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


  1. Interesting, Bill. Thanks for presenting this. I'll try it with my students.

  2. Just finished prepping for tomorrow's class. Students will be reporting on their own storytelling, both content and form, "Gollum Style"! Will report back on Friday.