Saturday, May 11, 2013

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

Clip art: Clker
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 . . . 

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