Sunday, December 28, 2014

Play it again, SLLP! (Avoiding the 8 deadly sins of second language learning practice)

Clip art:
With apologies to Humphrey Bogart, a good first question in a learner interview is something like: How do you practice your pronunciation or English? If he or she plays or has recently played a musical instrument or sang well, I will follow up with an analogous, music-based prompt. 
Glyde at has a new piece on something like the "8 deadly sins of bad (guitar) practice--and how to overcome them," which applies beautifully to our work: (His specific "how to" recommendations have been omitted for the time being.)
  • Playing instead of practicing guitar
  • Focusing too much on new material
  • Going through the motions. 
  • Failure to break up large practice sessions
  • Failing to avoid distractions
  • Failing to avoid boring practice routines 
  • Failing to set up a practice schedule
  • Failing to apply what you know
Not sure that I have ever seen a better, comprehensive framework for embodied practice. I'm going to come back and look at how that approach works specifically in haptic pronunciation teaching. In the meantime, feel free to comment on any of those. 

And, if you are serious about getting even better results with a wider range of learner "styles" this year, just begin by candidly sketching out for yourself how/if your system avoids those pitfalls (or persistent SLLP ups!) -- and have a very good 2015!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Captain Kirk's 6 principles of leadership applied to teaching pronunciation teaching!

Clip Art:
In a recent conference presentation, a noted methodologist asserted that "Teacher educators (generally) don't teach ESL/pronunciation (themselves)--and (consequently much of) what they do teach their teacher trainees about it hasn't been tried out in the classroom!"

She has a point.

But I'd even take that a step further and say that if a theorist or methodologist or textbook writer is not currently teaching pronunciation in a real classroom, then her words, theories, observations about what teacher educators do--and recent editions of her textbooks--should all be dismissed as well!

Should that dire predicament describe your current pronunciation teaching praxis (or lack there of) then you need to follow our (unauthorized) adaptation of the leadership principles of Captain James T. Kirk (of Star Trek) as they apply to pronunciation teacher trainers*:

1. Never stop learning (even if it means periodically taking up some kind of new pronunciation-related  skill development, such as another language or musical instrument).
2. Have advisors of many different worldviews (from different theoretical perspectives and related disciplines, such as body imaging).
3. Be part of the away team (Stay in the classroom, yourself, even if means just occasional one-on-one pronunciation tutoring).
4. Play poker, not chess (focus on hand to hand, minute by minute pedagogical experience, not just strategy and meta-communication).
5. Intuition is the key to knowing without knowing how you know (and central to embodied pronunciation teaching and avoiding burn out).
6. Destroy the Enterprise (but first try being just annoyingly heretical, before resorting to calls for revolution).

Even better: "Boldly go where no man has gone before" (but many are now!) and sign on board with haptic pronunciation teaching (No noncombatants permitted!) 

*Revised excerpt from AHEPS v3.0 (Instructor’s) Notes (by Bill Acton), Introduction, pp. 4~6. (For free copy, contact:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Darwin award nominees for English pronunciation teaching

Clipart: Clker
You have probably seen a note someplace on the recent research "finding" that men tend to do the idiotic much more frequently than women. That was based, in part, on an analysis of annual "Darwin Award" winners over the years. For those not familiar with those "awards," they are (tongue in cheek) given to someone who " . . . supposedly contributed to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilization by their own actions."

Anyone  devoted to the procedures noted below probably does us all a favour by quickly going out of business as a pronunciation teacher. Here are a few samples, my favourites, of what we might term the "near idiotic" in pronunciation teaching. (Most are from websites or pronunciation textbooks--or workshops I've attended over the years!)  If you have any other examples, please post them below!

  • "Move your tongue slightly up and back,  and curl up the edges to make a groove . . . "
  • "Now check your partner's pronunciation as she reads that passage."
  • "As long as you are intelligible, you'll get (or keep) the job."
  • "Work together with your spouse or significant other on your pronunciation."
  • "Think, Men, think!" (The Harold Hill method from the "Music Man")
  • "Go out and talk with native speakers and practice your 'r's and 'l's!"
  • "Listen carefully to yourself while you are speaking!"
  • "Stick your tongue out and whip it back in, scraping the scum off it to do a "th" sound!"
  • "Fill your mouth with marbles or hard candy and read this."
  • "Write that down." (with no instructions as to how or how to follow up or practice)
  • "Look it up in the dictionary" (with no instructions as to how or how to follow up or practice)
  • "If you just have good conversation in English often enough your pronunciation will improve enough on its own."
  • "Convince those around you to accept your accent."
  • "Once you are a teenager, it is almost too late to improve your pronunciation much."
  • "Native speaker-like accent in 4 weeks!"
  • "Just watch my lips."

