Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Haptic Integration of AWL Vocabulary Instruction

Credit for image:
Amanda Baker, Mike Burri and myself are proposing a chapter for a proposed book on integrating pronunciation into other skill areas. (No guarantee it'll be accepted, of course, but here is a draft of that proposal): 
The Academic Word List (AWL), a compilation of 570 word families, has generated much interest, discussion and research in the past decade, and is now widely used, particularly in English for academic purposes (EAP) contexts (Coxhead 2000, 2011). Current theory on optimal acquisition of vocabulary suggests that it is best learned in context, using a more task-based approach (Nunan, 2004.)

However, recent research reveals an interesting twist. File and Adams’ work (2010), for example, demonstrated that isolated (not contextualized) vocabulary instruction may lead to a higher rate of retention than some forms of integrated instruction. Such research partially vindicates more traditional, paradigmatic practice that incorporates such practices as the use of word lists, attention to derivational and affixational morphology, along with basic etymology and word-family-association.

That research serves as point of departure for this proposed chapter. A classroom-tested, haptic (movement + touch) pedagogical overlay and extension of that study is proposed (Acton, Baker, Burri & Teaman, in press.) A key assumption of the chapter is that a word may be “processed” more experientially (haptically), in such a way as to better anchor (committing to memory) its meaning, pronunciation, structural and "familial" properties. That may or may not include a relevant -usage sentence or phrase, associated with a high value conversational or EAP context.

The key principle is that both contextualized and non-contextualized attention to AWL words can be equally effective. Research in several disciplines has shown that appropriate "haptic engagement" in instruction can serve to effectively link together disparate features from different learning modalities (e.g., Fremdenback, Boisferon & Gentz, 2009.) In this case, the structural, physical and systemic features of the word can be linked enabling better recall and retention.  

The chapter presents a vocabulary list consisting of academic, multi-syllable words featuring the 14 most frequent word stress patterns occurring in the AWL (cf., Murphy & Kandil, 2004), followed by a set of four haptic protocols specifically developed to assist second language learners in anchoring (committing to memory) and acquiring high-value academic lexical items more effectively.

The protocols involve gesture-based movements that are linked to the following: word stress differentiating between stressed and unstressed vowels; prominent syllables and syllable grouping; phrasal collocations; word-level intonation; stress shift anchoring, and word family/paradigm-review

To illustrate, a "syllable protocol" (Acton, 2013) addresses primary stress and unstressed/secondary stress or rhythmic beats, each linked to a syllable in a word. For the syllable with primary stress, the learners tap their right hand on their left shoulder firmly. For all other syllables, the left hand touches the right forearm near the right elbow, one tap for each unstressed syllable. For example, in visualization, there are three small taps near the elbow (vi-su-al-), followed by one strong shoulder tap (-i-) and then two additional elbow taps (-za-tion). All of the protocols involve similar, gesture + touch movements that help learners focus their attention on the targeted term and recall it better, later.


Acton, W. (2013). AH-EPS B-FLY-Demo,, retrieved September 25, 
Acton, W., Baker, A. A., Burri, M., & Teaman, B. (in press). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. M. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Aug. 2012. Vancouver, BC.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.
Coxhead, A. (2011). The academic word list 10 years on: Research and teaching implications. TESOL Quarterly, 45(2), 355-362.File, K. A., & Adams, R. (2010). Should vocabulary instruction be integrated or isolated? TESOL Quarterly, 44(2), 222-249.
File, K., and Adams, R. (2010). Should vocabulary be isolated or integrated? TESOL Quarterly 44(2): 222-249.
Fredenbach, B., Boisferon, A. & Gentaz, E. (2009). Learning of arbitrary association between
visual and auditory novel stimuli in adults: The “Bond Effect” of haptic exploration. PLoS ONE, 2009; 4 (3): e4844 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0004844.
Murphy, J., and Kandil, M. (2004). Word-level stress patterns in the academic word list. System, 32, 61-74.
Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Teaman, B., & Acton, W. (2013). Haptic (movement and touch for better) pronunciation. In N. Sonda and A. Krause (Eds.), Proceedings of the JALT 2012 Conference. Tokyo: JALT.

