Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vancouver Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Seminar - Cancelled!

Photo credit: 604now.com
We had planned on holding a 5-day, 40-hour, Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Seminar in Vancouver, August 4th through 8th, 2014. The plan now is to offer it again, next year at about the same time and place. (Announcement will be made later this fall!)
The description:

By the end of the seminar, participants will be fully trained in haptic pronunciation teaching and certified to conduct teacher training using the Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation System (EHIEP) and Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System (AH-EPS), the haptic video system. The venue will be the Sandman Hotel, Langley, BC, just east of Vancouver. (Hotel rates, about $130 CAD daily.)

Cost per participant: $2000 (includes breakfasts and materials.) Group discounts available.

The general structure will be:

Monday a.m. - Preliminaries and Research review
Monday p.m. - Visual field management and haptic warm ups
Tuesday a.m. - Haptic phonetics
Tuesday p.m. - English vowels and words stress schema
Wednesday a.m. - Rhythm
Wednesday p.m. - Pitch and fluency
Wednesday evening - Public seminar
Thursday a.m. - Basic Intonation
Thursday p.m. - Discourse intonation
Friday a.m. - English consonants
Friday p.m. - Teacher training protocols
Friday evening - Party 

Minimum number of participants: 12; maximum, 24
We will be accepting applications until June 1st. $500 deposit due by June 15th. It the training seminar is not fully enrolled by June 15th, deposits will be returned.

If you are interested in attending, please contact us at info@actonhaptic.com. The training seminar is open to all ESL/EFL instructors who have at least two years teaching experience and recognized formal training in ESL/EFL teaching methodology. Preliminary SKYPE interview and professional references may be required.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Post-method Pronunciation Teaching and Research: Myths and (Haptic) Method

To understand something of the conundrum faced by teachers new to pronunciation work today, you probably need to begin with Kumaravadevilu's (2003) initial characterization of the "Post-method" era, or, even better, Kumaravadevilu (2007). That, along with a great new book just out, Pronunciation Myths, edited by Grant and Brinton, provides a good perspective on the question. 
Clip art:

In essence, the first (a) builds a compelling case for the idea that no one method can possibly work in all contexts and (b) provides a set of 10 strategies for, in essence, building your own personal classroom teaching method--while at the same time warning that an inflexible "method" is to be avoided at all costs. In part that is because the only way you can test a method is to try it yourself, in your classroom. And also you must--at least temporarily--believe the "testimonies" of those who use it, while you test it. 

The second, "Myths," while thoroughly dispensing with several common misconceptions (and a few "straw men") about pronunciation teaching, provides a very useful review of the range of research-tested techniques that have, in fact, been shown to be effective. (I count 40 or 50 discrete techniques or variants in all.) 

Add to those two the current theoretical perspective that pronunciation must to the extent possible be integrated into general instruction and you have the post-method conundrum: How do I personally assemble the techniques that can be integrated and will work in my (unique) classroom? (Murphy's chapter in "Myths" addresses that issue quite well in fact.) 

What we refer to as "Haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching" is, in fact, a method based on the use of a wide range of well-established and proven techniques. (All reported in "Myths!") What makes it different is just that (a) the techniques are generally anchored (or reinforced) using movement and touch--based on multiple "haptic" studies in other disciplines, and (b) the method focuses principally on modelling, feedback and correction--and to some extent integration into spontaneous speech. Those are dimensions of pronunciation teaching that have been studied extensively in "the lab" but not in the classroom, especially in terms of long term improvement. 

And to finish up the post-modern stew: EHIEP (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation)  work is essentially experiential, both learning with it and about it. The best evidence that we have now that the method, itself, "works" are about a decade of reports from students in the classroom and related research from a dozen other disciplines. The same is the case with all methods, of course. 

For a number reasons, it is exceedingly difficult to test a method, among them the fact that no matter what the results, in today's "hyper-localized" theoretical view of methodology,  the nature of the learner population may radically limit generalizability. Few if any classroom studies or action research in pronunciation teaching provide much in the way of detail as to how the techniques or treatments were actually conducted or relate to the other instruction or ongoing experiences that students/subjects were involved in at the time of the study.  

Theoretically, one should, of course, be able to generalize from the local. (That is, after all the raison d’etre for the dominance of qualitative research in the field currently.) In practice, research is today still so thoroughly “critical-agenda-driven” that general applicability of methodology cannot be of interest. In time, in depth studies of one teacher's method will again be in fashion and doctoral dissertations. (I'm working on a book proposal that will do something like that.) 

