Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pronunciation teaching not your cup of tea? It may be your metaphor or M-Cat!

Neuroscientist, Glaser, of King's College, as reported in the Guardian, may just have the "answer": adjust your metaphors! For example, if your students are not as friendly or malleable as they should be, have them all hold a cup of warm tea for a bit. (Caveat emptor: The following is serious fun!) In one study:

"Those holding hot drinks were also more likely to be generous, and less likely to display behaviour thought of as selfish. This is due to the strong linguistic and metaphorical links created in the brain by repeatedly using the words ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe personalities."

"This is due . . . " Wow. That is a bit of a stretch, of course, but he is getting warm . . . Pretty strong claim there, that it is the specific use of such adjectives alone that generates the visceral, affective response. Without digging too deeply into the evidence (which he doesn't, in fact), just hold your warm latte in both hands and read on. 

I've reported earlier on the blog similar research "linking" the metaphorical and somatic/tactile link between words such as "rough" or "coarse", for example, and how the brain seems to interpret those in a way very similar to when one actually touches a surface possessing that tactile quality.

Similar studies connect language and olfaction (smell/aroma therapy), e.g. That argument stinks! Likewise, beginning with work such as Metaphors we live by,  Lakoff and Johnson (2003), and continuing more recently in language teaching, e.g.,  Holme (2004) Mind, Metaphor and Language Teaching, in a very real sense, anything in the classroom is in principle, amenable to intentional (metaphorical) design and adjustment.

In the past, asking students to hold something random to affect their perception of something else was seen as pretty far out--objectionable to the point of unconscious manipulation. But today, with both research on the impact of placibos and pop-neuroscience that encourages a wide range of conscious adjustment of perception, it is a different "ball game"! (I make extensive use of balls in pronunciation teaching.) But first we need to ferret out all the classroom behaviors that are potentially working against us!

What we might term "meta-cup-a-tea" (M-Cat), that is the sensation evoked by touch or physical contact and presence is a variable in all instruction, including pronunciation. In general pronunciation instruction M-Cat may rarely be attended to consciously, but in haptic pronunciation instruction (HaPT) it can be critical, since it can divert awareness away from pronunciation-focused touch-based techniques. (For more on that see this!) In L2 work, however, cultural "misinterpretation" of in-class touching can of course go almost anyplace imaginable.

So let's just look at a few traditional pronunciation teaching "tactile experiences" (other than what goes on in the mouth or what is involved in HaPT) for their potential "Meta-cup-a-tea" contribution (or lack of contribution) to instruction. Listed below are some of my students' best M-Cats. On the face of it many of these are done to reinforce or correlate with a targeted sound or pattern. In practice, it is not at all clear what if any connectedness is realized, nonetheless. In many cases the "contact" or pressure can be counterproductive, interfering or distracting attention--but still fun:
  • blowing air on tissue paper or hands: X is mostly hot air, germ dispersing 
  • touching the face: X is untrained; has not taken course in public speaking
  • clapping or tapping hands: X is attention-deprived
  • stretching rubber bands: X is all thumbs, overextended
  • snapping fingers: X impulsive, too much math, phonetics or syntax
  • overly precise hand writing: X is scary or boring or compulsive
  • hands holding things that are not warm: X is cold, unfeeling
  • spinning pencils: X is neurotic, not from this culture, not a native speaker!
  • fingers on smart phones, especially when multi-tasking: X is "situ-phrenic"
  • hands excessively on books, notebooks: X is bookish, introvert, anachronist, dead-tree-ite
  • hands excessively on body parts: X has pronounced problem
  • hand or marker moving on iPad or white/smart board: X is hip, maybe even creative
  • going through practice cards: X is a dealer
  • caressing keyboard or mouse: X is geek-ish, L2-a-phobe, possibly closet rat
  • glutes on chair: X is sedentary, butt stable
  • sitting on chair in language lab: X is antisocial, isolationist
  • full body on bed: X is seriously sedentary, probable "sound-nambulant"
  • earphones on/in ears: X is audio-phont, "ear-y" at best
  • chewing, eating, drinking: X is hypoglycemic or language hungry
  • continually wiping finger prints off iPhone screen: dys-Appled, but possibly good follower
  • head scratching: lice, itching to learn, excessive meta-cognition in process
Got any more good M-Cats? Post'em and I'll add them to the list.

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