Saturday, December 23, 2017

Vive la efference! Better pronunciation using your Mind's Ear!

"Efference" . . . our favorite new term and technique: to imagine saying something before you actually say it out loud, creating an "efferent copy" that the brain then uses in efficiently recognizing what is heard or what is said.  Research by Whitford, Jack, Pearson, Griffiths, Luque, Harris, Spencer, and Pelley of University of New South Wales, Neurophysiological evidence of efference copies to inner speech, summarized by, explored the neurological underpinnings of efferent copies, having subjects imagine saying a word before it was heard (or said.)

The difference in the amount of processing required of subsequent occurrences following the efferent copies, as observed by fMRI-like technology, was striking. The idea is that this is one way the brain efficiently deals with speech recognition and variance. By (unconsciously) having "heard" the target or an idealized version of it just previously in the "mind's ear", so to speak, we have more processing  power available to work on other things with . . .

Inner speech has been studied and employed in the second language research and  practice extensively  (e.g., Shigematsu, 2010, dissertation: Second language inner voice and identity) and in different disciplines.  There is no published research on the direct application of efference in our field to date that I’m aware of.

The haptic application of that general idea is to “imagine” saying the word or phrase synchronized with a specifically designed pedagogical gesture before articulating it.  In some cases, especially where the learner is highly visual, that seems to be helpful, but we have done no systematic work on it.  The relationship with video modeling effectiveness may be very relevant as well. Here is a quick thought/talk problem for you to demonstrate how it works:

Imagine yourself speaking a pronunciation-problematic word in one of your other languages before trying to say it out loud. Do NOT subvocalize, move your mouth muscles. (Add a gesture for more punch!) How’d it work?

Imagine your pronunciation work getting better while you are at it!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Object fusion in (pronunciation) teaching for better uptake and recall!

Your students sometimes can't remember what you so ingeniously tried to teach them? New study by D’Angelo, Noly-Gandon, Kacollja, Barense, and Ryan at the Rotman Research Institute in Ontario, Breaking down unitization: Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?” (reported by suggests an "ingenious" template for helping at least some things "click and stick" better. What you need for starters:
  • 2 objects (real or imagined) (to be fused together)
  • an action linking or involving them, which fuses them
  • a potentially tangible, desirable consequence of that fusion
The example from the research of the "fusing" protocol was to visualize sticking an umbrella in the key hole of your front door to remind yourself to take your umbrella so you won't get soaking wet on the way to work tomorrow. Subjects who used that protocol, rather than just motion or action/consequence, were better at recalling the future task. Full disclosure here: the subjects were adults, age 61 to 88. Being near dead center in the middle of that distribution, myself, it certainly caught my attention! I have been using that strategy for the last two weeks or so with amazing results . . . or at least memories!

So, how might that work in pronunciation teaching? Here's an example

Consonant: th - (voiceless)
Objects: upper teeth, lower teeth, tongue
Fusion: tongue tip positioned between teeth as air blows out (action)
Consequence - better pronunciation of the th sound

Haptic pronunciation adds to the con-fusion

Vowel (low, central 'a'), done haptically (gesture + touch)
Objects: hands touch at waist level, as vowel is articulated, with jaw and tongue lowered in mouth, with strong, focused awareness of vocal resonance in the larynx and bones of the face.
Fusion: tongue and hand movement, sound, vocal resonance and touch
Consequence: better pronunciation of the 'a' sound

Key concept: It is not much of a stretch to say that our sense of touch is really our "fusion" sense, in that it serves as a nexus-agent for the others  (Fredembach, et al, 2009; Legarde and Kelso 2006). Much like the created image of the umbrella in the key hole evokes a memorable "embodied" event, probably even engaged with our tactile processing center(s), the haptic pedagogical movement pattern (PMP) should work in similar manner, either in actual physical practice or visualized.

One very effective technique, in fact, is to have learners visualize the PMP (gesture+sound+touch) without activating the voice. (Actually, when you visualize a PMP it is virtually impossible to NOT experience it, centered in your larynx or voice box.)

If this is all difficult for you to visualize or remember, try first imagining yourself whacking your forehead with your iPhone and shouting "Eureka!"

Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care (2017, August 11). Imagining an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved August 11, 2017 from an Action-Consequence Relationship Can Boost Memory/

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

OLOA! Pronunciation Teaching Lagniappe!
When the "oral reading baby" was for a time tossed out with the structuralist reading and pronunciation teaching "bath", a valuable resource was temporarily mislaid. New research by Forrin and MacLeod of Waterloo University confirms what common sense tells us: that reading a text aloud or even verbalizing something that you need to remember (get ready!) actually may help. Really? In that study the "production effect" was quite significant. From the Science Daily summary:

"The study tested four methods for learning written information, including reading silently, hearing someone else read, listening to a recording of oneself reading, and reading aloud in real time. Results from tests with 95 participants showed that the production effect of reading information aloud to yourself resulted in the best remembering . . . And we know that regular exercise and movement are also strong building blocks for a good memory."

There have been any number of blogposts here advocating the use of oral reading in pronunciation teaching, but this is one argument that I had not encountered or was not all that interested in, in part because I had an Aunt who read and thought aloud constantly and very "irritatingly"! (And who, it appears not incidentally, had a  phenomenal memory for detail.) You may well have an aunt or associate who uses the same often socially dysfunctional memory heuristic.

One often unrecognized source of lagniappe (bonus) from attention to pronunciation, especially in the form of oral reading in class or as personalized homework, is this production effect, which is the actual focus of the study: any number of actions or physical movement may contribute to memory for language material. The text being verbalized still has to be "meaningful" in some sense, according to the study. In haptic work we use the acronym OLOA (out loud oral anchoring), targeted elements of speech accompanied by gesture and touch. 

That can happen any time in instruction, of course, but the precise conditions for it being effective are interesting and worth exploring. One of the procedures I have frequently set up in teaching observations is analyzing the extent and quality of OLOA (In Samoan: one's labor, skill or possessions!) See if you can remember to use more of that intentionally next week in class and observe what happens. (If not, try a little OLOA on this blogpost!)

University of Waterloo. (2017, December 1). Reading information aloud to yourself improves memory of materials. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 6, 2017 from