Sunday, August 20, 2017

Good listening (and pronunciation teaching) is in the EYE of the beholder (not just the ear)!
Here is some research well worth gazing at and listening to by Pomper and Chait of University College London: The impact of visual gaze direction on auditory object tracking, summarized by

In the study, subjects "sat facing three loudspeakers arranged in front of them in a darkened, soundproof room. They were instructed to follow sounds from one of the loudspeakers while ignoring sounds from the other two loudspeakers. . . . instructed to look away from the attended loudspeaker" in an aural comprehension task. What they found was that " . . . participants’ reaction times were slower when they were instructed to look away from the attended loudspeaker . . .  this was also accompanied by an increase in oscillatory neural activity . . .

 Look . .  I realize that the connection to (haptic) pronunciation teaching may not be immediately obvious, but it is potentially significant. For example, we know from several research studies (e.g., Molloy et al. 2015) that visual tends to override or "trump" audio--in "head to head" competition in the brain. In addition, auditory generally trumps kinesthetic, but the two together may override visual in some contexts. Touch seems to be able to complement the strength or impact of the other three or serve to unite them or integrate them in various ways. (See the two or three dozen earlier blog posts on those and related issues.)

In this study, you have three competing auditory sources with the eyes tracking to one as opposed to the others. Being done in a dark room probably helped to mitigate the effect of other possible visual distraction. It is not uncommon at all for a student to chose to close her eyes when listening or look away from a speaker (a person, not an audio loudspeaker as in the study). So this is not about simply paying attention visually. It has more to do with eyes either being focused or NOT. 

Had the researchers asked subjects to gaze at their navels--or any other specific object--the results might have been very different. In my view the study is not valid just on those grounds alone, but still interesting in that subjects' gaze was fixed at all.) Likewise, there should have been a control group that did the same protocols with the lights on, etc. In effect, to tell subjects to look away was equivalent to having them try to ignore the target sound and attend to it at the same time. No wonder there was " . . .  an increase in oscillatory neural activity"! Really!

In other words, the EYEs have it--the ability to radically focus attention, in this case to sound, but to images as well. That is, in effect, the basis of most hypnosis and good public speaking, and well-established in brain research. In haptic pronunciation teaching, the pedagogical movement patterns by the instructor alone should capture the eyes of the students temporarily, linking back to earlier student experience or orientation to those patterns. 

So try this: Have students fix their eyes on something reasonable or relevant, like a picture or neutral, like an area on the wall in front of them--and not look away--during a listening task. Their eyes should not wander, at least not much. Don't do it for a very long period of time , maybe 30 seconds, max at the start. You should explain to them this research so they understand why you are doing it. (As often as I hammer popular "Near-ol'-science", this is one case where I think the general findings of the research are useful and help to explain a very common sense experience.)

 I have been using some form of this technique for years; it is basic to haptic work except we do not specifically call attention to the eye tracking since the gestural work naturally accomplishes that to some degree. (If you have, too, let us know!)

This is particularly effective if you work in a teaching environment that has a lot of ambient noise in the background. You can also, of course, add music or white noise to help cancel out competing noise or maybe even turn down the lights, too, as in the research. See what I mean?

Good listening to you!

UCL (2017, July 5). Gaze Direction Affects Sound Sensitivity. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved July 5, 2017 from
Molloy, K, Griffiths, D.,  Chait, Lavie, N. Inattentional Deafness: Visual Load Leads to Time-Specific Suppression of Auditory Evoked Responses. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015; 35 (49): 16046 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2931-15.2015

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Motor-mouth language (and pronunciation): learning through "sleep napnia"

"Give me a break!" (This is your brain talking after a hard day of learning.) One of the fundamental
principles of hypnotherapy, and many similar frameworks, is that at critical points in the process, conscious attention to learning must be suspended. Unless it is, little or nothing will be retained or integrated. One of the ways we do that, of course, is sleep. (In hypnosis that is done very intentionally.)
A fascinating "rat" study, summarized by Neuroscience News, “Neural reactivations during sleep determine network credit assignment” by Gulati, Guo, Ramanathan, Bodepudi and Ganguly of University of California - San Francisco, explored how the brain consolidates motor learning during sleep. Let me translate the conclusion hidden in that title for you. 

