Sunday, November 29, 2015

Keeping the pain in pronunciation teaching (but working it out with synchronized movement and dance)

Three of the staples of pronunciation work, choral repetition, drill and reading have been making something of a comeback--but just waiting for studies like this one to surface. (Or, confirm what any experienced practitioner could tell you without doing a controlled study in the lab.) In essence, the key idea is: choral, doing it together, in sync.

 A 2015 study, Synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding by Tarr,  Launay, Cohen and Dunbar found " . . . significant independent positive effects on pain threshold (a proxy for endorphin activation) and in-group bonding. This suggests that dance which involves both exertive and synchronized movement may be an effective group bonding activity." (Full disclosure here.) The dance treatment used was a type of synchoronized dancing at 130 beats per minute, which does sound relatively "exertive"--perhaps not a perfect parallel to use of synchronized gesture and body movement in language teaching. It is, I think, still close enough, especially when you review the extensive literature review presented in the article. (And besides, the subjects in the study were high school students who obviously have energy to "burn!")

One of the fascinating "paradoxes" of pronunciation instruction is the way use of gesture and movement can be both energizing and distracting. Appropriate choral speaking activities using synchronized gesture or body movement may work to exploit the benefits of prescribed movement, without the downsides, the "pain", including just the personal or cultural preferences related to the appropriateness of  moving one's body in public. (See several earlier posts on that topic.)

One of the major shifts in pronunciation teaching--and probably one reason for the concurrent lack of both interest in and effectiveness of current methodology, has been the move to "personalized" pronunciation with computers and hand held devices, as putative substitutes for "synchronized" learning in a class . . . of people, with bodies to move with. In essence, we have in many respects, disembodied pronunciation teaching, disconnecting it from both social experience and integrated (including the often relatively hard "exertion" of) learning.

In v4.0 of the EHIEP system, most of the basic training is done using designed pedagogical movement patterns, along with simple, line dancing-like dance steps. (There is also the option of doing the practice patterns without accompaniment, not to a fixed rhythm, although the work is still done with complete synchrony between instructor and student.) In most cases the "step pattern" is just a basic side to side movement with periodic shifts in orientation and direction, done in the 48 to 60 beats per minute range. (A demonstration video will be available later this month and the entire system, early next spring.)

One of our most successful workshops along these lines was titled: So you think you can dance your way to better pronunciation! Turns out, you can, even if that only means that all the bodies in the class are synchronized "naturally" as they mirror each others' movement as the result of their mirror neurons locking into highly engaged f2f communication in general.

Turns out the "pain" is essential to the process, both the physical and social "discomfort" since response to it and exploiting it also enables powerful, multi-sensory learning. Or as Garth Brooks put it: "I could have missed the pain, but I'd had to miss the dance."

Full citation:
Tarr, B., Launay, J., Cohen, E., Dunbar, R. (2015) Synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding The Royal Society Biology Letter 28: October, 2015.DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0767

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