Saturday, March 26, 2016

Haptic Fight Club Demonstrations at TESOL 2016 in Baltimore!
If you'll be at the TESOL Convention in Baltimore week after next, join us for two VERY brief but "hard hitting" demonstrations of the "Haptic Rhythm Fight Club" pronunciation movement pattern (PMP) technique from AHEPS v3.5 (Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System.) Here are the times and venues:

  • April 6th 2:00 pm - 2:45 pm in Holiday 3 at the Hilton Baltimore. Only 6 minutes of that will be the Fight Club but it will be fun. Promise! The session is a promo by TESOL for the book that our chapter is in (See full title below and pick up a copy at the conference.) If you do, I'll give you access to M7 of v3.5 for a month! Speaking of v3.5, that will go "live" on April 2nd!!! 
  • Wednesday, April 6th, 8:30pm-9:30pm. Blake Room at the Hilton Baltimore. That one is put on by the Speech Pronunciation Listening Interest Group (SPLIS) and should be fun, too. If you come to that one, I'll give you one free round of the Fight Club (assuming that you sign the injury waiver, of course!) 
See you in Baltimore!

Burri, M., Baker, A. and Acton, W. (2016). Anchoring Academic Vocabulary with a "Hard Hitting" Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Technique, in Jones, T. (Ed.) Pronunciation in the classroom: the overlooked essential. New York: TESOL

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Rethinking gesture use in technology and (pronunciation) teaching

Personal digital communication technology is revolutionizing our understanding of the critical role played by touch in accessing "data" and thinking. As students rely more and more in school and out on handheld devices, the designers and promoters of those interfaces are far out ahead of educators in systematically exploiting the "haptic" (movement plus touch) possibilities, what Sinclair and deFreitas term "tangible gesture". Not all gesture involves tactile engagement, of course, but that which does in cutting edge haptic technology has much to teach us about the effective use of gesture, especially in pronunciation teaching.

A recent paper by Sinclair and de Freitas focusing on "tangible gesture" provides a helpful framework for understanding better the value of systematic haptic gesture work. Quoting the abstract:

" . . . This re-thinking of gesture returns to the principle of indexicality found in Peirce’s material semiotics, and develops this principle through the work of Gilles Châtelet and Gilles Deleuze around hand-eye relationships. Drawing on the work of Jürgen Streek, we propose and discuss the notion of the tangible gesture, in the context of mathematical explorations of young children with a multitouch iPad environment designed to promote counting on and with the fingers."

Allow me to translate that: As research in haptic learning has long established, what touch does is create a more efficient, integrative bridge to meaning that gesture alone may not accomplish. In effect the point of touch by the hand can drastically narrow the focus of attention and enhance the bonding together of the concept or symbol and object or process underway.

More practically speaking, a gesture involving strategic touch in pronunciation teaching on a stressed syllable, for example, should be substantially more effective in promoting the acquisition or access to memory of the targeted sound, word or phrase than the same gesture done without the haptic anchor.  

Tangible gesture. Nice concept. More on it shortly. Keep in touch.

Sinclair, N. and de Freitas, E. (2015). The haptic nature of gesture: Rethinking gesture with new multitouch digital technologies. Gesture 14:3, 351-374.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Move me, I'm in; show me, I learn.

Always nice to stumble onto yet another piece of empirical research that helps explain why something you do in teaching probably works. Having been using gesture more or less systematically in pronunciation teaching for over 40 years, it was obvious that the ability to mimic gesture was closely related to ability to interpret and learn from pedagogical gesture in class.

There were, of course, some learners who seemed naturally to have great "kinaesthetic intelligence"; others clearly didn't. Consequently, so much of our work has been aimed at developing gesture-enhanced or gesture-synchronized techniques that the less "kinaesthetic" could learn quickly and use.

A 2015 study by Wu and Coulsen of UC-San Diego, Iconic Gestures Facilitate Discourse Comprehension in Individuals With Superior Immediate Memory for Body Configurations provides an interesting clue. As part of their research into the relationship between "kinaesthetic working memory" (KWM) and perception of  (iconic) gesture, the instrument they used to determine KWM involved having subjects basically attempt to mimic gestures of a model, independent of verbal language. Those with stronger KWM by that measure were better at interpreting gestures used in somewhat fragmented conversation--which required contribution of the meaning of the gestures for the core sense of the conversation to get across.

The question, of course, is whether or not KWM can be enhanced by training or even engaged more in teaching and learning. Study after study in the areas of athletic training and rehabilitation confirm that it can.  KWM is, likewise, the basis of haptic pronunciation teaching. And how is such training accomplished? By highly controlled, systematic repetitive practice of relevant body movements involved, not simply by demonstrating the movements to learners or using them naturally in teaching--which is what most enthusiastic (pronunciation) instructors do anyway.

What that means, especially for language teaching, is that the benefit of simply using gestures in teaching may be minimal at best for any number of reasons. In general, techniques such as stretching rubber bands, tapping on desks or playing choral conductor with intonation appear to be good for presenting concepts but not for actually helping learners practice and improve their pronunciation. (For those with high natural KWM it may, of course, be a different story.)