For the time being . . . Just do it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What teachers must know about pronunciation teaching!

Clip art:
Found an interesting 2012 study by Wahid and Sulong entitled, "The Gap Between Research and Practice in the Teaching of English Pronunciation: Insights from Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices." Their conclusion is that teachers need to know more and researchers need to be better at talking to them. Amen. One interesting finding was that the teachers in that study identified their "pronunciation" work as follows. (Frequency of teaching activity chart from page 136):

Repeating a sound after the teacher (as in error correction) - 23; Reading aloud - 22; Dictionary work - 10; Oral drills e.g. tongue twisters - 9; Choral reading - 3; Games - 2; Role-play - 2.

Now, granted, that may be a bit "extreme," in that today, at least among those teachers more exposed to contemporary methodology we would expect a wider range of activities and explicit pronunciation instruction (e.g., Baker, 2012.) 

Recently, on a professional discussion board of pronunciation researchers, the question came up as to exactly WHAT teachers should know. (Kudos to Levis of Iowa State University who got the original discussion going.) I later gave my grad students that list and asked them to order and edit it some. Here is basically what they came up with.  (Note the obvious bias on that first item on the list!) 
  • Pronunciation work should be embodied in movement as much as possible.
  • Spoken language is different from written language. 
  • Pronunciation actually does matter.
  • There is always time to include pronunciation. 
  • All well-trained teachers can teach pronunciation effectively. 
  • Any thoughtful pronunciation work is better than none. 
  • Suprasegmentals are pronunciation. 
  • There must be a working familiarity with segmental and suprasegmental features of speech. 
  • Teachers must learn how to put more emphasis on suprasegmentals. 
  • Teachers must understand how to systematically integrate pronunciation into language teaching. 
  • Pronunciation can be included in or integrated in classes for all language skills.
  • Pronunciation is closely connected to receptive skills and should be taught that way. 
  • Some pronunciation issues should be made explicit while others can be left implicit. 
  • Student needs should drive pronunciation rather than pre-selected targets. 
  • Teachers must listen to and identify L2 speech problems, separating pronunciation from other elements of spoken language.
  • Pronunciation work does not disrespect a learner’s L1, home culture or identity.
  • Thought groups/tone units are the basis of all prosody work.
  • Vocabulary should always be taught with elements of pronunciation, such as the stress pattern. 
  • The word is the basic conceptual unit for pronunciation.
  • Awareness of vowel duration and the alternation of long and short syllables is essential. 
  • Stress-timed rhythm and syllable-timed rhythm may both be appropriate depending on the context. 
  • Some errors are more important than others. 
  • There must be practice in marking errors and classifying them according to importance. 
  • Teachers must know how to provide useful feedback. 
  • Teachers must understand how to help learners develop automaticity.
  • Teachers must know how to teach compensatory strategies such as oral spelling.
Interesting list. What do you know . . .

Monday, April 21, 2014

Communicating with touch in (haptic) Pronunciation Teaching

In answer to the question: "What does touch add to pronunciation teaching?", the 2010 (free pdf downloadable) piece "From active touch to tactile communication - what's tactile cognition got to do with it?" by Nicholas of Haukeland University, Norway, is a good place to begin. It certainly was for me. (It has been cited in earlier blogposts.) 

Those who work with the deaf-blind have, understandably, a different, more informed perspective as to the nature of what Nicholas refers to as "tactile communication." Of particular interest to us is the concept of "active touch":

"Active touch, also described as haptics, is when the individual deliberately chooses his or her actions in the exploration and manipulation of an object. Active touch plays a regular and frequent role in our everyday life . . . It is only our sense of touch that enables us to modify and manipulate the world around us (McLaughlin, Hespanha, & Sukhatme, 2002)."

Image: Socialstyrelsen
For the deaf-blind the links between tactile cognition and emotion and interpersonal communication are, in a very real sense, primary. For the sighted and hearing, in varying degrees, tactile modality is a complement to visual-auditory-kinaesthetic processing--although the inner-connectivity and overlap between locations in the brain for tactile processing and the other senses is extensive. 

What Nicholas' brief essay demonstrates, however, is both the power and potential of touch in learning and communicating. We have known from the outset in haptic pronunciation teaching that the methodology itself, of using haptic anchoring on words and phrases to be remembered, along with the regular "full-body" warm ups, generates not only quality attention and engagement, but also a rich, interpersonal "dialogue" about pronunciation change.  In other words, not only does the learner use touch to learn more efficiently, but the ongoing, generally impromptu "conversations" with instructor and fellow students, signalling unobtrusively with gesture to model or correct pronunciation, should be both interpersonally and emotionally rewarding as well.  

