Saturday, April 14, 2018

Out of touch and "pointless" gesture use in (pronunciation) teaching

Two recently published, interesting papers illustrate potential problems and pleasures with gesture use in (pronunciation) teaching. The author(s) both, unfortunately, implicate or misrepresent haptic pronunciation training.

Note: In Haptic Pronunciation Training-English (HaPT-Eng) there is NO interpersonal touch, whatsoever. A learner's hands may touch either each other or the learner holds something, such as a ball or pencil that functions as an extension of the hand. Touch typically serves to control and standardize gesture--and integrate the senses--while amplifying the focus on stressed syllables in words or phrases.

This from Chan (2018): Embodied Pronunciation Learning: Research and Practice in special issue of the CATESOL journal on research-based pronunciation teaching:

"In discussing the use of tactile communication or haptic interventions, they (Hişmanoglu and Hişmanoglu, 2008) advise language teachers to be careful. They cite a number of researchers who distinguish high-contact, touch-oriented societies (e.g., Filipino, Latin American, Turkish) from societies that are low contact and not touch oriented (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean); the former may perceive the teacher’s haptic behavior (emphasis mine)as normal while the latter may perceive it as abnormal and uncomfortable. They also point out that in Islamic cultures, touching between people (emphasis mine) of the same gender is approved, but touching between genders is not allowed. Thus, while integrating embodied pronunciation methods into instruction, teachers need to remain constantly aware of the individuals, the classroom dynamics, and the attitudes students express toward these activities."

What Chan means by the "teacher's haptic behavior" is not defined. (She most probably means simply touching--tactile, not "haptic" in the technical sense as in robotics, for example, or as we use it in HaPT-Eng, that is: gesture synchronized with speech and anchored with intra-personal touch that provides feedback to the learner.) For example, to emphasize word stress in HaPT-Eng, in a technique called the "Rhythm Fight Club", the teacher/learner may squeeze a ball on a stressed syllable, as the arm punches forward, as in boxing. .

Again: There is absolutely no "interpersonal touch" or tactile or haptic communication, body-to-body, utilized in  HaPT-Eng . . . it certainly could be, of course--acknowledging the precautions noted by Chan.
A second study, Shadowing for pronunciation development: Haptic-shadowing and IPA-shadowing, by Hamada, has a related problem with the definition of "haptic". In the nice study, subjects "shadowed" a model, that is attempted to repeat what they heard (while view a script), simultaneously, along with the model. (It is a great technique, one use extensively in the field.) The IPA group had been trained in some "light" phonetic analysis of the texts, before attempting the shadowing. The "haptic" group were trained in what was said (inaccurately) to be the Rhythm Fight Club. There was a slight main effect, nonetheless, the haptic group being a bit more comprehensible.

The version of the RFC used was not haptic; it was only kinesthetic (there was no touch involved), just using the punching gesture, itself, to anchor/emphasize designated stressed syllables in the model sentences. The kinesthetic (touchless) version of the RFC has been used in other studies with even less success! It was not designed to be used without something for the hand to squeeze on the stressed element of the word or sentence, making it haptic. In that form, the gesture use can easily become erratic and out of control--best case! One of the main--and fully justified--reasons for avoidance of gesture work by many practitioners, as well as the central focus of HaPT-Eng: controlled, systematic use of gesture in anchoring prominence in language instruction.  

But a slight tweak of the title of the Hamada piece from "haptic" to "kinesthetic", of course, would do the trick.

The good news: using just kinesthetic gesture (movement w/o touch anchoring), the main effect was discernable. The moderately "bad" news: it was not haptic--which (I am absolutely convinced) would have made the study much more significant--let alone more memorable, touching and moving . . .

Keep in touch! v5.0 of HaPT-Eng will be available later this summer!

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