Saturday, August 31, 2013

New introduction to Haptic Pronunciation Teaching!

Keep in touch!

This article, "Haptic (Movement and Touch for Better) Pronunciation," by Brian Teaman and yours truly, was just published in the JALT 2012 Conference Proceedings. If you are new to our work, this is a pretty good place to start. For more information on how to get the materials or training in how to do "haptic," email us at:

Monday, August 26, 2013

What comes first? Speaking confidently or confident speaking?

I know . . . trick question. A recent Facebook post by the seriously "positive" Tim Murphey got me thinking. He was commenting on a study commented on by Lynn McTaggart at Positive, commenting on a study done by Michigan State University researchers. (One of my alma maters, by the way, so it must be true!) The point of the article was that people speak in public more confidently when they think about others in their group and not just how nervous they are or whatever. Murphey's point is that when we are connected, we are confident. (In the original study, however,  they seem to have not controlled for the intentional mental focus on anything other than stage/speaking fright--a near fatal flaw--an effect well-established by research and practice in several fields.)

Acton Haptic -
English Pronunciation System
Mea culpa. I tend to be a little skeptical about claims in "confidence before competence" models, especially in pronunciation teaching. An interesting 2007 doctoral thesis by Montha Songsiri of Victoria University, nonetheless, demonstrated, at least in part, how pedagogy can indeed engender confidence in speaking that appears to show up in greater intelligibility and more accurate pronunciation.

And then recently I did a 10-day intensive speaking/pronunciation/accent reduction program using a modified version of the AH-EPS system with pre-MBA nonnative speakers--and may have watched it happen: Beginning with a great deal of speaking in public (oral reading and highly formatted interactions, coupled with public speaking confidence tricks such as posture, breathing)--and concentrating on something other than performance anxiety--seemed to "work!" (In this case, the pedagogical movement patterns of AH-EPS to some extent, I assume.) Where participants' improved pronunciation came from exactly and so quickly is, of course, impossible to say, but the degree of reported improvement alone was almost surprising.  But I am confident in speaking from that perspective, of course! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

No native-speaker models for pronunciation teaching allowed? Rats!

Clip art: Clker
For a number of reasons, the native speaker as model (or target) for L2 pronunciation or accent has been displaced by most contemporary theorists and methodologists--but probably not by most classroom instructors and learners. At least not yet. The reality that one will not "get there," along with the cultural-political-psychological-pedagogical-historical baggage the native speaker model carries has become sufficient grounds to dismiss it.

Research by by Graybiel and Turney at MIT and Sandburg at Washington University of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research on the neurophysiological basis of persistence toward goal (by rats) suggests both just how critical a clear target is but also the importance of benchmarks on the way. One surprising finding of the research was the way brain dopamine levels reflected not just reaching a goal but the continuing awareness of being on the right course.

What does that mean for effective pronunciation teaching today? Creating good nonnative speaker and "near peer" models has turned out to be problematic at best. Although instructors may use recorded models that work, including themselves, there is still little agreement in the field on how to do that effectively. At least not yet!

The potential problem for the learner, of course, is not having a clearly discernible goal or model, irregardless of how unrealistic or culturally "incorrect" that endpoint may be. Both the general absence of workable targets and models, clear trajectories and achievable benchmarks--in most cases for theoretically valid pedagogical reasons--can easily leave learners not only without a plan but--short on dopamine, and consequently the motivation to stay at it.

So what to do? Haptic pronunciation instruction is a step in the right direction. In the interim, at least just keep in touch!