Saturday, November 29, 2014

Seeing before believing: key to (haptic) pronunciation teaching

We call it "haptic pronunciation teaching." That is actually shorthand for something like:
simultaneous haptic-integration of visual-auditory-kinesthetic-tactile modalities in anchoring pronunciation

Almost every functional system for teaching pronunciation includes graphics or videos of some kind, even if it just a black and while line drawing of the mouth. Some substitute extensive written or verbal explanation for visual models. Our basic approach has been to use touch to link the senses, but often without too much concern for the precise order in which learner attention is directed through the various sources of information on the sound.

A fascinating new study on sensory sequencing in dance instruction by Blitz from Bielefeld University reported in Science Daily (see complete reference below) suggests that our real time sequencing in training in the use of pedagogical movement patterns (gesture, plus touch) is probably much more critical than we have assumed. That is especially relevant to how we (hapticians) maintain attention in the process. In other words, in the classroom, in what order do we introduce and train learners to the parameters of sounds and sound processes? That is, of course, equally relevant to all teaching!

NOTE: Please accept for the moment the parallel between dance instruction and our haptic work, that is training learners to experience, through gesture/touch and placement in the visual field, L2 or L1 sounds associated with targeted words. Also, allow me to side step the question of whether dancers are, by nature probably a bit "hyper-kinesthetic!"  

The study discovered that first viewing a dance sequence without verbal explanation or instruction--and then hearing or reading instructions after that was significantly more effective than the converse in long term memory for the sequence. Both visual and "cognitive" sources were present but the order was the critical variable. The subjects were apparently free to repeat both the visual and verbal inputs a limited number of times, but not to "mix" the ordering of them.

In other words, insight into what had been experienced was far more effective than was verbal cognitive schema in setting up and productively exploiting the visual experience or model to come. For us, the pedagogical implications are relatively clear, something like: (1) Observation (video clip) then (2) brief verbal explanation, then (3) experiential training in doing the gestural pattern, then (4) practice, along with (5) focused explanation of the context of the targeted sound.

How might that perspective impact your (pronunciation) teaching?

AMPISys, Inc.

See what I mean?

Full reference: Bielefeld University. "Best sensory experience for learning a dance sequence." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2014. .

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Research supporting haptic pronunciation teaching

Acton, W. (in press). OEI and accent reduction, in Bradshaw, R. (Ed.) Toward integration: Clinical applications, Vancouver: Sync publications.

Burri, M., Baker, A., & Acton, W. (2019). Proposing a haptic approach to facilitating L2 learners' pragmatic competence. Humanising Language Teaching, 3. Available at

Burri, M., Acton, W., & Baker, A. (2019). Moving to L2 fluency: The tai ball chi technique. Speak Out! Journal of the IATEFL Pronunciation Special Interest Group, 60, 43-51.

Kielstra, N. and Acton, W. (2018). A haptic pronunciation course for Freshman ESL college students!, in Murphy, J. (Ed.) Teaching the Pronunciation of English: Focus on whole courses, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Acton, W. , Burri, M. and Baker. (2016). Anchoring Academic Vocabulary with a "Hard Hitting" Pronunciation Teaching Technique, in Jones, T. (Ed.) Pronunciation in the classroom: the overlooked essential. New York: TESOL.

Acton, W. , Burri, M. and Baker. (2016). Anchoring Academic Vocabulary with a "Hard Hitting" Pronunciation Teaching Technique, in Jones, T. (Ed.) Pronunciation in the classroom: the overlooked essential. New York: TESOL. 

For earlier general references go to this page:

General theory on embodiment
  • Embodiment is critical to 2LA (Holme, 2012)
  • The body as an instrument for change of voice and persona (Lessac, 1984 and 1997)
  • Haptic cinema (Marks, 2012)
  • Gesture and language are tightly interrelated (Kendon, 2004)
  • Mirror neurons and learning movement (Simpson, 2008)
  • Gesture observed enhances learning (Wagner et al., 2013)
  • Gesture use enhances speaking  (Beliah, 2013)
Gesture in second language learning
  • Gesture supports second language learning in several ways (McCafferty, 2006)
  • Gesture enhances second language learning (Macedonia et al, 2012)
  • Gesture  is closely related to prosodics (rhythm, stress and intonation) in L1 and L2 acquisition (McCafferty, 2004)
  • Gesture and grammar (Churchill et al., 2013)
  • Touch serves to bond the senses together (Fredembach, et al, 2009).
  • Touch influences/manages memory for events (Propper, et al., 2013)
  • Touch is remembered through movement, sound and visual images (Charite, 2011)
  • Intensity of touch determined by intentions/set up (Gray, 2013)
  • Tactile Metaphors (Lacy et al., 2012)
  • Binding of movement, sound and touch (Legarde, J. and Kelso, J., 2006)
  • The nature of haptics (Harris, 2013)
  • Haptic technology (Kuchenbecker, 2012)
  • Sense of touch technology (Umeå universitet, 2012)
Gesture and haptics in teaching
  • Haptics in education (Minogue et al., 2006)
  • Gesture widely used in phonetics and L2 pronunciation teaching (Wrembel, et al., 2011)
  • Gesture use in second language teaching (Hudson, 2011)

Monday, November 17, 2014

The music of pronunciation teaching?

