, of course, but "moving" past the mesmerizing, immobilizing impact of video viewing appears critical to VR training (and HICP!) KIT

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Symbiosis: Waiting for Godot (and research on pronunciation) to tell us how to teach!

Rereading a nice 2007 article from Educational Leadership by Marzano & Pickering, "Special topic: The case for and against homework," when I came on this paragraph which also could beautifully describe the state of the field today on pronunciation teaching:

"If relying solely on research is problematic, what are busy practitioners to do? The answer is certainly not to wait until research “proves” that a practice is effective. Instead, educators should combine research-based generalizations, research from related areas, and their own professional judgment based on firsthand experience to develop specific practices and make adjustments as necessary. Like medical practitioners, education practitioners must develop their own “local knowledge base” on homework and all other aspects of teaching. Educators can develop the most effective practices by observing changes in the achievement of the students with whom they work every day."

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What I particularly like are two phrases there: "research from related areas," and "Like medical practitioners." I am currently finishing up work on the pronunciation homework procedures in AH-EPS. There is virtually nothing in the field that is of use, but in Education in general, there is more than two decades of (often very controversial) research on the topic. For one, based on the general formula, an undergraduate should have a maximum of 3 hours of it  every night. (Next time my grad students complain about all the reading . . . ) And second, the tie to the medical profession, as clinicians,  is exceedingly appropriate in haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching. HICP.
Keep that one handy the next time somebody in the coffee lounge or from the conference podium throws a "Well . . . research has not yet established that that technique is effective!" at you. And, of course, KIT!

March 2007 | Volume 64 | Number 6, Responding to Changing Demographics Pages 74-79, retrieved May 5, 2013.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I love it (and me) when I say it that way: Affirming pronunciation errors

The role and impact of mispronunciation are multi-faceted, from how society perceives the lack of fit to the L1, to the learner's attitude toward such forms and how it affects everything from identity to ability to recognize the problem and attempts to improve. The stance of most contemporary theorists is to attempt to downplay the need for high levels of accuracy and help the learner feel more comfortable with errors and general risk-taking, especially if they are clearly developmental in nature, reassuring all concerned that either things will get better soon with some attention to pronunciation-- or society will  eventually "mature" and be more accepting.  

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Now assuming that assuming a more "healthy" attitude toward your errors is beneficial . . .  (Who could argue with that or define adequately what that might mean?) . . . how would you, as instructor, best facilitate that? Recent research by Legault and  Inzlicht of the University of Toronto, and Al-Khindi of Johns Hopkins University, reported in Science Daily, looking at the impact of self-affirmation on response to, and productive engagement with, mistakes, suggests some classroom strategies that may be helpful. In the study, subjects that did a paper and pencil exercise where they listed and briefly justified what they identified were their most important values were subsequently able to perform better on a task that required responding quickly to errors and making appropriate adjustments. (Another treatment group did a similar values-based task but focused, instead, on why the values at the lower end of the ranking were not that significant for them. )

Here is where the Cognitive Phonologists and many contemporary embodiment theorists have it absolutely correct. There are any number of good techniques for setting up that "affirmative" frame of mind or attitude, not just toward errors, but general L2 identity. In AH-EPS, the precision upper body movements and vocal resonance should serve something of the same function. (Our students consistently report tangible changes in self-confidence and "body image.") You're going to love it when you do it this way--make no mistake about it!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Better pronunciation with grit, tenacity and perseverance!

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If getting the pronunciation of your L2 does not come easy (or accomplishing anything that requires mobilization of all your "noncognitive" resources--according to a US Department of Education 2013 study)--you have another option: grit, tenacity and perseverance. A while back (1997) I did a paper on a related topic, looking at the optimal classroom environment for pronunciation learning, that began with this great quote from a popular student pronunciation textbook of the time:

"Acquiring good pronunciation is the most difficult part of learning a new language. As you improve your articulation you have to learn to listen and imitate all over again. As with any activity you wish to do well, you have to practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. Remember that you cannot accomplish good pronunciation overnight; improvement takes time. Some students may find it more difficult than others and will need more time than others to improve." (Orion, 1997, pp. xxiii-iv).

