Saturday, August 30, 2014

Improve L2 pronunciation-- with or without lifting a finger!

Clip art: Clker
Listen to this! (You may even want to sit down before you do!) New study showing how movement can affect listening by Mooney and colleagues at Duke University, summarized by Science Daily. Here's the summary:

"When we want to listen carefully to someone, the first thing we do is stop talking. The second thing we do is stop moving altogether. The interplay between movement and hearing has a counterpart deep in the brain. A new study used optogenetics to reveal exactly how the motor cortex, which controls movement, can tweak the volume control in the auditory cortex, which interprets sound."

Now, granted, the study was done on mice who probably have some other stuff going on down there in their motor cortices as well. Nonetheless, the striking insight into the underlying relationship between movement and volume control on our auditory input circuits is enough to give us (an encouraging) "pause . . . " in two senses:

First, learning new pronunciation begins with aural comprehension, being able to "hear" the sound distinctions. We have played with the idea of having learners gesture along with instructor models while listening. The study suggests that may not be as effective as we thought, or at least the conditions that we set up have to be more sensitive to "volume" and ambient static. You can see the implications for aural comprehension work in general as well. 

Second, during early speaking production in haptic pronunciation instruction, being able to temporarily  suppress auditory input (coming in through the ears) is seen as essential. Following Lessac and many others in speech and voice training, what we are after initially is focus on vocal resonance in the upper body and kinaesthetic awareness of the gestural patterns, what we call "pedagogical movement patterns" or PMPs. 

We do that, in part, to dampen (i.e., turn down the volume) on how the learner's production is perceived initially, filtered through the L1 or personal interlanguage versions, trying to focus instead on the core of the sound(s), approximations, not absolute accuracy. Some estimates of our awareness of our own voice suggest that it is less than 25% auditory, that is coming in through the air to our ears, the rest being body-based, or somatic. 

What we hear should be moving, not what we hear with apparently! 

SCID citation: Duke University. "Stop and listen: Study shows how movement affects hearing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2014 .

Friday, August 22, 2014

Providing pronunciation teaching with signs (and wonders!) and a hand!

More fascinating research on the role of gesture in learning from Goldin-Meadow at the University of Chicago, summarized by Science Daily. The research in part looked at "homesign-ing," that is systems created by children not introduced to the standard signing system of the language or culture. One conclusion of the study:
". . . gesture cannot aid learners simply by providing a second modality. Rather, gesture adds imagery to the categorical distinctions that form the core of both spoken and sign languages."

That research also sheds light on the function of the pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) of haptic pronunciation teaching work as well. (Several of the gestural patterns closely resemble signs used in American Sign Language, and early development of the system was informed and inspired by ASL, in fact.)

One of the more interesting parallels is the fact that ASL signs of high emotional intensity more often tend to terminate in touch--as do all PMPs. A second is that the PMPs of EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English Pronunciation), for the most part, present vivid visual pictures that are learned and recalled easily. If you'd like to learn more, just join us next month in Costa Rica!

Citation: University of Chicago. "Hand gestures improve learning in both signers, speakers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2014. .

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The right way to teach the "wrong" pronunciation!

 Credit: Clker/
Library of Congress
One of the delights of having been in the field for a few decades is seeing "new" research seemingly confirm old, out-of-fashion practices. Here's a good example, a 2014 study, summarized by Science Daily, by Herzfeld, Vaswani, Marko, and Shadmehr of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The study focuses on how memory for errors facilitates effective sensory-motor learning.

In essence, they found that the brain seems to have two parallel learning management systems in sensory-motor learning. One is the Experiencer, learning the new skill; the other, something like "the Coach," that uses previous motor patterns in adjusting and perfecting the target skill. And the "surprising" finding: the two systems appear to be much more independent than previously thought, and furthermore, "the memories of errors foster faster learning!"

Wow. Does that mean that drawing attention to a learner's L1-influenced errors in pronunciation may, in fact, be a good thing? Apparently. Exactly how and when that is done is the question, of course. Most experienced speech professionals, especially speech pathologists, are very comfortable with occasional focus on the "error" as a point of departure, but until very recently, use of L1 pronunciation in L2 pronunciation instruction in this field has been, at least, not discussed formally in the literature.

I recently posted a question on a discussion board of pronunciation researchers and methodologists related to L1 use in pronunciation instruction--and got no response, other than some off-list comments to the effect that it is generally not done--probably a holdover from earlier Behaviourist notions of avoiding errors at all costs.

As noted in several earlier posts, in haptic pronunciation work, especially with vowels and intonation, anchoring of L1 structures and pronunciation is often key to quick, effective change. The Herzfield et al. study may help to explain why: haptic work is probably more strongly positioned or experienced on  the sensory-motor side or track of the brain, allowing the L1 to be "used" somewhat more in isolation, causing less potential "interference" there than typical auditory/visual processing and practice.

