Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lying with verbal working memory: the truth about foreign language pronunciation training

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar!” (according to  Abraham Lincoln), but according to a recent study by Alloway, et al of University of North Florida, summarized by Sciencedaily.com, 7 year old kids with better verbal working memory (as opposed to stronger visuo-spatial working memory) CAN be--and not only that, but they will probably be better at multitasking and social media and networking and more intelligent as adults!

Wow! Got all that? Sorry. I can't afford the 4-Starbucks-vente-carmel-frappacinno-equivalent to pay for the original article at the expensive Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, title, also courtesy of our friends at ScienceDaily.com (full citation below): Liar, liar, working memory on fire: Investigating the role of working memory in childhood verbal deception. 

Do high VWMs have an unfair advantage in other things, such as learning language and pronunciation as well? Any number of studies certainly suggests that. But can anything be done to level the playing field? Maybe . . .

Reminds me of a note on a back page of an accent reduction website some time ago that said, in effect that if you were happened to be a highly visual learner, as opposed to auditory, it might take you a little longer to fix your accent and cost you a little more money . . . In practice, the company would often turn down extremely "visual" students, based on their simple, online cognitive style questionnaire alone. Actually, my earlier experience in pronunciation and accent work might tend to confirm that, at least in the case of some of the most fossilized among my former students, except for recent fascinating developments in our understanding of both brain plasticity and the "myth" of cognitive or learning style preferences.

Bottom line: learners and their brains can be trained, with less pain than you might imagine, to develop more productive, integrated use of  their "less-preferred" ways or styles of learning. If you doubt that, go to Luminosity.com. Of course the irony here is that just studying language in school, with a few exceptions (cf. the Pimsleur method), requires a relatively higher level of visuo-spatial operating (and seat work) to survive, along with strong verbal (more auditory) working memory. And we wonder why girls are better language learners than boys?

So what does the study suggest for language and pronunciation learning in general? Basically, two things: First, use of visuo-spatial techniques, such as video and graphics--and even simple written text, without rich, integrated verbal practice is potentially more counterproductive than often thought. (No lie!) In other words, just reading explanations and a bit of "disembodied" practice "silently" done half-heartedly may be more than just a waste of time. It can, by taking an easier, more dis-integrated path, even further disconnect the two modalities, (verbal-auditory) sound from (verbal-visual) meaning.

Second, as noted above, because it is now very much possible to train learners to be more effective in modalities other than their favourite(s)--and counter to a number of other recent studies on the problems with multi-tasking--enhanced meta-cognitive, multi-tasking in verbal working memory is still critical to most forms of language learning, but especially pronunciation. How to integrate those key modalities efficiently or at least better has always been the important question.

I realize that is a lot to think about, but, to tell the truth . . . there is, as always here, at least a haptic answer to that question! Haptic pronunciation work, although definitely more visuo-spatial in practice also adds potent tactile anchoring to the mix, which serves to integrate the other two more effectively. One way, but not the only way, of course.

Keep in touch!

ScienceDaily.com page: University of North Florida. "Good working memory can make you a better liar." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2015. .

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the role of verbal working memory in children is because their brains are trained in orality. Last night I heard an interesting lecture on orality, memory and eyewitnesses at Regent College concerning the 50-60 year gap between the events of Jesus' life and the writing of the gospels. Fascinating work done by Darrel Bock: http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/