Monday, October 14, 2013

Guidelines for using (haptic) gesture in pronunciation teaching

Literally for decades I was working under the assumption that gesture and general body movement work, in principle, was a good way to loosen learners up and get them engaged, let alone teach aspects of pronunciation. For some, it is, but the impact on others, especially those from less "gesticular" cultures, can be unproductive, at best. I have evolved, somewhat at least, from cheerleader to coach/consultant in that regard. A few general principles:
  • If you do make extensive use of gesture with adolescents and adults, you must be able to explain why FIRST, at least initially persuade them that it is research and success-based. 
  • The directed movement must be highly controlled, both in terms of range of motion and emotional loading, and very easy to teach and to follow. 
  • The gesture work is most effective when done "in chorus," as a class, with learners visually attending to and following the instructor, not being able to see what each other is doing. 
  •  It must not be forced. If a learner choses not to participate, or do so only minimally, that is fine. (Research on mirror neurons and years of experience with this kind of teaching confirms the power of engaged observation.)
  • The gesture must be consistently coupled with strong vocal resonance to make sure that it is well anchored. That is based, in part, on the work of Lessac in voice training.
  • Learners must experience early success. Using baton-like gesture on stressed syllables to enhance memory for vocabulary is often a good start. 
  • The gestural patterns, what we ("haptic" pronunciation teachers) term "pedagogical movement patterns" need to be used consistently in integrated classroom instruction, presentation and correction. 
If you'd like to see an example of what the haptic patterns look like, here is a demonstration video clip that shows the set that can be used for presenting (not training in or practicing) the lax vowels of general American English. Especially the set of low and mid-back vowels in that demonstration would have to be adjusted accordingly were you working with specific regional dialects of English or "World Englishes." 

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