Now that may be wrong, but (hopefully) helpful, nonetheless!

Citation: Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Memories of errors foster faster learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2014. .

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Blocking poor (and improved) pronunciation with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is big. It is described a number of ways, according to Wikipedia:

"Mindfulness is a way of paying attention that originated in Eastern meditation practices."
"Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally"
"Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis"

In earlier blogposts, I have focused on the possible benefits to our work of M-training. I may have been missing something . . . In a provocative 2013 study by Howard and Stillman of Georgetown University, (summarized by Science Daily) they conclude that:

 " . . . mindfulness may help prevent formation of automatic habits -- which is done through implicit learning -- because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing." 
Clip art: Clker

And in addition:

"The researchers found that people reporting low on the mindfulness scale tended to learn more -- their reaction times were quicker in targeting events that occurred more often within a context of preceding events than those that occurred less often."

The study is, of course, more complex and the tasks involved may not be all that analogous to what we do in pronunciation teaching. Nonetheless, the striking preliminary finding, that conscious, meta-cognitive attention to the ongoing learning process may, in fact, work counter to some types of "implicit," or body-based learning is indeed very germane. So, when it comes to pronunciation work tasks, such as repetition, pattern recognition, drill--and even haptic anchoring-- to paraphrase Nike's classic moniker, perhaps the secret is to: Just do it! 

At least something to be "mindful" of . . .

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The end of (pronunciation) homework!

Clip art:
How essential is homework/practice to the success of your students? Interesting set of four pieces on homework linked off the ASCD website entitled: "The end of homework." The theme of each is as follows: (a) purpose, (b) multi-level and multi-faceted, (c) focus on achievable goals and benchmarks, and (d) getting students to take ownership and "create" their own systematic homework.

 What is the overall "end" of your pronunciation homework assignments? Here is one model.

I came back to the relevance of homework recently when I had lost track of the time and did not have enough left at the end of class to set up the students adequately for homework. On the way out the door, I told them that I'd email them their practice routines for the coming week. Here is the essence of what I sent them: (The italics are for you, not for them. They know the drill!)

1. Before next week, practice your personal word and phrase list at least three times. The words or phrases have been targeted in class or in a 1-on-1 session for additional work. 

Integrating new words into spontaneous speech typically takes a couple of weeks; integrating new sounds, depending on proficiency level can take at least that long or much longer, as in the case of fossilized pronunciation where each word with the target sound must be identified and practiced for a couple of weeks.

2. Each 15-30 minute practice session should run basically as follows: (a) Do a quick vocal warm up, (b) Turn on your recorder, (c) Do each word or phrase ONLY 3 times, using the appropriate haptic-based pedagogical gesture as you say it. STOP recorder.

3. Listen to the recording, focusing just on the third repetition of each word. Note (write down) which of the words or phrases still seem to need work. Record just those again, 3x, and listen back. Just write down what you hear and move on!

4. Add additional words or phrases to your word list. Check dictionary pronunciation before practicing them. Students have been trained in a 6-step dictionary protocol for getting pronunciation from the dictionary. They may have to check pronunciation again before doing the word list practice.

I may check progress next class, sometimes just before class begins formally, or ask student to send me a recording of word list practice as it is done the 3rd time. We decide together which words or phrases to add or delete from their lists--when adequate control of them is evident and they have been practiced at least 5 or 6 times. Students should gradually take over management of the list themselves. 

Have posted many times on homework-related topics. This one really struck "home!"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Turned off by pronunciation teaching and learning? Good plan!

Clip art:
Have for years, often in jest, pointed an accusing finger at the pre-frontal cortex as at least contributing to the difficulty that adults often have in learning pronunciation. A new study by Trafton of MIT (summarized by looking at the roles of procedural versus declarative brain networks and structures in learning language makes a striking point evident in the title of the article: "Try, try again? Study says no: Trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language, neuroscientists find."

The bottom line: Declarative, more conscious networks work well (especially in adults) at learning vocabulary and understanding what is to be learned. Procedural networks are responsible for less conscious, more automatic (physiological) processes--such as many aspects of pronunciation, of course. According to Trafton (and many others) the answer is often to avoid "trying harder" by over use of declarative functions. How might that be done? According to Science Daily, again:

" . . . she is now testing the effects of "turning off" the adult prefrontal cortex using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation. Other interventions she plans to study include distracting the prefrontal cortex by forcing it to perform other tasks while language is heard, and treating subjects with drugs that impair activity in that brain region."

Got to get me a TMS machine . . .