Monday, September 28, 2015

4 rituals for improving how students feel about their pronunciation


It is getting to the point now that whenever you need advice on all things related to feeling or doing better, your default is your local "neuroscientist".  A favorite venue of mine for such pop and entertaining council--other than Amy Farrah  Fowler on Big Bang Theory-- is In what is better read as simply "tongue-in-cheek", Eric Barker has a fun piece entitled, "4 rituals that will make you a happier person."

I recommend you read it, if only to get a good picture of where we are headed and how neuroscience is being hijacked by pop psychology, or vice versa . . . 

Those "rituals" are:
  • Ask why you feel down. (Once you identify the cause, your brain will automatically make you feel better.)
  • Label negative feelings.(That will relocate them in a part of the brain that generally doesn't mess with feelings.)
  • Make that decision. (As long as your brain is being managed by the executive center, you are in command and feeling powerful.)
  • Touch people. I have always been a fan of oxytocin. Touch, all kinds, including hugging generates it.  
Notice that the first three are not all that far off from the magician's (or psychologist's) basic technique of distracting the audience away from the trick--looking someplace else or looking at the problem through a lens or two to knock off or defuse the negative feelings. 

So, how might this work for changing pronunciation or at least taking on more positive attitudes toward it? For example (avoiding micro-aggressions to the extent possible):

Question: Why do you feel down?  
Answer: Your pronunciation is bad; not inferior, just bad.

Question: Why the negative feelings?
Answer: I have unrealistic expectations or you are a bad teacher.

Question: What decision should you make? 
Answer: Get in touch with my local "haptician" (who teaches pronunciation haptically) or consult my local neuroscientist so I can at least feel better about my pronunciation . . .

Question: How can I get in(to) touch?
Answer: Start here, of course!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tapping into English rhythm--but not teaching it or remembering it!

Credit: Anna Shaw
One question I often pose to language teachers is something like: How do you teach rhythm? The most frequent answers: I don't! (or) You can't! (or) How do you do that? There are no studies that I am aware of that investigate relative effectiveness of teaching L2 rhythm in English. A recent study of instructor priorities in teaching pronunciation, by Saito (2013) includes a questionnaire that does not even  mention rhythm as an option.

So why can rhythm be difficult to teach? New research by Tierney and Kraus (2016 - full citation below), entitled, Evidence for Multiple Rhythmic Skills, suggests why--and possibly something of a solution. What they found, in VERY simple terms. was, in essence, that the brain "circuitry" for keeping up a beat, such as tapping fingers along music, is actually quite different from the neurological connections that encode and recall rhythmic patterns. In other words, just because students can follow along with common rhythm techniques, such as tapping fingers on the desk or clapping hands to rhythmic patterns, does not mean that they will be able to remember or use those patterns later.

This is big. In an earlier post, I reported on the "haptic" basis of similar research, showing that differentiation between multiple instances of repeated touch on one location can be exceedingly difficult for the brain to process. That is, from a pronunciation perspective, tapping on desks or clapping hands or stretching rubber bands to learn stress patterns, where one syllable is spoken louder or stronger than the others may not be all that effective.

In part in response to that research, the Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation (EHIEP) system uses a framework where rhythm is taught using a gestural framework that involves encoding the pattern not just as a sequence of touches on the body, but also places the stressed element in a different location from the unstressed elements--AND--uses consistent positions and movement across the visual field to further distinguish the pattern. Here is a good example, the Butterfly technique.

For more on how to teach that way, tap here!

Full citation:
Tiery, A. and Kraus, A. (2016) Evidence for Multiple Rhythmic Skills, September 16, 2015
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136645

Monday, September 14, 2015

Haptic pronunciation teaching basics for non-native English-speaking instructors

Upcoming haptic workshop at the 2015 Tri-TESOL Conference in October 3rd, 2015 at Highline College, Des Moines, Washington. The perspective of the 90-minute session, "Haptic (English) Pronunciation Teaching Basics for NNESTs" is that:
  • Systematic use of body movement and gesture, using haptic anchoring (touch tied to pedagogical movement and gesture) is highly efficient for modelling and feedback in pronunciation work, and that, 
  • The approach can be especially effective and advantageous for the NNEST. 

That is accomplished, in part, by providing: 
  • A framework for deciding on "local" (typically EFL) pronunciation teaching priorities
  • Video models provided by both native-speaking and nonnative English speaking instructors
  • Prosodic techniques that do not require excessive segmental (or suprasegmental) accuracy on the part of the instructor to carry out successfully. 

The techniques presented are designed for use in integrated pronunciation work, whenever use of a problematic sound pattern occurs, not just stand-alone pronunciation courses. The workshop, based on “Essential haptic-integrated English pronunciation” (Acton, et al. 2013), presents a set of prioritized procedures which can be integrated into any production-oriented lesson: 
  • Vowels and word stress
  • Consonants
  • Phrasal stress and rhythm 
  • Basic intonation, and 
  • Conversational fluency

The session is highly experiential and participatory. By the conclusion, participants are able to work with the haptic techniques in their classrooms and are provided with free, web-based models.

Join us!

Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis, K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Aug. 2012. (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gesture-assisted vocabulary instruction for (even) the kinaesthetically-challenged


"Iran" into an interesting study recently by three Iranian reseachers looking into "The Effect of Using Gesture on Resolving Lexical Ambiguity in L2" (Khalili, Rahmany, and Zarei, 2014 - Full citation below.) Basically, they found that using (extensive) gesture in teaching homonyms results in better uptake. In addition, it appeared as if the kinaesthetically more enabled subjects were even a bit better at it. Although from the published description of the gestural procedures it is not possible to figure out exactly how much of what was done when--other than the impression that the gesture work was extensive and often impromptu--the conclusion/results are pretty much what we'd expect from decades of related studies. 

What was of particular interest, however, was the (relatively week but significant) correlation between score on the post-test and kinaesthetic intelligence. Now there could be any number or reasons for that--including the nature of the gestural instruction itself which may well have favoured the kinaesthetic in the experimental group. (That was post hoc; the groups were not set up based on "intelligence" initially.) As has been addressed here on the blog any number of times, one of the reasons that work with gesture in teaching often does not work at all or is even counterproductive is the often unsystematic to even "spastic" gesticulations of instructors or those required of students. 

There is a better way, of course, to ensure that gesture-assisted pronunciation and vocabulary is more appropriate for the widest possible range of "intelligences" present in the classroom. A chapter by Amanda Baker, Michael Burri and myself, entitled: Anchoring Academic Vocabulary with a “hard hitting” Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Technique - in a forthcoming book edited by Tamara Jones, Pronunciation in the Classroom: The Overlooked Essential. Tamara Jones (ed). New York: TESOL, attempts to do just that. 

The specific haptic pronunciation teaching technique, the Rhythm Fight Club, is designed to be a highly controlled, yet systematic, very powerful anchoring procedure for assisting learners in learning and recalling terms from the Academic Word List. It is, in several ways, a model of how gestural work should be integrated into teaching. All movement of hands and arms is tightly "tracked" for consistency in the visual field in front of the body. The gestural patterns are practiced by learners so that they can readily read the gestural prompts coming from the instructor or other students. And, finally, the patterns, although very energetic are generally within the comfort zone of even the most introverted or kinaesthetically-challanged among us. 

Keep in touch--but keep it together . . .

Full citation:
Khalili, Rahmany, and Zarei (2014). The Effect of Using Gesture on Resolving Lexical Ambiguity in L2, Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 5(5)1139-1146.