Systematic work with KWM is, I think, the key to at least efficient learning and teaching of pronunciation. If you are still not moved to act on that concept, check in with your local aerobics or Alexander Technique instructor for a tune up. (Research suggests at least 4 weeks needed to establish new kinaesthetic patterning.) Or join us hapticians. See info in the right column and elsewhere on the blog on how to do that!

Full citation: Wu, Y. and Coulsen, S. (2015) Iconic Gestures Facilitate Discourse Comprehension in Individuals With Superior Immediate Memory for Body ConfigurationsPsychological Science vol. 26 no. 11 1717-1727,

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Incidental Correction of Pronunciation

MA Thesis defense here (Trinity Western University) today by Rebeka delaMorandiere: Incidental Correction of Pronunciation: Beliefs and Classroom Practice. The thesis itself will be accessible later this spring. Very good work.


In English language teaching, pronunciation is making something of a “comeback”. Since the late 1970s, in part as a response to structural methods, pronunciation has generally been downplayed. Today, it is being integrated back into communicative and task-based teaching, with the recommendation that it be addressed according to an “intelligibility”, rather than “native speaker”, model. With these developments have arisen new questions about error-correction.

In the past, it was expected that errors be immediately corrected, whereas today, errors tend to be corrected when they interfere with intelligibility, providing teachable moments for learning. With a focus on intelligibility, incidental correction occurs based on observed student needs during meaning-focused tasks; this kind of error correction is well known as a subset of “focus on form” instruction (Long, 1991). It is suggested that feedback is effective if it is salient, systematic and engaging for the student. Despite several recent studies suggesting effective techniques for correcting pronunciation (Saito and Lyster, 2012; Saito, 2015; and Lee and Lyster, 2015), studies focusing on incidental correction of pronunciation in an integrated, task-based program are lacking (cf. Foote et al., 2013).

A qualitative study was conducted at an English for academic purposes institution in Vancouver, British Columbia. About six hours of instruction were observed, 54 students were surveyed, and five instructors were interviewed regarding their beliefs about pronunciation-related incidental corrective feedback in the classroom.

Overall, results suggest that incidental correction of pronunciation targeted segmental errors (e.g., consonants and vowels), mainly in student-fronted contexts such as presentations or read-aloud activities. Incidental correction focusing on suprasegmentals (e.g., focus words and connected speech), though minimal, was evident in discussion activities. The survey revealed that students prefer pronunciation correction that involves negotiation rather than direct recasts, i.e., students prefer to be prompted for the correct answer rather than being provided with it. Students, especially in the higher proficiency level classes, tended to be wary of correction that might interrupt their “thoughts”. Surprisingly, without directly being elicited, the predominant theme that arose from the instructor interviews was the need for comfort and trust in the classroom, with instructors believing that correction is necessary and important, but not if it will increase student stress and anxiety.

Based on these findings, a preliminary framework for incidental corrective feedback of pronunciation is outlined, including suggestions for when and how feedback could have occurred in the observed classes. In conclusion, the contemporary definition of “incidental” is revisited, suggesting directions for further research and practice in incidental pronunciation correction.

There is even a "touch" of haptic pronunciation intervention as well!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Classless" pronunciation teaching and "miscue-aggression"?

Attended a delightful, engaging, stimulating and very well presented workshop on teaching pronunciation last week--by a charismatic, former drama teacher who had been teaching a twice-weekly pronunciation course for college ESL students for well over a decade. After the session, in the hall, one of the less experienced participants remarked: "Phenomenal presentation . . . but I couldn't possibly use any of those techniques in my class!" No kidding. Why not?

One of the most "striking" techniques demonstrated was when the teacher or student would comically hit a student over the head with an artificial daisy whenever he or she made a pronunciation miscue. The presenter remarked, in fact, that in all her years of teaching pronunciation she had never had a student complain about being corrected. And, after just an hour in the presence of that presenter, I don't doubt that . . .for a minute.

Two reasons most of what was presented was pretty much "in-applicable" to most of us in the audience. First, rapport. The presenter was one of those gifted teachers who almost instantly creates a safe and yet wildly creative milieu where learners will engage in extraordinary risk taking and not be threatened in the least. Second, and related, was the fact that many of the techniques demonstrated required that kind of "wide open" classroom setting to work effectively and especially--efficiently, in the first place.

The point: so often what can be done in a dedicated pronunciation class or language lab, with all its relational and situational constraints and social contracts, cannot be done in an integrated classroom setting where pronunciation is taught or attended to only piecemeal or occasionally or on a more impromptu basis. As research has demonstrated convincingly, instructors and students alike do not generally feel comfortable with much of how pronunciation is taught today. With good reason.

The affective and emotional context of pronunciation teaching is critical, even more so than for many other aspects of language teaching. In a dedicated "dramatic" class, strange things may work well; in an integrated "classless" setting, the rules and consequences can be very different. The "take way" from the dramatic, engaging workshop: Very little . . .

John Rassias (1925-2015) where are you when we need you?