Wednesday, November 14, 2018

When "clear speech" is not clear . . . or meaningful, but still instructive.
Once in a while you stumble on a study that seems, at least at first, to fly in the face of contemporary theory and methodology. This is one does: "How clear speech equates to clear memory: Researchers find that a speaker's clearly articulated style can improve a listener's memory of what was said." by  researchers Keerstock and Smiljanic of the University of Texas at Austin.

Actually, the title, when read correctly does get at the reality behind oral comprehension work: the type of "clear speech" used in the study SHOULD result in "clear" memory, that is nothing much of substance or meaning being recalled later. The results seem to confirm that, in fact.

Let me summarize it for you so you don't have to read it yourself. There is an (ironically) useful piece to the study, albeit not what the researchers intended. They head in the right direction initially but land someplace else:
  • Subjects, natives and nonnatives, heard 6 sets of 12 sentences read either in " . . . "clear" speech, in which the speaker talked slowly, articulating with great precision, and (or) a more casual and speedily delivered "conversational" manner." (Can't wait to see what controls they had in place in terms of every variable related to content and delivery!)
  • After hearing the 12 sentences they were given some "clues" for each sentence and then asked to write down verbatim the rest of the words in each sentence. (Since no data or protocols are provided, we must assume that the sentences were of reasonable length and vocabulary level, and as a group were probably not thematically related.) 
  • Everybody remembered more words in the "clear speak" condition. (Did the natives or nonnative speakers understand the meaning better? Are the results based just on how many words were recalled? Hard to tell from the brief description of the study.)
Their conclusion (from the summary):

"That appears to be an efficient way of conveying information, not only because we can hear the words better but also because we can retain them better."

Wow. I don't even know where to begin on that . . . so I won't, but if you are not up to speed on current thinking in L2 aural comprehension work, check out Conti's blog on that topic.  I will just note that the practice of doing a precise word-by-word oral reading--and then doing the same PASSAGE of say 200 words or more a second time in a highly expressive frame of voice and mind has long standing in both public speaking and "Lectio Divina" traditions. It is a proven technique, a way to both prepare for an expressive oral reading and dig into the meaning of the text. In haptic work, that practice is fundamental as well.

But the methodology of this study has to be one of the best ways to "clear memory" of meaning and motivation imaginable!

So . . . try . . . that . . . out . . . with . . . your . . . class . . . tomorrow . . . morning . . . and . . . see . . . how . . . it . . . works! And report back.


Don't forget to sign up for the upcoming Haptic Pronunciation Training Webinars!!!


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Beyond gesture: when visual-auditory-kinesthetic is not enough in pronunciation teaching!

Haptic engagement (adding touch to gesture) in pronunciation teaching began in 2005, in response to a number of potential problem(s) of using "simple" gesture in the classroom:
  • Inconsistency of results! 
    • Sometimes gesture seems to work well in learning and recalling pronunciation:
      • As a motivator or generator of enthusiasm and releasing inhibitions, it can be terrific . . . sometimes!
      • But sometimes not, depending on a number of factors. Research on efficacy of general gesture use in teaching has been consistently inconclusive, at best. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that the phonological distinctions, themselves, may be perceptually relatively ambiguous as well, such as that between [i], as in "seat" and [I] as in "sit" in English for learners of many other L1s.
  • Some individuals and cultures are more "gesticular" than others.
    •  Some of us are just better performers and more comfortable with having others mirror our movement in public. We found the teachers in Costa Rica to be some of most naturally "haptic" in that regard!
    • Some of us are just not wired for it. In a few cases, such as the ambidextrous or highly visually eidetic (have photographic visual memory) may find this kind of teaching unsettling, to put it mildly. (But with careful control and use of pre-recorded video models, most can successfully work with the haptic system.)  
  • Teacher training
    • It has turned out, not surprisingly, to be exceedingly difficult to train teachers to use a common set of pedagogical gestures, especially when training is done online and not f2f. Our haptic pronunciation training here on campus has been very successful, but it goes on for 12 weeks, 2 or 3 hours per week. (But see note and links at the bottom for a new option next month!)
The intuitive "solution" turned out to be relatively straightforward:
  • Anchor gesture with touch on stressed syllables or prominent words in phrases and sentences.
  • Create instructional videos (of me, for the most part) that did the teaching, instead of requiring individual teachers to do it themselves, at least initially. 
The underlying reason or research justification for why that approach "worked" only emerged gradually . . . and recently, in fact! A new study by Fairhurst, M., Travers, E., Hayward, V. and Deroy, O. of Ludwig Maximilians-Universitat-Munchen, Confidence is higher in touch than in vision in cases of perceptual ambiguity, provides a striking piece of the puzzle.

In the experiment, subjects basically had to judge the relative length of two sticks. When the difference was more obvious, they relied solely on vision. When the difference was visually very close or ambiguous, however, they turned to touch to determine which was longer--even though the actual difference in length was actually insignificant. In other words, with touch their judgments were significantly more confident. In effect, "Seeing, as the expression goes, may be believing, but feeling is truth."

The main effect addresses the problem of movement and gesture being potentially difficult to locate consistently in the visual field of the learner and instructor. Although a pattern itself may look "the same" when performed at different locations in front of the learner, it may well not be recognized or remembered as such. (That has always been our experience.)  Unless you apply the magic . . . touch!

Touch as linked to gestural patterns such as those for  tense vowels with off-glides, where the touch occurs on the stressed vowel in a word or phrase, not only consolidates the voice and hand/arm movement and helps identify more consistent locations for the pedagogical gestures, but also gives learners confidence in finding them in the first place. That is especially the case where two sounds or patterns are both conceptually and phonologically in very close proximity, such as the space/distinction between [iy] and [ey] in English in this demonstration video from haptic pronunciation training, version 2.0. 

Now I realize this may all be a bit hard to "grasp" at first, but after you have had just a "touch" of haptic work, it makes perfect sense!

Need to know more and be trained in Haptic Pronunciation Training? Go here and then sign up here!

Confidence is higher in touch than in vision in cases of perceptual ambiguity, Scientific Reports, volume 8, Article number: 15604 (2018)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Haptic Pronunciation Training Rides Again! (at TESOL 2019)

The first haptic workshop, (Acton, W., Baker, A. and M. Burri. 2008). Haptic approaches to Intonation Instruction, was conducted 10 years ago at the 2008 TESOL Convention in New York.

Credit: Linda Liu
This coming March in Atlanta at TESOL 2019 will be the official roll out of v5.0  (v4.5 is still available) and a new workshop, Basics of haptic pronunciation training -- Acton, W., Baker, A. Hong, S. and M. Burri presenting. 

Even if you have attended haptic presentations before, join us for a serious upgrade of your haptic tool kit, both at the workshop and at our annual moving and touching "Haptic-o-logue" over-adult- beverages-get-together of hapticians and friends. (If you have a recommendation for a truly "haptic"  venue in Atlanta, please let us know!)

Keep in touch!