Monday, January 5, 2015

Revenge of the multi-taskers: Distracted during motor (or pronunciation) learning or practice? No problem!

This is the second in a series of posts on creating and managing effective language or pronunciation practice, (analogically) based on Glyde's guitar practice framework. (See earlier post.) His
Clip art:
principle #5 was common-sensical: Failing to avoid distraction.

Earlier posts have looked at the interplay between haptic (movement and touch) and visual and auditory modalities. One general finding of research has been that visual stimuli or input tend to override auditory and haptic. In part for that reason, we have worked to restrict extraneous visual auditory distraction during haptic pronunciation work. In therapy, on the contrary, many times distraction is used quite strategically to draw the patient's attention away from a problematic experience or emotion.

Now comes a fascinating study by Song and Bedard of Boston University (summarized by Science Daily - See full citation below) demonstrating how visual distraction during motor learning may at least not be problematic. As long as subjects were subjected to relatively similar distraction on the recall task, the fact that they had been systematically distracted during the learning task seemed to have little or no effect. Furthermore, if the "distracted" subjects were later tested in the "non-distracting" condition, they did not perform as well as their "distracted" fellow subjects.

In other words, the visual context of motor learning was not a factor in recall--as long as it was reasonably consistent with the original learning milieu.

So, what does all that mean for effective pronunciation practice? Quite a bit, perhaps. Context, from many perspectives is critical. Establishing linguistic context has been a given for decades; managing the classroom environment (or the homework practice venue) so that new or changed sounds are recalled in a "relatively similar setting" to how they were learned is another question.

One of the principles of haptic pronunciation teaching is to use systematic gesture + touch across the visual field to anchor sound change--maintaining as much of learner attention as possible for at least 3 seconds. In practice, the same pedagogical movement patterns (PMP) are used--and, according to learners, even in spontaneous later recall of new material the PMPs often figure prominently in visual/auditory recall as well.

So, to paraphrase Glyde's 5th principle: Avoid inconsistent distraction (in pronunciation teaching), at least in those more motor-based work or phases. Or better yet, embrace it!

Brown University. (2014, December 9). Distraction, if consistent, does not hinder learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from

1 comment:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

And I thought being distracted was always a disadvantage - thanks for the post!

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