Full citation:
BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2014, December 11). Study supports the theory that men are idiots. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 16, 2014 from

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Out of sight--but well-filed and managed (English) pronunciation change

Clip art:
A key feature of haptic pronunciation teaching is homework and practice management. In other words, once a new or improved sound or word has been introduced and anchored in class or someplace, it must be worked on by the learner consistently and systematically. (We typically tell students that it takes a couple of weeks to accomplish that.)

Research by Storm and Stone of UCSD, summarized by Science Daily (See full citation below) suggests that the process can be improved significantly by the learner employing an optimal filing system, one that allows "offloading" work done but with clear pathways back for future reference. What they found was that as long as subjects had confidence that the material learned remained accessible, their ability to go on learn new material was significantly better. If not, performance was equal to that of the control group.

Just for fun, ask your students to show you their pronunciation notes sometime . . .

There are on the market several language learning-specific apps for learning vocabulary, etc., but our experience is that most any word processor with companion filing system will work. As long as students are trained in how to practice, how much and when--and how to file it--the "savings" should be substantial! Nothing complicated, just hierarchically organized folders with "memorable" names!

A forthcoming blogpost will detail some of the alternatives that we have found productive. In the meantime, keep in touch--and clean up all that useless clutter on your hard drive!

Full citation:
Association for Psychological Science. (2014, December 10). Saving old information can boost memory for new information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2014 from

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why using gesture in (pronunciation) teaching (sometimes) doesn't work well--or at all

Reviewed a manuscript recently that reported on a study exploring the use of gesture in pronunciation teaching, based on a method that seemed to require learners to repeatedly mirror
Clip art:
instructor movements. The case made was not convincing, for at least a couple of reasons.

Research on mirror neuron function (even in monkeys, according the Association for Psychological Science - see full citation below!) has important implications for use of gesture in teaching, especially pronunciation. Normally, our mirror neurons mimic observed movement, giving us something of the sensation that we are actually doing what we are seeing, or perhaps moving along in synchrony with a person in our visual field. (Watch the audience at a dance recital, most discretely "moving along with" the dancers.) That should, in principle, make using gesture a potentially powerful vehicle for instruction. For most it probably is; for some, it isn't.

There are any number of reasons why gesture may not be that effective or why some learners and instructors simply do not feel comfortable with much "co-gesticulation." After decades of wondering exactly why gestural techniques were not more generally adopted (and adapted) in pronunciation instruction--when it was so natural and easy for me, personally--I got an answer from a student: the REVEG and ADAEBIP effects.

Rui was what I would term extremely "visually eidetic," meaning that she had a near photographic memory, such that if she learned a gesture in one position in the visual field and an instructor used that motion even very slightly off the original pattern, she could not process it or at least became very frustrated. Likewise, even looking in a mirror at herself performing gestures was maddening, since she, too, could not consistently move her hands in precisely the same track.

That encounter was a game changer. Within 6 months the EHIEP methodology had been changed substantially.

Since then we have encountered any number of learners who appear to have had varying degrees of "REVEG" (Rui's extreme visual-eidetic "gift") or "ADAEBIP" (aversion to doing anything potentially embarrassing with your body in public!) What that means is that for them, whatever the underlying cause, being required to mimic with any degree of accuracy someone's gesture can be maddening, near-traumatic or impossible.

The solution, at least in part, has been "haptic"-- to use touch to anchor the patterns to the relatively same locations in the visual field--along with anchoring the stressed syllable of a targeted word or phrase at the same time with touch. In addition, instead of the sometimes "wild and crazy" or "over the top," spontaneous gesturing used by some instructors, the idea is now to use highly controlled, systematic, "tasteful" and regular movements for pointing out, noticing and anchoring, and homework.

In fact, one of the advantages of using video models in EHIEP (as in AHEPS, v3.0) is that at least the patterns students are trained on are consistent. In that way, when a pattern (what we call a "pedagogical movement pattern) is used later in working on "targets of opportunity," such as modelling and correction, learners tend to be more accepting of the instructor's slight deviations from the "standard" locations.

In general, haptic anchoring of patterns (PMPs) tends to keep positions of prescribed gestures within range even for the more REVEG among us. Extreme accuracy in actually producing the PMPs in practice and anchoring is really not that critical for the individual learner.

So, if gesture work is still not in within your perceptual or comfort zone, we may have a (haptic) work-around for you. Keep in touch.

Association for Psychological Science. (2011, August 2). Monkey see, monkey do? The role of mirror neurons in human behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2014 from