Monday, March 26, 2018

Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshops in Japan!

We are now scheduling workshops in Japan between June 19th and 26th. If your school would like to host a half-day, Haptic Pronunciation Teaching workshop, let us know, as soon as possible. We have just those 7 days open.
  • The workshops can be morning or afternoon, and can involve up to 200 participants. 
  • A nice venue with moveable chairs (no tables) and good sound is all that is required. Materials, including access to web-based video models of all techniques presented, are provided. A video recording of the workshop is also OK. 
  • There are 4 different workshops available. One for experienced teachers, one for teachers-in-training, one for teachers with little or no background in pronunciation teaching, and one for high school age learners and older.
  • Cost for the workshops begins at $500 CAD (40,000 yen), depending on audience size.
  • If interested, contact us by comment here or at:! (If your school is in some other country, we will be available for another "tour" Spring, 2019!)

What you see is what you forget: pronunciation feedback perturbations

Tigger warning* This blogpost concerns disturbing images, perturbations, during pronunciation

In some sense, almost all pronunciation teaching involves some type of imitation and repetition of a model. A key variable in that process is always feedback on our own speech, how well it conforms to the model presented, whether coming to us through the air or perhaps via technology, such as headsets--in addition to the movement and resonance we feel in our vocal apparatus and bone structure in the head and upper body.  Likewise, choral repetition is probably the most common technique, used universally. There are, of course, an infinite number of reasons why it may or may not work, among them, of course, distraction or lack of attention.
We generally, however, do not take all that seriously what is going on in the visual field in front of the learner while engaged in repetition of L2 sounds and words. Perhaps we should. In a recent study by Liu et al, Auditory-Motor Control of Vocal Production during Divided Attention: Behavioral and ERP Correlates,  it was shown that differing amounts of random light flashes in the visual field  affected the ability of learners to adjust the pitch of their voice to the model being presented for imitation. The research was done in Chinese, with native Mandarin speakers, attempting to adjust the tone patterns of words presented to them, along with the "light show". They were instructed to produce the models they heard as accurately as possible.

What was surprising was the degree to which visual distraction (perturbation) seemed to directly impact subjects' ability to adjust their vocal production pitch in attempting to match the changing tone of the models they were to imitate. In other words, visual distraction was (cross-modally) affecting perception of change and/or subsequent ability to reproduce it. The key seems to be the multi-modal nature of working memory itself. From the conclusion: "Considering the involvement of working memory in divided attention for the storage and maintenance of multiple sensory information  . . .  our findings may reflect the contribution of working memory to auditory-vocal integration during divided attention."

The research was, of course, not looking at pronunciation teaching, but the concept of management of attention and the visual field is central to haptic instruction, in part because touch, movement and sound are so easily overridden by visual stimuli or distraction. Next time you do a little repetition or imitation work, figure out some way to insure that working memory perturbation by what is around learners is kept to a minimum. You'll SEE the difference. Guaranteed.

Liu Y, Fan H, Li J, Jones JA, Liu P, Zhang B and Liu H (2018) Auditory-Motor Control of Vocal Production during Divided Attention: Behavioral and ERP Correlates. Front. Neurosci. 12:113. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00113

*The term "Tigger warning" is used on this blog to indicate potentially mild or nonexistent emotional disruption that can easily be overrated. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Teaching EnglishL2 advanced conversation (with hand2hand prosodic and paralinguistic "comeback")
We'll be doing a new workshop: "Pronunciation across the 'spaces' between sentences and speakers."  At the 2018 BCTEAL Conference here in Vancouver in May. Here is the summary:

This workshop introduces a set of haptic (movement + touch) based techniques for working with English discourse-level prosodic and paralanguistic bridges between participants in conversation, including, key, volume and pace. Some familiarity with teaching of L2 prosodics (basically: rhythm, stress, juncture and intonation) is recommended.

The framework is based to some extent on Prosodic Orientation in English Conversation, by Szczepek-Reed, and new features of v5.0 of the haptic pronunciation teaching system: Essential Haptic-interated English Pronunciation (EHIEP), available by August, 2018. The innovation is the use of several pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) that help learners attend to the matches and mismatches of prosodics and paralanguage between participants in conversation that create and maintain coherence and . . . empathy across conversational turns.

For a quick glimpse of just the basic prosodic PMPs, see the demo of the AH-EPS ExIT (Expressiveness) from EHIEP v2.0.

The session is only 45 minutes long, so it will just be an experiential overview or tour of the set of speech-synchronized-gesture-and-touch techniques. The video, along with handouts, will be linked here in late May.

Join us!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Attention! The "Hocus focus" effect on learning and teaching
"We live in such an age of chatter and distraction. Everything is a challenge for the ears and eyes" (Rebecca Pidgeon)  "The internet is a big distraction." (Ray Bradbury)

There is a great deal of research examining the apparent advantage that children appear to have in language learning, especially pronunciation. Gradually, there is also accumulating a broad research base on another continuum, that of young vs "mature" adult learning in the digital age. Intriguing piece by Nir Eyal posted at one of my favorite, occasional light reads,, entitled, Your ability to focus has probably peaked: heres how to stay sharp.

The piece is based in part on The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Gazzaley and Rosen. One of the striking findings of the research reported, other than the fact that your ability to focus intently apparently peaks at age 20, is that there is actually no significant difference in focusing ability between those in their 20s and someone in their 70s. What is dramatically different, however, is one's susceptibility to distraction. Just like the magician's "hocus pocus" use of distraction, in a very real sense, it is our ability to not be distracted that may be key, not our ability to simply focus our attention however intently on an object or idea. It is a distinction that does make a difference.

The two processes, focusing and avoiding distraction, derive from different areas of the brain. As we age, or in some neurological conditions emerging from other causes such as injury or trauma, it may get more and more difficult to keep out of consciousness information or perception being generated from intruding on our thinking. Our executive functions become less effectual. Sound familiar? 

In examining the effect of distraction on subjects of all ages on focusing to remember targeted material, being confronted with a visual field filled with various photos of people or familiar objects, for example, was significantly more distracting than closing one's eyes (which was only slightly better, in fact), as opposed to being faced with a plain visual field of one color, with no pattern, which was the most enabling visual field for the focus tasking. In other words, clutter trumps focus, especially with time.  Older subjects were significantly more distracted in all three conditions, but still also to better focus in the latter, a less cluttered visual field.

Some interesting implications for teaching there--and validation of our intuitions as well, of course. Probably the most important is that explicit management of not just attention of the learner, but sources of distraction, not just in class but outside as well, may reap substantial benefits. This new research helps to further justify broader interventions and more attention on the part of instructors to a whole range of learning condition issues. In principle, anything that distracts can be credibly "adjusted", especially where fine distinctions or complex concepts are the "focus" of instruction.

In haptic pronunciation work, where the felt sense of what body is doing should almost always be a prominent part of learner's awareness, the assumption has been that one function of that process is to better manage attention and visual distraction. If you know of a study that empirically establishes or examines the effect of gesture on attention during vocal production, please let us know!

The question: Is the choice of paying attention or not a basic "student right?" If it isn't, how can you further enhance your effectiveness by better "stick handling" all sources of distraction in your work . . . including your desktop(s) and the space around you at this moment?

For a potentially productive distraction this week, take a fresh look at what your class feels like and "looks like" . . . without the usual "Hocus focus!"