Communicating together in that manner about pronunciation, or form in this case, becomes not only nonthreatening and non-disruptive of language learning--it becomes a rich source of collaborative, professional, focused exploration and engagement--and even fun. 

Required reading for "Hapticians" and the otherwise out-of-touch! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Basics of Haptic Pronunciation Teaching

In addition to the v3.0 Instructors' Guide, here is your recommended reading list!

Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., and Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Aug. 2012. (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University

Teaman, B. and Acton, W. (2013). Haptic (movement and touch for better) pronunciation. In N. Sonda & A. Krause (Eds.), JALT 2012 Conference Proceedings (pp.402-409). Tokyo: JALT. Umeå universitet. (2012, October 26).


"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is." (Yogi Berra)

Keep in touch!

Pronunciation "Flow-ency!"

Ran across an interesting note on prerequisites for speaking fluently, posted on the website of the "Effortless English Club""To speak English fluently, of course you must understand instantly and speak without thinking." It then goes on to pitch its program:"After only 5 hours, most of my seminar students show improvement with their English speaking. They speak more quickly and more clearly. How? Mostly by changing their feelings and beliefs– by developing strong confidence in their English speaking ability." After only 5 hours . . . Wow.

Actually, they may be on to something. We could take the idea of "speak[ing] without thinking" in several directions, including the use of mindless drill,  but what is intended (I think) is closer to "flow," as proposed by Csíkszentmihályi, the experience of "completely focused motivation" -- or being in the zone.

We have all had the experience of at least temporarily speaking very well about something that we believe in so strongly that the words seem to flow from us almost "without thinking." (One of the parameters of holistic lie detection, on the contrary, is evidence of the interviewee "making things up" on the fly.) In our work, a protocol called the "Rhythm Fight Club"is designed to give the learner a feel for what "being centred, confident and on a roll" is like. (Preliminary findings of a research project on the process are again confirming that effect.)

A couple of nights ago, for the first time, I tried to do a 3-minute talk about haptic research and teaching using RFC "Flow-ency" accompanying or driving everything I said. In part because I had rehearsed the talk a number of times--and it is something that I probably have "completely focused motivation" about, it went very well (at least from my perspective, if not that of the audience!) At least a couple of very partisan observers agreed with that assessment!

I have experimented with the "Flow-ency" technique with learners for a number of years. Will now get it operationalized and more "teachable" as an extension of RFC. If you still haven't signed on as a haptician, try that for a couple minutes sometime with a topic that you are truly passionate about. And keep in touch.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gym-glish! Fiona gets physical!

Fiona's ESL Blog this month has a brilliant excerpt from the second issue of Here Magazine: AT THE GYM - a beginner's workout (PDF downloadable!) For some, body-based pedagogy can be enhanced considerably by a little "body work" up front--and other places! Required reading.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Haptic solutions: [i] versus [I] - Not even close to a close vowel!

Clip art: Clker
Got any students who have difficulty making or hearing the distinction between [i] and [I] or [u] and [U]? In articulatory and perceptual terms, those two pairs of vowels are problematic for learners from many different L1s. Phonetic descriptions refer to [i] and [u] as close vowels; the other two are said to be done with the tongue "not so close" to the roof of the mouth.

Advice to learners on how to produce the differences ranges from "Smile more on [i]" or "Round your lips more on [u]," to "Tense your jaw more on one," etc. Vowel charts typically have them located very close together visually, often in the same high-front or high-back box. (Why the IPA chart or something close to it is used for learners has always been a mystery to me. Probably something to do with the linguists who set it up?) As explored in several earlier blogposts, even the choice of the left to right (front to back) lay out of the vowel chart is apparently arbitrary--and from a phonaesthetic perspective, probably backwards. (EHIEP does go right-to-left, in fact.)

The importance of spatial positioning in anchoring conceptual and emotional "closeness" has just been highlighted in a new study by Maglio at the university of Toronto-Scarborough and colleagues, briefly and informally summarized by our friends at ScienceDaily.com: " . . . something that feels close in one way, such as physical distance, will also feel close in time, probability, and social similarity." 

