Monday, May 26, 2014

Why use of gesture often does not work in pronunciation teaching--and when it does!

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One of the strengths of haptic pronunciation instruction is that the use of touch on stressed syllables, accompanying gesture, makes kinaesthetic learning more systematic and effective. For a number of reasons, simply kinaesthetic or gesture-based techniques that do not attend to touch may or may not work in any classroom.

A. Part of the problem is the natural selection involved in those who love teaching pronunciation; part of the problem, what we use gesture for or what it is synchronized with. Many "natural" pronunciation teachers are what I'd call "hyper-gesticulators," highly expressive themselves and, in part because of their ability to connect verbally and nonverbally with students, they are able to get students to do some pretty strange out-of-the-box stuff. They can be very successful in their classroom, themselves, but their method often may not transfer all that well to "newbees" and the less "gesticulate." (I am presently putting together a book proposal that will examine in depth strongly paralinguistic and gesture-based methods of several like-minded, clinical practitioners.)

B. And the fact that in English, as in most languages in varying ways, gesture and physical movement can serve as a motivator or "exuberator." In other words, physical action, by itself, helps motivate learners and loosen them up to instruction, etc. (Some instructors tend to lean of cheerleading to a fault in motivating students.) Hence the problem for systematic work w/gesture: what can motivate on the one hand (no pun intended there!) can, on the other hand, seriously undermine focus and attention to specific sound-movement targets in instruction.

C. And more. There is a great deal of research on the neurophysiological basis and clinical application of  "emotional control." See, for example, this summary from the website  The bottom line, for our work, is that both lack of emotional and physical engagement--as well as uncontrolled, over-exuberance physically and emotionally--can be about equally counterproductive. Our experience in the classroom in 4 years of field testing certainly confirms that. Often a very outgoing, verbal and physically expressive learner may still have substantial difficulty both in mirroring the pedagogical movement patterns and achieving satisfactory improvement in pronunciation or accent.

D. In addition, one of the reasons for the sometimes inconsistent results in using gesture in teaching in general, especially for the more eidetic-visual learner or instructor (those with near photographic memories), is that if the position of the gesture varies even slightly upon repeated application, it can be very frustrating for them, nearly impossible to interpret to respond to.

The solution, or at least one haptic pronunciation teaching approach (EHIEP/AH-EPS), is to carefully control or manage movement and gesture work so that even the most reticent will join in and the emotionally overreactive will be throttled back, at least temporarily. (See also a new research summary by ScienceDaily of work by McGlone of Liverpool John Moores University in England and colleagues on the connection of "soft touch" to emotion.) How can you do that?

For a (moderately) good time, one that involves extensive use of touch as well as gesture, go to!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New pronunciation teaching videos by Adrian Underhill!

Macmillan has just released the first of Adrian Underhill's new pronunciation teaching video series. Here is the announcement from his blog, Adrian has always been one very tuned in to the visual/physical side of pronunciation teaching. His Pronunciation Chart is excellent. Aspects of that framework were instrumental in the design of the Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation (EHIEP) framework.

The complete video series, planned to be 35, 3-minute videos should be a good complement to the Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System (AH-EPS) haptic video program. Knowing Underhill, it will, I'm sure, provide a thorough and entertaining presentation for both teachers and learners. (Once a little more of it is available, I'll review it in depth and link it to our work.)

What he typically does well is provide understanding of key elements of (British) pronunciation for learners and instructors, a wide range of applicable techniques--especially kinaesthetic--and practice opportunities/guidelines following from that. If that is what you are looking for, you probably cannot find a better video-based source. (If you are still more dead-tree-bound, Gilbert's work is my recommendation as a good place to begin.)

By contrast, for a number of reasons, AH-EPS:

  • Does not do as much explicit explanation and metacognitive management
  • Is haptic-based rather than kinaesthetic
  • Presents a more restricted set of formal features to work with
  • Uses a vowel chart that is the mirror image of the AdrianPronChart
  • Focuses on doing some limited teaching for the instructor, in class
  • Sets up impromptu, spontaneous modelling and correction of pronunciation
  • Is designed primarily for instructors with little or no background in pronunciation teaching

A most welcome addition. Check it out.

Friday, May 16, 2014

(Haptic) pair-a-linguistic pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Saw a recent discussion thread that (incorrectly) identified gesture as a paralinguistic feature of speech. That term, paralanguage, typically refers to pitch, loudness, rate and fluency. Gesture or body movement may be synchronized with speech in a way that it can reflect some aspect of paralanguage, as in when arm gesticulating is coordinated with the stress or rhythm pattern, such that a baton-like gesture comes down on key points for emphasis in a lecture, etc.

Actually, I like that idea, combing or pairing (haptic-anchored) gesture with paralanguage. In EHIEP work we do something of that with pitch, rate and fluency, using special gestures terminating in touch, what we refer to as pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs), that function to control those three features of speech in various ways (typically done in either modelling or error correction or expressive oral reading of fixed texts). To see a demonstration of each go to the Demo page on the AH-EPS website:

pitch - the Expressiveness PMP
rate - the Rhythm Fight Club PMP
fluency - the Tai Chi Fluency PMP

We have yet to figure out an effective PMP for loudness. If you can think of one . . . give us a shout!

Keep in touch.

Monday, May 12, 2014

NEW! AHEPS v2.0 Haptic Pronunciation Training videos available for download!

For the first time, individual AHEPS haptic training videos are now downloadable. Each of the AHEPS modules focuses on one techniques, what we term pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs). Each module involves basically 6 procedures: (a) a warm up, (b) review of previous module, (c) a demonstration of the PMP/technique, (d) a 5-minute training video, (e) a 2-minute practice video, and a short conversation to practice with. 

If you'd like to work on just a specific PMP, all you need to do is go the the New AHEPS training videos page, check the (free) demonstration video, look over the description page for that PMP, and then download training video:

Acton Haptic English
Pronunciation System
  • Matrix (use of gesture in the visual field) training 
  • Warm up training 
  • Single (Rough/short) vowels training  
  • Double (Smooth/long) vowels training    
  • Syllable Butterfly training
  • Basic Intonation training
  • Advanced Intonation training
  • Tai Chi Fluency training
  • Rhythm Fight Club training
  • Baton Speaking Integration training
Training videos for consonants will be added gradually over the next three months. 

v3.0 (Fall 2014 or Spring 2015) will probably be both download and subscription-based. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gesture to teach L2 vocabulary (and pronunciation) by!

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Required reading: New, 2014 article by Macedonia (University of Linz) and Klimesch (University of Salzburg), published in Mind, Brain and Education 8 (2): 74-86, entitled, "Long-term Effects of Gestures on Memory for Foreign Language Words Trained in the Classroom." In essence what the study revealed (or confirmed) was--as the title declares--that systematic use of gesture, especially dramatic and iconic gesture, enhanced long term memory for vocabulary. The comprehensive literature review on the function of gesture in learning and memory alone makes the piece worth reading.

Although from the description of the treatment in the experiment it is not entirely clear just how many of the gestures involved touch, those that were used were reported to be generally dramatic and/or iconic (representing an object by tracing its shape in the air). Words learned with accompanying gesture were remembered better, even 4 months out in the follow up.

And the fascinating aspect of that research for out haptic work is that the terms were learned generally in short phrases or as single words in isolation, out of any context such as a story, conversation or other narrative. Our upcoming workshop at TESL Canada this weekend in Regina focuses on just that: haptic (gesture +touch) anchoring of relatively out of context terms taken from the Academic Word List. Good to have a little more empirical evidence for the efficacy of gestural anchoring with us as we do!

Keep in touch!