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.


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