Friday, December 27, 2019

Drawing on drawing to enhance learning of sounds and pronunciation

About 40 years ago, in working with dyslexia in the family, specifically elementary school reading and spelling tests, we stumbled onto the idea of, in effect, forming the letters of the alphabet for the words on the spelling list that week--with the body, in cheerleader or ballet-like fashion. Our "alphabeteer" became lightning fast. The technique worked well, or at least it helped.

Drawing on the concept of the "body alphabet", creating stylized body movement that iconically represented letters and sounds, we developed the haptic pronunciation teaching system, beginning in about 1985. New gestures were created that visually and somatically represented in tangible and recognizable ways, sounds, graphemes and a range of phonological processes, such as vowels, phrasing of syllables and intonation patterning. Those routines were intentionally designed to not carry common problematic social meanings, such as waving goodbye or signalling some degree of pleasure or displeasure.

Just read a remarkable piece of neuroscience research that seems to get at some of the critical, underlying mechanisms involved: Relating visual production and recognition of objects in human visual cortex, by Fan, et al. (2019).

Quoting the summary from Science Daily:

"As the participants drew each object multiple times, (line drawings of pieces of furniture) the activity patterns in (visual) occipital cortex remained unchanged, but the connection between occipital cortex and parietal cortex, an area involved in motor planning, grew more distinct. This suggests that drawing practice enhances how the brain shares information about an object between different regions over time. . .This means people recruit the same neural representation of an object whether they are drawing it or seeing it."

Especially for the more kinaesthetic among us, sketching, allowing the pen or brush, or the body itself a more prominent role in supporting memory can be wonderfully enabling and effective. One has to wonder, however, what we are doing to our collective memories and coming generations as we "hand off" more and more of our primary encoding and recalling to our essentially visual-auditory smartphone interfaces. Research on that question and the general interconnectivity between areas of the brain is extensive and growing rapidly.

The implications of that observation and many like it recently are paradigm changing. Much of what we have come to understand as relatively isolated sections and functions of the brain, and by extension our behavior, are really anything but. The bad news and the good news:

In effect, everything we experience at any given moment can contribute substantially to what is later remembered and recalled. We, as educators or influencers, are accountable for much more, but, on the other hand, we now have license to do more as well.

v5.0 of the haptic system is about to launch. It does more . . .

Keep in touch!

Full Reference:
Judith E. Fan, Jeffrey D. Wammes, Jordan B. Gunn, Daniel L. K. Yamins, Kenneth A. Norman and Nicholas B. Turk-Browne, Journal of Neuroscience 23 December 2019, 1843-19; DOI:

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Full-body and voice burn out prevention workshop for language teachers!
If you will be at BCTEAL regional conference on 11/16, please join Angelina Van Dyke and me for the "Full-body and voice burn out prevention warm up". (If not, it will be recorded and available off the blog shortly thereafter.) In all modesty, this will be a great session, not just because I'm in it, but Angelina, an accomplished concert and recording artist and voice teacher, has just finished an advanced diploma in voice science and will be sharing some amazing new techniques for "saving your pipes" as we say!

Here is the abstract from the program:

Feeling sluggish, stressed or caffeine deprived? This session, created by voice and pronunciation specialists for the language teacher (and students), should help. The carefully scaffolded, “restorative” exercises activate and focus body and vocal tract in less than 10 minutes. No meditation, medication or mendacity required.

My part of the party, body activation and preservation, takes about 15 minutes. Here is the list of the quick exercises involved: (Note: In some cases the name of the technique is more creative than descriptive, but you get the idea!)

1.     Mandibular massage
2.     Jaw shaker
3.     Neck slow header
4.     Trapezes circles
5.     Rotator cup “rolls”
6.     Hand/Forearm/Finger stretcher
7.     Shoulder and upper body boogie
7.5. Temple wings!
8.     Lateral leanings
9.      Glute Glutin’ 
10.   Core Belly Dance roll up (or plank or Dead Bug)
1.   Hip rotation girations
12.  Progressive lunge (with chair)
13.  Quads lifts (with chair)
14.   Hamstring swing (with chair)
15.   Adductor/abductor swing (with chair)
16.  Progressive mini-squats (with chair)
17.   Upper and lower Achilles tune ups (with chair)
18.   Calf and shin rock (with chair)
19.   Cursive ankle alphabet (with chair)
20.   Visual field scan and full-arm fluency (on the compass)
21.   Hyper lipper (8 vowel tour)
22.   Back and arms hyper stretch (3x) to vocal cone
23.   Chest and mouth hyper stretch (3x) from maximum pucker!