Do you play background music in class, especially when working on pronunciation? I have for years used highly regular, rhythmic music during haptic training--for several purposes. Primarily, however, the idea has been to help coordinate learner bodies with sound patterns, not at all different in spirit from techniques such "Jazz Chants." I did experiment briefly with background (classical) music during my "Suggestopediac" period back in the 80s.

Now comes research using jazz to enhance the ultimate test of fine motor control: putting. In a summary of the research by Baghurst et al.  by Science Daily (since I can't access the original research in the Journal of Athletic Enhancement--one of my favourites) entitled: "The Influence of Musical Genres on Putting Accuracy in Golf: An Exploratory Study," listening to jazz significantly improved putting. 

Quoting one of the authors of the study (Boolani):
Clip art:
"Other research has shown that country music improves batting, rap music improves jump shots and running is improved by any up-temp music. But the benefit of music in fine motor control situations was relatively unknown. Hopefully, this is the first step in answering this question."

We are unquestionably "fine motor" practitioners. This has got to work for us, too.

Unfortunately, although I always use music (mostly rock, pop and country) when running, I'm simply not a jazz aficionado. I am, however,  definitely up for trying jazz in haptic pronunciation work. Any recommendations? Could use both up-tempo and understated, instrumental selections. 

Science Daily citation:
Clarkson University. "Want to improve your putt? Try listening to jazz."  ScienceDaily, 12 November 2014.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Haptic-pronunciation-assisted vocabulary teaching

New book chapter in the TESOL "New Ways" series by Michael Burri (Wollongong University) on using haptic pronunciation anchoring in teaching vocabulary. (Burri is probably the second-best haptician I have ever worked with!) His doctoral study on pronunciation teacher cognition includes for the first time examination of teacher response to haptic pronunciation teaching.

We have just begun to work systematically with using the haptic pronunciation protocols for enhancing memory and recall of vocabulary. All 10 of the basic techniques of AHEPS v3.0 could be used for that. The one that Burri uses in that chapter, based on the AHEPS Rough/short vowel pedagogical movement pattern, is especially effective, putting a strong haptic anchor (touch of both hands) on the vowel in the stressed syllable of a word or phrase.
Credit: TESOL

Keep in touch!

Full citation:
Burri, M. (2014). Haptic-assisted vocabulary and pronunciation teaching technique. In A. Coxhead (Ed.), New ways in teaching vocabulary (2nd ed.). (pp.189-191). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

20 contexts for haptic pronunciation teaching

I am often asked in what contexts or classrooms haptic pronunciation teaching works. Assuming enthusiastic, full-body buy-in by the instructor and student, here is a new list of contexts and
Credit: Anna Shaw
where features of the AHEPS - haptic pronunciation system are being or have been used so far.

Keep in touch!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Workshop on stressing and de-stressing unstressed vowels: the haptic “thumb-flick” technique

On the 22nd of November at the local BCTEAL regional conference, I'll be doing a new haptic workshop on unstressed vowels, with Aihua Liu of Harbin Institute of Technology and Jean Jeon, a graduate student her at Trinity Western University. You can see an introduction to the technique here.

Clip art:
This participatory, experiential session presents a haptic (gesture + touch) procedure for helping learners produce and better “hear” unstressed vowels in English. In essence, as words are articulated, learners touch hands at specific points in the visual field on stressed vowels and “flick their thumbs” on the unstressed vowels.

Working with unstressed vowels in English is often neglected. The problem is often “solved” by avoiding the issue entirely or by emphasizing suprasegmentals (rhythm, stress and intonation) which, research suggests, do indeed help to determine the prominence of unstressed syllables to some extent. In addition, there may be some limited, indirect attention to unstressed vowels in oral practice of reduced forms, especially in fixed phrases (e.g., “salt ‘n pepper) and idioms.

Research has recently demonstrated that disproportionate attention to suprasegmentals (rhythm, stress and intonation) without a balanced, production-oriented treatment of key segmentals (vowels and consonants) may be very counter-productive, undermining intelligibility substantially. That is especially the case with learners whose L1 is Vietnamese, for example.

This technique helps to address that issue by facilitating more appropriate, controlled focus on the vowel quality in unstressed syllables.  It involves the use of two types of pedagogical gestures, one that adds additional attention to the stressed vowel of the word and a second that helps learners to better approximate the target sound and maintain the basic syllabic structure of the word.

The session is experiential and highly participatory. Participants are provided materials and links to videos demonstrating the technique.