They found that deep sleep was required for the brain to, in effect, sort out what was relevant and functionally important in learning a complex motor task, separating out and discarding all the false starts and exploratory moves required to finally get it "right." They could actually watch the motor area of the brain "playing" with the new pattern repeatedly in sleep. Upon waking, if the rats who were allowed to "sleep it through", their performance was correct. If the deep sleep activity was, in effect, injected with a little static that did not let the extraneous "moves" be backgrounded efficiently, the pattern was not readily available to the rat when conscious again. 

Hope that long "unpack" did not put you to sleep! The research on the function and necessity of sleep for learning is long established. Here is one takeaway for pronunciation teaching, or the use of gesture in language teaching in general

In our highly physical, "motorized" experiential work in haptic pronunciation teaching, we long ago recognized that learning how to use the pedagogical movement patterns (specifically created gestures tied to sound patterns) took time--and time off. In other words, you work on the movements for a few minutes and then set it aside, without even THINKING about mastery. That comes later, days later, pretty much without you even thinking about it. For the perfectionist and control freak, the haptic system can be quite a challenge initially.

We can't require that students get a good night's sleep or even a nap occasionally. There is also probably no feasible way right now to research that, but the principle is important. At least efficient, simple motor learning requires sleep to sort things out. In addition, the learning experience has to be relatively free of extraneous static being encoded or absorbed along with it as it is happening.

One of the primary contributions of touch in the haptic system is strong, temporary focusing of attention on the coordinated sound and gesture being learned. That should include enhanced body awareness and decluttering of the visual field. When the brain then works on the pattern that evening in the sack, it should have even a little less interference to play with and work through.

Pronunciation, as motor-based as it is,  is certainly nothing to lose sleep over!

Definitions of motor-mouth!

"Napnia" (a neologism) defined: Taking a nap to learn in or by!

Original source:
UCSF (2017, August 11). Deep Sleep Reinforces the Learning of New Motor Skills. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved August 11, 2017 from Sleep Reinforces the Learning of New Motor Skills/

Monday, August 7, 2017

Gollum Speak: Making language improvement less stressful by talking about me

Bill is impressed with a new study by Moser et al at Michigan State University, reported by Science Daily, entitled Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI. In fact, he finds himself talking about himself thinking about it in the 3rd person constantly . . . He has even given it a name: Gollum Speak. If you are not a fan of Tolkien, you might want to go here, to get a sense of what that sounds like! One implication of the study is that you can use Gollum-like grammar to control emotion--without interfering with "cognitive" functioning. (Really?) The longer term effects of becoming gradually more "Gollum-like" by talking like that are not examined, however.

Bill's local psychotherapist informs him that some form of that technique, making the patient temporarily distance themselves either verbally or visually is a long established trick in the field. Works well sometimes but should NOT be just tossed out as an option for those not supervised or not  up on how to "talk themselves out of it", too. In other words, do NOT try that at home!

On the other hand, Gollum Speak used with language learners may have possibilities. It is, in effect, after all not all that far from role play and drama work, taking on not just the language of the character but the "voice" or perspective as well. Even in working metacognitively with learners on their progress or problems, being detached and "objective" has it merits--although that type of talk can easily devolve into deeper "Gollum": neurotic, uncontrolled self-reflection and . . . doubt. 

Bill has tried a bit of that already and will do it again with a class in a couple of days. His current read on the use of Gollum in the classroom is that students so far have found it hysterically funny--and grammatically a great game-- but were also apparently able to talk with a little more ease about themselves, just as Moser et al would predict. See just how "Gollum-able" you and your students are!

He looks forward to his follow up report--and yours!


Michigan State University. (2017, July 26). Talking to yourself in the third person can help you control emotions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2017 from