With the video you should be able to do both parts of the workshop any morning you need to get tuned up for the day. See you there or later!


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Glutin' your way to better pronunciation!

This is the second of a series of posts introducing and exploring aspects of the new (RHYTHM-FIRST) v 5.0 haptic approach to pronunciation teaching. Most of the new system can be used with or without gesture and touch, in part because it begins with the feet! The technique described here is not part of the current system, but it may well be later, particularly in teacher training. It is certainly  . . . different. I "discovered" it very much by accident . . . literally!

Had to go to physio because of an overuse injury to my right glute caused by trying to run faster than my legs would allow in a 10k. One of the prescribed exercises was to stand up and alternatively tighten and relax each glute, while stepping to either side, about 18 inches. While doing it one afternoon I just happened to sync or dance along with a song on the iPhone, sort of glutin'
on the stressed words.

A few days later, working with an advanced ESL student with serious problems related to rhythm and stress placement in English, I had her try glutin' along with first a word list and then on the stressed words in a scripted dialogue, and then just before we finished, had her do some of the same as she was spontaneously describing to me an event that had occured the previous day.

The immediate impact on her speaking style was dramatic; the change over the next two weeks, at least in retelling stories and simple, informal conversation, was equally remarkable, transformational. Have since tried out glutin' with half a dozen other students with pretty consistent results. Have not worked on how to teach it to a full class of students, but I'm working on it.

The technique actually mirrors several other procedures we use that induce the body, especially the upper torso to sync to phrasal and clausal rhythm. I'd do a video of this, but there would, of course, be nothing to "see" without the right/tight, revealing camera angle on a well-gluted speaker wearing potentially distracting fashion tights . . .

In the interim, just for fun, try it out, yourself, then with some students and report back.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Schrödinger's Cat(ch) of Pronunciation Teaching
Bottom line: It’s almost impossible to LOVE pronunciation teaching unless you have seen or heard or had it done to you. And if you love it, much of your best work will be spontaneous or at least seem to be. And for the most part, up until now, there has been no “virtually” useful research or methods stuff that can take you there

Until now. . . Introducing a new podcast (working title): Teachable Moments in Pronunciation Teaching (TMPT)

Once a week or so I'll be chatting with a real, practicing master pronunciation teacher/lover, not a “non-practicing” theorist or methodologist—to learn from. Our conversations will take place as soon as possible after a good class they have just taught, where we talk about what actually happened, moment by moment . . . how and why it worked, based in part on an audio recording of the session. 

Here is what inspired it:

One of the most striking thought problems of all time, “Schrödinger's Cat”, revealed a potentially fatal flaw in a school of quantum physics. in effect it exposed a “black box” in the theory where two contradictory states had to be present, where it was logically impossible to know which condition was in effect (whether a cat in a box was dead or alive).

In pronunciation teaching, just like the (in)famous "black box" in Chomsky's early work, we have our own enigmatic box as well: What actually goes on in the classroom, the quality of the moment by moment engagement that underlies every research study but is practically never mentioned or analyzed. There were good reasons for that, a broad range of (quickly) researchable variables, cognitions, techniques and features of students' L1s to be explored and understood. 

Almost without exception, research on pronunciation teaching effectiveness that looks at classroom work reports only at the activity-level, noting which techniques were used generally, something like: presentation and then various kinds of controlled and freer practice. The data is there, however, in any number of studies where transcripts of actual class sessions were analyzed for specific features, but we do not have publicly accessible studies of the messy, thick instructional discourse itself. That is the window that the podcast will look through: recent replays of pronunciation teaching as rich conversational engagement between students and instructor.

Know somebody we should talk to? Let me know!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

To gesture or not to gesture (to provide spontaneous correction in language teaching) Part 1

A new study by Nakatsukasa (2019) demonstrates that using simple gesture to correct grammar (use of the 'ed' past tense) may not work. Amen to that. Signalling with a deictic/metaphorical gesture as the instructor recasts (repeats) the piece of language correctly when there is a error--and not requiring any kind of response from the learner--and furthermore still expecting some kind of meaningful uptake or noticing is . . .well . . . silly, but good to see that proved conclusively.

