Friday, January 1, 2016

3D pronunciation instruction: Ignore the other 3 quintuplets for the moment!
For a fascinating look at what the field may feel like--from a somewhat unlikely source, a 2015 book, 3D Cinema: Optical illusions and tactile experience, by Ross, provides a (phenomenal) look at how and why contemporary 3D special effects succeeds in conveying the "sensation of touch". In other words, as is so strikingly done in the new Star Wars epic, the technology tricks your brain into thinking that you are not only there flying that star fighter but that you can feel the ride throughout your hands and body as well.

This effect is not just tied in to current gimmicks, such as moving and vibrating theater seats or spray mist blown on you, or various odors and aromas being piped in, although it can be. Your mirror neurons respond more as if it is you who is doing the flying, that you are (literally) "in touch" with the actor. The neurological interconnectedness between the senses (or modalities) provides the bridge to greater and greater sense of the real or a least very "close encounter."

How does the experience in a good 3D movie compare to your best multi-sensory events or teachable moments in the classroom, focusing on pronunciation? 

It is easy to see, in principle, the potential for language teaching, creating one vivid teachable moment after another, "Wowing!" the brain of the learner with multi-sensory, multi-,modal experience. As noted in earlier blogposts on haptic cinema, based in part on Marks (2002), that concept, "the more multi-sensory, the better", by just stimulating more of the learner's (whole) brain virtually anything is teachable, is implicit in much of education and entertainment.

Although earlier euphoria has moderated, one reason it can still sound so convincing is our common experience of remembering the minutest detail from a deeply moving or captivating event or presentation. We all have had the experience of being present at a poetry reading or great speech where it was as if all our senses were alive, on overdrive. We could almost taste the peaches; we could almost smell the gun powder.

Part of the point of 3D cinema is that it becomes SO engaging that our tactile awareness is also heightened enormously. As that happens the associated connections to other modalities are "fired" as well. We experience the event more and more holistically. How that integration happens exactly can probably be described informally as something like: audio-visual-cognitive-affective-kinasethetic-tactile-olfactory and "6th sense!" experienced simultaneously.

At that point, apparently the brain is multitasking at such high speed that everything is perceived as "there" all at once. And that is the key notion. That would seem to imply that if all senses are strongly activated and recording "data" then, what came in on each sensory circuit will later still be equally retrievable. Not necessarily. As extensive research and countless commercially available systems have long established,  for acquisition of vocabulary, pragmatics, reading skills and aural comprehension, the possibilities of rich multi-sensory instruction seem limitless at this point.

Media can provide memorable context and secondary support, but why that often does not work as well for learning of some other skills, including pronunciation is still something of a mystery. (Caveat emptor: I am just completing a month-long "tour of duty" with seven, young grandchildren . . . ) In essence, our sensory modalities are not unlike infant octuplets, competing for our attention and storage space. Although it is "possible" to attend to a few at once, it is simply not efficient. Best case, you can do maybe two at a time, one on each knee.

The analogy is more than apt. In a truly "3D" lesson, consistent with Ross (2015), whether f2f or in media, where, for example, the 5 primary "senses" of pronunciation instruction (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile and meta-cognitive) are near equally competitive, that is vividly present in the lesson, overwhelmingly so. Tactile/kinaesthetic can be unusually prominent, accessible, in part, as noted in earlier blogposts, because it serves to "bind together" the other senses. In that context, consciously attending to any two or three simultaneously is feasible.

So how can we exploit such vivid, holistically experienced, 3D-like milieu, where movement and touch figure in more prominently? I never thought you'd ask! Because of the essentially physical, somatic experience of pronunciation--and this is critical, from our experience and field testing--two of the three MUST be kinaesthetic and tactile--a basic principle of haptic pronunciation teaching.(Take your pick of the other three!)

Consider "haptic" simply an essential "add on" to your current basic three (visual, auditory and meta-cognitive), and "do haptic" along with one or two of the other three. The standard haptic line-of march:

A. Visual-Meta-cognitive (very brief explanation of what, plus symbol, or key word/phrase)
B. Haptic-metacognitive (movement and touch with spoken symbol name or key word/phrase, typically 3x)
C. Haptic-auditory (movement and touch, plus basic sound, if the target is a vowel or consonant temporarily in isolation, or target word/phrase, typically 3x)
D. Haptic-Visual-Auditory (movement and touch, plus contextualized word or phrase, spoken with strong resonance, typically 3x)
E. Some type of written note made for further reference or practice
F. (Outside of class practice, for a fixed period of up to 2 weeks follows much the same pattern.)

Try to capture the learner's complete (whole body/mind) attention for just 3 seconds per repetition--if possible! Not only can that temporarily let you pull apart the various dimensions of the phonemic target for attention, but it can also serve to create a much more engaging (near 3D) holistic experience out of a potentially "senseless" presentation in the first place--with "haptic" in the mix from the outset.

Happy New Year!

Keep in touch.

Ross, M. (2015). 3D Cinema: Optical Illusions and Tactile Experiences. London: Springer, ISBN: 978-1-349-47833-0 (Print) 978-1-137-37857-6 (Online)

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