Monday, May 26, 2014

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

Clip art by
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!

No comments:

Post a Comment