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! 

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