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

1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

In AHEPS v4.0 there is a new focus on anchoring English rhythm "in the feet." In training phases much more is done with anchoring stressed syllables, using what we are now calling "Haptic Dance"--moving from side to side rhythmically in various ways and stepping "down" lightly on stressed syllables. More on that in a few weeks!

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