Conferences at which the content has been presented:

Acton, W., & Burri, M., Rauser, K., & Teaman, B. (2013, March). Anchoring academic word list vocabulary: One touch at a time. Workshop presented at the 47th Annual TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX.
Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Kielstra, N., Rauser, K., Teaman, B., & Van Dyke, A. (2013, March). Essentials of haptic (kinesthetic + tactile) - integrated pronunciation instruction. Pre-conference Institute presented at the 47th Annual TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX.
Acton, W., Baker, A., Teaman, B., & Burri, M. (2012, August). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. Paper presented at the 4th Annual Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Vancouver, BC.
Acton, W., Burri, M., Teaman, B., Goertzen, M., & Brodie, A. (2012, March). Getting optimal pronunciation from learner English dictionaries and beyond. Workshop presented at the 46th Annual TESOL Convention, Philadelphia, PA.
Acton, W., Burri, M., & Teaman, B. (2011, October). Moving pronunciation, meaning and usage from the dictionary! Workshop presented at the 2011 Tri-TESOL Conference , Des Moines, WA.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brain-fit Pronunciation Instruction!

Wow! Science Daily just published an article on a program developed by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center called the "Brain Fit Club." Here's the description (emphasis, mine) :

" . . . . might involve a combination of scientifically-validated computerized cognitive training, brain stimulation, nutritional coaching, mindfulness training, sleep and lifestyle education, gait and balance evaluation and treatment, and group classes in meditation, tai chi and gentle yoga designed to target a full range of cognitive struggles or decline . . . there's a lot to be gained from pairing traditional treatments like medication with special kinds of exercises, and we're very excited to offer this comprehensive approach . . . " 

Sign me up! The boldfaced terms would describe basic HICP pretty well! The BIDMC has apparently been around doing this kind of thing for decades. Of the dozen or so techniques or technique-types mentioned, as of now AH-EPS does not exactly employ only a few of them, namely: 

Clip art: Clker
(a) computerized cognitive training--although we do it well w/o the wiring and are ready to go virtual reality at a moment's notice!
(b) nutritional coaching--although AH-EPS is very much based on coaching models and students do find the system "food for thought!"
(c) sleep education--although research is clear when most learning consolidation happens.
(d) gait evaluation--although general body fluidity and balance are critical. 

Clearly, if you are not doing this kind of pronunciation work, you may be in some degree of cognitive (phonological) decline . . . 

Keep In Touch. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Famous "Alcohol/L2 pronunciation study" mystery solved: Here's (NOT) looking at you, kid!

Clip art: Clker
If you have done some formal study of second language pronunciation teaching and learning, you have almost certainly ran across the 1972 "Alcohol" study done by Guiora and colleagues. Explanations as to exactly why drinking about an ounce and half of alcohol seemed to improve subjects' ability to imitate an audio recording of Thai sentences have run from Guiora's theoretical construct of "enhanced ego permeability" to simply "muscle relaxation" (Brown 2006 and elsewhere.) If you have followed this blog some you are aware of the critical importance of limiting visual field distraction to effectiveness of haptic pronunciation teaching techniques. (That observation is backed up by any number of studies in general "haptic" learning that demonstrate how visual modality consistently overrides auditory and tactile engagement.)

In Guiora's study, subjects sat facing an experimenter who operated the tape recorder. I have long wondered what would have happened had the imitation phase been done in a lab, rather than face to  face. (In a 1980 attempt to replicate the alcohol study later--in which I was on the research team, the attractive "social presence" of one of the (female) experimenters appeared to demonstrate the added impact of a face on the effect.)

A new study by Gorka, Fitzgerald, King, and Phan at University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, reported by Science DailyAlcohol attenuates amygdala–frontal cortex connectivity during processing social signals in heavy social drinkers, suggests another, related explanation for the improved performance of subjects on the imitation task: desensitization to "threatening" features in the visual field in front of them. In the current study, "heavy social drinkers." given an appropriate size drink, were significantly slower in reacting to pictures of "threatening" facial expressions. The bottom line: the alcohol served to somewhat disconnect the connection between the (emotion-related) amygdala and the pre-frontal (visual) cortex.

There are many ways to functionally do the same thing in pronunciation instruction, restricting the emotional/social/visual impact on learner's attention. The field (pronunciation teaching) has figured out how to deal with the social and emotion milieu reasonably well but generally does not focus on the potentially disruptive effect of what is going on, on an ongoing basis,  in the visual field. In our work, that is essential--a given. SEE what I mean?

Apologies to Bogart for the take off on his famous line from Casablanca in the post title.