Thursday, October 22, 2015

We have met the enemy (of pronunciation teaching in TESOL), and he is us!
Am often reminded of that great quip in the political cartoon Pogo, by Walt Kelly, embellished in the title of this post. In workshops we often encounter the following three misconceptions about pronunciation teaching, based vaguely and incorrectly on "research" in the field. Recently, in the comments of one reviewer of a proposal for a workshop on teaching consonants for the 2016 TESOL convention--which was rejected, by the way--all three showed up together! Here they are, with my responses in italics:

"Most learners have access to websites that model phonemes, such as Rachel’s English and Sounds of Speech by the University of Iowa."

Really? "Most" learners? What planet is that on? Billions of learners don't have web access, including the preponderance of those in settlement programs here in Vancouver. And even those that do still need competent instruction on not only to use them effectively, but find them in the first place. Furthermore, those sites are strongly visual-auditory and EAP biased, better suited to what we term "EAP-types" (English for the academically privileged). For the kinaesthetic or less literate learner, those web resources are generally of little value. There are half a dozen other reasons why that perspective is excessively "linguini-centric."

Theory, Practice and Research Basis ·      
"There has been much research, which has shown the central importance of the peak vowel in a stressed syllable. The focus on consonant articulation is less important."

That represents an "uninformed" consensus from more than a decade ago. Any number of studies have since established the critical importance of selected consonants for intelligibility of learners of specific L1s. Think: Final consonants in English for some Vietnamese dialects or some Spanish L1 speakers of English. 

Support for Practices, Conclusions, and/or Recommendations ·      
"The article made a nice specific connection between haptic activities, and acquisition of consonant sounds. However, there was only one source."

Good grief. The workshop was proposed as a practical, hands-on session for teachers, presenting techniques for dealing with specific consonants.(The one reference is a published conference paper linked off the University of Iowa website.) Have heard similar reports from other classroom practitioners, such as myself, who had  proposals rejected: Only "researcher certified" proposals welcome. So much for our earlier enthusiasm in TESOL for teacher empowerment . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

8 ways to teach English rhythm to EVERYbody but no BODY!

Here's one for your "kitchen sink" file (a research study that throws almost every imaginable technique at a problem--and succeeds) . . . well, sort of. In Kinoshita (2015) over the course of a four-week course, students were taught using seven different, relatively standard procedures for working on Japanese rhythm with JSL students. If you are new to rhythm work, check it out.

Those included: rhythmic marking (mark rhythm groups with a pencil and then trace them with their fingers), clapping (hands), pattern grouping (identify type of rhythm pattern for know vocabulary), metronome haiku (listening to and reading haiku to a metronome), auditory beat (reading grouped text out loud), acoustic analysis (using Praat), shadowing (attempting to read or speak along with an audio recording or live person). Impressive! They worked with each one for over an hour.

Not surprisingly, their rhythm improved. It is not entirely clear what else may have contributed to that effect, including other instruction and out of class experience, since there was no control group, but the students liked the work and identified their favorite procedure, which apparently aligned with their self-identified cognitive/learning style. Although after having done that many hours of rhythm work it had to be a bit difficult for the learner to  assess which technique they "liked" best, let alone which actually worked best for them individually.

Of particular interest here are the first two techniques, marking rhythm and tracing along with a finger, and clapping hands--both of which are identified as "kinaesthetic" by Kinoshita. (The other techniques are noted as combinations of auditory and visual.) They are, indeed, movement-and touch-based. The first at least involves moving a finger along a line. The second, clapping hands, could, in principle, involve more of the body then just the hands, but it also might not, of course.

Neither technique, at least on the face of it, meets our basic "haptic" threshold--involving more full-body engagement and distinctly anchoring stressed vowels. By that I mean that including touch in the process does not, in principle, help to anchor (better remember) the internal structure of the targeted rhythm groups--in fact it may serve to help cancel out memory for different levels of stress, length and volume of adjacent syllables. (There have been several blogposts dealing with this topic, one recently and the first, back in 2012 that focused on how haptic "events" are encoded or remembered.)

In essence, the haptic "brain" area(s) are not all that good at remembering different levels of pressure applied to the same point on the body. In other words, it is more challenging, for example, to remember which syllable in a clapped or traced rhythm group was prominent. (The number of syllables involved may be another matter.) So, to the extent that rhythm cannot or should not be divorced from word and phrasal stress, Kinoshita's two procedures probably are not contributing much variance to the final "progress" demonstrated.

That is not to say that more holistic,"full body" techniques such as "jazz chants", poetry, songs or dance, such as those promoted by Chan in her paper in the same conference proceedings (Pronunciation Workout), are not useful, fun, engaging, motivating and serve functions other than acquisition of the rhythm of an L2. 

A basic assumption of haptic work is that systematic body engagement, involving the whole person,  especially from the neck down, is essential to efficient instruction and learning. (Train the body first! - Lessac). v4.0 will include extensive use of "pedagogical dance steps" and practicing of most pedagogical movement patterns (gesture plus touch) to rhythmic percussion loops. 

As always, if you are looking for a near perfect "haptic" procedure for teaching English rhythm, where differentiated movement and touch contribute substantially to the process, I'd, of course, recommend begiining with the AHEPS v3.0 Butterfly technique-at least as a replacement for hand clapping. And for most of the other eight as well as matter of fact!

