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. .

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