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)

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