Saturday, December 28, 2013

Exciting pronunciation improvement: the "Harvard way," so to speak!

Note: Decide whether to process "exciting" as a gerund or adjective--or both (preferred) before reading this post. 

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After decades of trying to dial down anxiety in pronunciation teaching, having students calm down, relax or get in the zone affectively, leave it to Harvard researchers to "discover" that getting excited is actually a better state of mind to be in when preparing for what would normally be some anxiety-provoking activities or challenges. The results of the experiments, reported by  Brooks of the Harvard School of Business, and reported by Science Daily, demonstrated, "that simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety."

That is big. The basic premise of the studies was the value of having subjects practice saying things out loud like "I'm excited about X," or, alternatively, "I'm calm about X . . . "  Those using the positive approach turned out to be consistently better at performing the task ahead.  Furthermore, Brooks notes that, "  . . . It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement." What the "excited talk" subjects experienced was both more excitement up front and lower anxiety during the performance task itself (measured in part by heart rate.)

Such applications of "Positive"psychology" have been around for a long time. The mechanism behind such results is clear: professed motivation, even if somewhat "insincere" and artificial, in some, relatively limited contexts works well. The Harvard studies appear to have focused primarily on public oral performance, such as giving a speech. Speaking. See the connection? The subjects were already speaking more confidently before they had began . . . speaking.

In haptic pronunciation teaching (and probably every good public speaking training system), in part because of the"full body" engagement, we see the same phenomenon: learners do, indeed, get "excited" (or maybe even a bit agitated?) up front, but then demonstrate less anxiety in responding to modelling and during oral practice and error correction. Exciting, eh?

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