In the case of haptic vowel positioning, the opposite should apply; those perceived as more haptically dissimilar should be easier to distinguish and produce. In the EHIEP system, those pairs of vowels are experientially "distanced" by: 
1. Being visually distinct: [i] is represented as [iy]; [I], as [I]
2. Pedagogical movement patterns that are very different. On [iy] the left hand had brushes by the right hand (positioned at 1 o'clock in the visual field) and continues on to just above the middle of the forehead at the hair line. On [I], the left hand lightly taps the right hand, positioned at 2 o'clock. 
3. The typical student reaction to learning the haptic distinctions between close and non-close vowels  involved being something like "Those vowels are really not that close at all!" Exactly. 

See demonstrations of double smooth (tense vowel + off-glide) and single rough vowels (simple lax or tense vowel) there on Vimeo.com or on the AH-EPS website. If a demo is password-accessible only by the time you go to look at it, email info@actonhaptic.com for temporary access.

Stay close; keep in touch. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Haptic "INTRA-diction!" in Pronunciation Teaching

Credit: Henrichsen, BYU
Our new, favourite new word: INTRA-diction! (You may have noticed that we, hapticians, occasionally have to come up with new terms to accurately characterize what we do (e.g., haptician.)) Hopefully, it will be the focus of a new haptic workshop that we are proposing for TESOL 2015 in Toronto, next March: "On the spot, impromptu haptic pronunciation modelling, feedback and correction." (See earlier blogpost on the range of topics that we are considering for proposals at upcoming conferences.) Here is a great example from Henrichsen at BYU. (It is not, strictly speaking, haptic--the learner does not have something to squeeze in his right hand--but it does beautifully illustrate the concept, using what we call the "Conversational Rhythm Fight Club" PMP.

"INTRA-diction" defined: 

On the spot, unplanned, brief attention to pronunciation (typically taking less than a minute)  during a lesson in any skill area, involving modelling, feedback and correction. That will usually involve providing the learner with a more appropriate model using a "pedagogical movement pattern" (a gesture that terminates in touch on a stressed syllable) and (probably) doing the word, phrase or sentence out loud, together with the learner 2 or 3 times. 

It brings together five ideas:

a. Introspection
b. Interdiction
c. Intra-personal
d. Inter-personal
e. Haptic anchoring

Try that. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mind-body Connections in Pronunciation Teaching

Clip art: Clker
For most, the systematic use of movement and gesture--or even haptic is now at least of interest (See, for example the work of ThornburyGilbert or Chan.) You really can't be very successful in this business without some somatic (body-based) technique to support or reinforce classroom instruction, even if that just means clapping hands occasionally to emphasize stress placement.

Show me an instructor who loves doing pronunciation work, however, and I'll almost always show you one who is at least an enthusiastic "gesticulator" but probably also a musician of some kind or avid exerciser! Every time I do that informal poll at a conference, the agreement is near 100% in the audience.

Still the best place to get a general understanding of the integration of mind and body in education and therapy is in psychotherapies such as Somatic Therapy: Somatic Therapy: Using the Mind–Body Connection to Get Results. (To access that 7-page primer, however, you'll have to sign on to Psychotherapynetworker.org; go to the "Free reports" tab and download a copy. No need; I've done that for you. I'll be reporting in later blogposts on some innovative and applicable techniques from that source.)

 It is instructive to read comments by clinicians who work in such holistic paradigms, especially to better understand why what we do works. In the piece, Wylie (p. 7) makes the following "prophetic"point--which applies to this field as well: " . . . somatic approaches may become sufficiently ordinary and acceptable that the line between “body psychotherapy” and “talk psychotherapy” may one day disappear entirely."

With emerging video and hapic methodology and technology, I'd only substitute "will" for "may"--and "very soon" for "one day!"

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Future (pronunciation) Teaching and Learning? Gesture!

Barras of the BBC in the "Future Education column" this month has a select, light-weight, informal summary of research and opinion on the impact of systematic, body-assisted learning, entitled, "Want to learn quicker? Use your body!" Although the studies referenced have been reported on the blog previously, that is still a readable, almost fun piece, one you can pass on to those new to the idea of kinaesthetic and haptic engagement. Especially like this quote from Cook at the University of Iowa:

"In every study that we’ve tested the importance of gesturing, we’ve found it works,” she says. “Even in the experimental settings where we thought gesturing wouldn’t work.”

I'd paraphrase that this way: In every aspect of pronunciation or teaching context that we've tried "haptic," we've found it works!

So will you.

(Have not formally tried the depicted "inter-nasal" gesture, but who nose?)