Thursday, July 27, 2017

Killing pronunciation 7: Talking learners (and instructors) out of pronunciation change

Credit: Anna Shaw
How do you persuade students to work on their pronunciation--or sell them on it, especially pronunciation-related homework?  If you are using more "distal senses" such as sight and/or sound, according to a new study by Elder, Schlosser, Poor, Xu of Brigham Young University, summarized by Science Daily, you may not have the right approach. If, on the other "hand", your method evokes a more "proximal" sense experience (such as movement, touch and/or taste), you are probably on the right track. (I'm sure you can see where this is headed!)

The BYU study dealt with the impact of advertising on what type of pitch and/sensory imagery seems to get you to make a commitment to buy sooner, rather than later. The actual journal title, So Close I Can Almost Sense It: The Interplay between Sensory Imagery and Psychological Distance, describes the research well. What they found, not surprisingly, is that imagery connecting to or evoking a "felt" somatic response from the body, in effect, draws you in faster, and more effectively.

That does not mean that you DO something physical, only that the imagery on a screen in this case, may get the customer or learner's brain to respond AS IF actual touch or taste was involved, generating a very real feeling or taste-related memory. That mirroring effect, in part entertained by "mirror neurons" in the brain, is well established in brain research. To the brain under most circumstances the distinction between how we feel when we observe and do can be minimal. Turns out our metaphors are more than metaphors, in other words.

Some of the variability here may have to do with our personal instructional style in bringing learners' attention to, in this case, what they need to do outside of class. How do you do that? A list somewhere in the syllabus? An oral announcement? Something written on the board? A brief oral run through of what is to be done? A brief rehearsal w/students of what is to be done? What is very important here is not the actual classroom activity but the imagery that it evokes. And the key to that is what prior schema the classroom event is linking back to--and how, in the moment, it is delivered and experienced.

Pronunciation instruction done right is both an exceedingly physical and meta-cognitive process. What haptic work attempts to do is achieve that balance consistently. There are other ways to do that, of course, but most student textbooks, for example, either don't or can't, in part because the activities are presented and taught in a purely linear fashion. Haptic is ALWAYS simultaneous--sound, movement, and cognition (haptic) engagement, in effect, communicating more intentionally with learners in pronunciation change in and with somatic (body-based) imagery.

Still not sold? Try rereading the blog in the hot tub or on an exercise ball . . .

Full citation from
Brigham Young University. (2017, June 28). Now or later: How taste and sound affect when you buy: The way ads play on our senses influences the timing of our purchases. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2017 from

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