From the study:

"When the participants did not use the past tense in the obligatory context in two tasks, the researcher consistently provided recasts with or without gestures (pointing back over shoulder with thumb) immediately following the participants’ utterances, depending on learners’ assigned conditions."
Now that, in principle, sounds like a pretty good signalling technique, one which I have seen used "repeatedly" over the years by teachers (Hudson, 2011). But . . .

"For the VR condition (verbal recast w/o gesture), the researcher provided recast only verbally, putting her hands down next to the side of her body to avoid gesturing."

Now, does that (standing motionless w/hands at sides) sound like anything close to natural teacher behavior/gesture? Really? I have got to see a video of that!  In fact, I’d really have to see a video of everything that went on, to make sense of the study.

"In addition, the researcher tried not to stress any part of the recast in either condition to keep consistency."

Wow. How could you provide anything close to effective, meaningful feedback without stressing the part of the defective sentence or phrase that is being corrected?

"In all the instances, learners had the opportunity to modify their output; however, production of modified output was not enforced in the present study, to keep the flow of interaction and the saliency of feedback as equal as possible across conditions."

Not requiring at least some minimal "embodied" verbal response to such a gesture seems about as disembodying as you can get! Apparently, it was.

The research on the use of simple recasts, as Nakatsukasa points out, is pretty clear that they are, for the most part, not worth wasting your time on. So, "pointing out" a basically ineffectual recast with a disembodied gesture is supposed to make it more effective? It didn't. Surprise.

This is an important study, however, in that it represents quite accurately, I think, the way in which many researchers and practitioners view the place of gesture in language teaching, or even human communication for that matter: "add ons" that can be understood out of context and disembodied (not demanding a corresponding physical response in the body and mind of the other--the learner, as if gesture can be understood independent of the meaningful interaction in which it occurs.)

Something of a “How not to” guide of sorts.

What then is the "right" embodied and contextualized way to use gesture in teaching? Thought you were never going to ask! See Part 2, The right (haptic) way to use gesture in (at least) pronunciation teaching. Forthcoming, shortly!

Nakatsukasa, K. (2019). Gesture-enhanced recasts have limited effects: A case of the regular past tense, Language Teaching Research (11)1-29.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Why rhythm comes first in pronunciation teaching (Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Tip 63 or so!)

Rhythm, stress and intonation. There are, of course, phonaesthetic explanations as to why we list those concepts in that order, including having to do with relative "weight" landing to the right end and the intrinsic qualities of the vowels and consonants themselves. Try saying those three out loud in different orders. Give native speakers three nonsense words of similar syllable structure and they'll typically prefer hearing the 3-syllable word last. Same applies for compound nouns and many other collocations.

I did a quick survey of a few popular pronunciation student books, checking for order of presentation and practice of those three processes, independent of treatment of vowels and consonants. Some did introduce the processes earlier or later but in terms of actual oral practice, there was/is a general agreement, at least the relationship between stress and rhythm. Work on stress comes first.

Lado and Fries (1954)         S - I - R
Prator and Robinett (1972)  S - R - I
Bowen, D. (1975)                I - S - R
Dauer, R. (1993)                  S - R - I
Miller. S. (2000)                 *S - R - I
Gilbert, J. (2012)                  S - R - I
Grant, L. (2017)                   S - R - I

Haptic pronunciation teaching (v5.0)  R - S - I

Miller (2000) probably comes closest to the Rhythm-then-Stress-then-Intonation model, even though the subtitle of the book is: Intonation, sounds (including word stress) and rhythm, echoing Bowen (1975). I taught with Bowen 1975 for several years and loved it. (Still do, in fact!) Like in Lado and Fries (1972), the earlier introduction of intonation patterns always made sense, in part because we were often working from a structural perspective, with smaller clauses or sentences as we "built up" from the bottom.

When it comes to guidance from methodologists on setting up repetition and practice of words and expressions, however, in most cases the attention initially is almost exclusively on the stress syllable, not the rhythmic structure or tonal expression.  One effect of that is possibly to "train" learners in a global rhythm that is very much analytic, yet random . . . the way anyone's processing and speech would be when the focus is just on stress but not the overall flow and fluency of the discourse.