Full citation:
Kinoshita, N.(2015). Learner preference and the learning of Japanese rhythm. In J. Levis, R. Mohammed, M. Qian; Z. Zhou (Eds). Proceedings of the 6th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (ISSN 2389566), Santa Barbara, CA (pp.49-62). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The perfect body image for haptic pronunciaiton teaching!

Is haptic pronunciation teaching for you? According to research, here's a way to check. Put on your exercise clothes. Stand in front of a full length mirror. If you don't like what you see (really!) or you like what you see too much . . . maybe not. If you are not up to speed on the impact of body image, this readable, 1997 summary of research by Fox is a pretty good place to start.

We have known for over a decade that some instructors and students may find haptic pronunciation work disconcerting for a number of reasons-- including culture and personality. They can be understandably skeptical about moving their bodies and gesturing during instruction, in class or in private. Likewise, teaching, standing in front of a class, has proven in many contexts not the most effective way do initial haptic pronunciation training.

Fast forward to the age of media and the potential of body image to affect personality and performance is magnified exponentially. In a new study of the impact of body imagery presented on the website "Fitsperation"and Pinerest, Teggeman and Zaccardo of Flinders University, found that for college age-women, viewing attractive fitness models generally does nothing for body image; quite the contrary, in fact. The subjects in the study reported lower satisfaction with their body after viewing the Fitsperation images, but better, more positive sense of body image after looking at a selection of "travel" pictures.

Now there could be many explanations for that effect. (I do need to get a copy of those "travel" pictures!) Numerous other studies have found that the same goes for motivating you for long term diet and fitness persistence. Short term is another matter. Great looking models do help get you and your credit card in the door! The point is that in this kind of media-based instruction, especially haptic pronunciation work that is, in essence, training the body to control speech, the appearance of the model may be important. I'm sure it is, in fact.

In part for those reasons, the Acton-haptic English Pronunciation System (AHEPS) training videos use a relatively non-distracting model whose image could not possibly intimidate, one that should not negatively impact body image. We found one: ME, in black and white, dressed in a white, long sleeve pullover with dark grey sweater vest, wearing black beret.

I must admit that I was a bit disheartened at first when I was told by consultants that I was a near perfect model: 70+ years old, bald, no distinguishing facial features, nondescript body shape, "professor-type"--my appearance would distract no one from the gestural patterns I was doing with my hands and arms in front of my upper body. Great. So much for my plan to use a "Fitsperational" model for the 120+ videos of the system.

For a time we tried using an avatar, but he was not engaging enough to hold attention. Alas, I proved to be "avatar-enough" in the end. In addition, any number of studies have confirmed the relatively fragile nature of haptic engagement. It is exceedingly sensitive to being overridden or distracted off by visual or auditory interference. 

With a few exceptions, such as workshops at conferences, most hapticians, myself included, let the videos do the initial training, where learners and models need to do a good deal of uninhibited upper body movement of hands and arms. Later, in classroom application of the pedagogical movement patterns, instructors use a very discrete, limited range of movement in correction and modeling--generally within the "body-image-comfort-zone" of most.

Not quite ready to teach pronunciation haptically, yourself?--Let us do it for you!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Great memory for words? They're probably out of their heads!

Perhaps the greatest achievement of neuroscience to date has been to repeatedly (and empirically) confirm common sense. That is certainly the case with teaching or training. Here's a nice one.

For a number of reasons, the potential benefit of speaking a word or words out loud and in public
when you are trying to memorize or encode it--rather than just repeating it "in your head"--is not well understood in language teaching. For many instructors and theorists, the possible negative effects on the learner of speaking in front of others and getting "unsettling" feedback far outweigh the risks. (There is, of course, a great deal of research--and centuries of practice--supporting the practice of repeating words out loud in private practice.)

In what appears to be a relatively elegant and revealing (and also common-sense-confirming) study, Lafleur and Boucher of Montreal University, as summarized by ScienceDaily (full citation below) explored under which conditions subsequent memory for words is better: (a) saying it to yourself "in your head", (b) saying it to yourself in your head and moving your lips when you do, (c) saying it to yourself as you speak it out loud, and (d) saying the word out loud in the presence of another person. The last condition was substantially the best; (a) was the weakest.

The researchers do speculate as to why that should be the case. ( quoting the original study):

"The production of one or more sensory aspects allows for more efficient recall of the verbal element. But the added effect of talking to someone shows that in addition to the sensorimotor aspects related to verbal expression, the brain refers to the multisensory information associated with the communication episode," Boucher explained. "The result is that the information is better retained in memory."

The potential contribution of interpersonal communication as context information to memory for words or experiences is not surprising. How to use that effectively and "safely" in teaching is the question. One way, of course, is to ensure that the classroom setting is both as supportive and nonthreatening as possible. Add to that a social experience with others that also helps to anchor the memory better.

Haptic pronunciation teaching is based on the idea that instructor-student, and student-student communication about pronunciation must be both engaging and efficient--and resonately and richly spoken out loud. (Using systematic gesture does a great deal to make that work. See v4.0 later this month for more on that.)

I look forward to hearing how that happens in your class or your personal language development. If that thread gets going, I'll create a separate page for it. 

Keep in touch!

University of Montreal. "Repeating aloud to another person boosts recall." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2015. .