Thursday, April 13, 2017

The elephant in the room: Body awareness in language (and pronunciation) teaching

In the previous post, I mentioned that we are considering proposing a colloquium at the next TESOL convention (in Chicago, in March, 2018) with the title of something like: Embodiment and the body in TESOL. That could bring together a wide range of researchers and practitioners, in addition to hapticians!

Now comes this neat little study of body awareness in elephants:  Elephants know when their bodies are obstacles to success in a novel transfer task by Dale and Plotnik of University of Cambridge, summarized by NeuroScience News. Basically, they demonstrated that elephants are very much tuned into the impact that their bodies have on their immediate environment. In the study, subjects were posed with a problem such that they could not pass on a baton with a cord attached to the mat they were standing on--without getting off the mat first.

To the apparent surprise of the researchers, that was a piece of cake for the elephants.

Body awareness is getting more attention lately, for example in discussions of  body image  by scholars and "body shaming", even at #Starbucks . . .
But now for the "elephant in room" that will be the topic of the colloquium: To paraphrase the title of the study: Researchers (and some instructors) don't know when (or how) their bodies are obstacles to effective pronunciation teaching. Not to pull the mat out from under current teaching methodology, of course, but the point of this blog for the last 7 years has been just that: systematic work with the body is ultimately the key to pronunciation teaching.

That almost certainly means the integration of "full body" methodology in computer-mediated or virtual reality environments. The technology is available to do that now, used primarily at this point in gaming, rehabilitation and the military.

So what do we mean by "the body"? Essentially, what is termed "embodied cognition", meaning that is based in some condition or movement of our physical experience. It can be gesture, posture or "regular" motion or movement in learning, but it can also relate to anything about the physical environment of the classroom, or the genders, identities or perceived body images of participants.

50  years ahead of his time, Arthur Lessac put it so well in 1967: Train the body first! Join us in Chicago (hopefully) next spring in passing on that baton! Something noBODY should miss!

Citation: University of Cambridge “Elephant’s “Body Awareness” Adds to Increasing Evidence of Their Intelligence.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 12 April 2017.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your revelation of hidden knowledge so many educationalists specially teachers employ while they are unaware of such a gem. looking at such an old companion ( body movement ) academically is an amazing idea.