My point at the time was to "suggest," ways of using techniques derived from hypnosis (e.g., Suggestopedia) and related disciplines that appear to require less GTP on the part of the learner, allowing the learning to go on either subconsciously or at least with less overt "practice, practice, practice . . . " The quote from Orion (1997) was supposed to represent the wrong way to set up the class or students for what was ahead for them. According to the study, which identifies GTP as "critical factors for succes in the 21st century," I may have been wrong . . . or at least not doing justice to a key dimension of the process.

The more I work at developing a good system for promoting, monitoring and compelling essential pronunciation homework in AH-EPS, the more "Orion-esque" I have become. If learners do not have intrinsic GTP, the system has to provide it for them. The research on exercise persistence is full of guidelines on how to do that. It is not easy to figure out, but with a just a little GTP . . . 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

In a word: Global intelligibility vs local comprehensibility in pronunciation teaching

This is interesting. In an excerpt from a chapter in a new book, Teaching and Researching English Accents in Native and Non-native Speakers, (Editors, Waniek-Klimczk & Shockey) by Szpra-Kozlowska, "On the Irrelevance of Sounds and Prosody in Foreign-Accented English," the basic claim is that current focus on prosody and segmentals is "misguided," and that the priority, instead, ought to be on "words whose idiosyncratic erroneous renditions" make them more disruptive to communication. In other words, work on words first and then get to prosody and systematic attention to segmentals--later.

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Caveat emptor: I've just ordered the book and can't wait to give that chapter and the two studies it describes a careful read. Just the abstract, introduction and snippet from the chapter, however, are intriguing, especially as it relates to haptic-integrated instruction--and particularly, of course, because I like the conclusion and hope that the report holds up under close scrutiny!

Because of the power and effectiveness of haptic anchoring (hands touching on a stressed syllable of a word or phrase), the concept of the exemplar (as characterized by Lavie, here) is key. My working definition for an exemplar in HICP work is "a single word or phrase that once anchored effectively affects change in words of similar forms inductively and allows the brain to figure out the inherent patterns involved with little or no conscious noticing or meta-cognitive, formal pedagogical rules provided by the instructional program."

Bottom line: The implication would be that with haptic anchoring you can perhaps enable the most efficient enhancement of both intelligibility and comprehensibility by "correcting" individual words as they come up in instruction, rather than by doing an inordinate amount of pre-emptive global work on prosody and segmentals in relative isolation.

And what would Dizzy Dean say to that? "It ain't braggin', Szpra-Kozlowska, if you done it'!" Will report back on this one. KIT!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

R U P? (Txtmsging 4 pronunciation practice persistence)

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There are more and more studies on the use of social media in tempting people to engage in healthy,  constructive, persistent behavior, from direction for those with autism to teenage diet. This study by Yun and Arriaga of Georgia Institute of Technology, summarized by Science Daily, demonstrated the same effect with asthmatics: give them advice and reminders daily and they do a better job of managing their health. What is "different" about the procedures used in the study, is that text messages sent daily did not presumably initiate or invite dialogue but "simply" provided information.

Use of social media and technology for instructor-student communication and relationship maintenance is widely reported in language teaching. Some speech and pronunciation professionals and organizations, for example, do regularly send out helpful "advice" to their clients and students. The Yun and Arriaga study is also different in that it is very much programmatic, that is directly related to ongoing, recommended daily "healthy" practices.  In our (haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation) work, it would mean sending out to students in a class a group text message, using an application such as GroupMe, reminding them of how they should be pr

That is, in fact, also the recommended format for managing homework in the AH-EPS system. For example, a typical, daily or three times weekly text message attempting to keep students on track might  look something like this: wrmp, pract 1, pract 2, 2x6, wrdlst 1, wrdlst 2

1. wrmp (Do your warm up!)
2. pract 1 (Practice key strategies of the previous module.)
3. pract 2 (Practice new strategies of this module.)
3. 2x6 (Practice using new strategies in a written dialogue.)
4. wrdlst 1 (Practice last module's targeted word and phrase list.)
5. wrdlst 2 (Practice this module's targeted word and phrase list.)

Recommendation: Try that!
Suggestions: Report here if you do or when you do?
Reminder: Keep in touch!