The new haptic pronunciation teaching system (v5.0 - available in Fall 2019) is close to Miller (2000) in approach, beginning with rhythm and then going to stress and intonation.

So, why not begin with rhythm, add the stressed syllable(s) and then the tone pattern for that thought or rhythm group? Many do, if only implicitly or inductively, using songs, poetry or verbal games initially.  More importantly, however, even at the level of requesting a simple repetition of a sentence, approaching it from an ordered perspective of R - S - I is a powerful heuristic, one basic to haptic pronunciation teaching. For example:

"He worked all day on the report."

.Before learners actually say the expression or word out loud, here is how it works. We use the terms: Parse, Focus, Move --- DO! (PFMD!)
  • First, identify the rhythm grouping: (for example) He worked all day on the report. 
  • Second, identify stress assignment: (for example) He worked all day / on the report (underline = sentence stress)
  • Third, identify the intonation (pitch movement or non movement): Rising slightly on 'day'; falling on 'port' (with louder volume indicating sentence stress.)
  • Then (if you are doing haptic) as you say the sentence, add some type of pedagogical movement pattern/gesture (PMP) on the two stressed syllables, There are several way that can be done, synchronizing the gesture with stressed vowels, phrasal rhythm patterns or pitch movement on the stressed vowels (intonation).  
Our experience (in HaPT-Eng) has been that, both in terms of immediate verbal performance and memory recall for text, the order in which learners' attention is directed to attend to the three prosodic components of the sentence along with the accompanying pedagogical gesture may be critical: R - S - I. And why is that? In part it is probably because it uses gesture and touch to integrate or knit together the three features consistently.

Try that tomorrow. It'll change the way you and your students look at (and are moved by) both oral expressiveness and pronunciation.

And it you like that technique, you'll LOVE the next basic haptic pronunciation teaching webinar (hapticanar) on October 12th!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Next Advanced Hapticinar (haptic pronunciation teaching webinar)!

The next advanced webinar will be on August 8th, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (PST).  Familiarity with haptic pronunciation teaching (HaPT) is  required, but you can do the basic Hapticanar the preceding weekend!

Cost: $25USD (limit: 30 participants)

Preliminary topics include:
  • Haptic discourse orientation
  • How to integrate pronunciation haptically
  • Primary and secondary sentence stress
  • Secondary and unstressed vowels
  • Final voiced consonants
  • Linking
  • New super warm up!
  • Transitioning from L1 to L2 pronunciation (beginning by teaching the haptic representation of the L1)
  • Haptic pronunciation homework
  • Special requests (submitted prior to the hapticinar - When you sign up, if you have some other problem you'd like addressed, let me know!)
Certification of participation provided. 

Enrolment is open until 8/1. If interested, email us at:

Monday, July 1, 2019

Grasping (and reaching for) pronunciation together improves memory!

There are countless studies demonstrating how under certain conditions repeating a word out loud enhances memory for it (e.g.,, 2016), including a couple of earlier blogpost summaries here and here also associating that process with use of  movement, touch and gesture.

A new study by Rizzi, Coban and Tan of University of Basel. Excitatory rubral cells encode the acquisition of novel complex motor tasks. summarized by, exploring the connection between fine motor engagement such as reaching for and grasping objects and enhanced brain plasticity (learning) adds another fascinating piece to that puzzle. (It is almost worth reading the original article just to have the term, "excitatory rubral cells," part of your active vocabulary . . . )

Why is this of such interest to haptic pronunciation teaching (HaPT)--literally, and language teaching in general, figuratively? At least three reasons. HaPT involves:
1. Synchronized movement between student and instructor or student and student.
2. Repetition of words, phrases or clauses in coordination w/#1
3. Use of gesture anchored by touch on stressed vowels in the words, phrases or clauses of #2, where one hand either grasps or taps the other hand in various ways. (To see demonstrations of some of those combinations, go check them out here.)

The study itself is perhaps something of a reach . . . in that Tan et al. are studying the effect in mouse brains, looking at the impact of fine motor learning on increased plasticity. (If those neuroscientists think the parallel between rodent brain plasticity and ours is worthy of research and publication, who am I to disagree?) See if you can "grasp" the concept from the ScienceDaily summary:

"The red nucleus, which, over the years, has received little attention in brain research, plays an important role in fine motor coordination. Here the brain learns new fine motor skills for grasping and stores what it has learned."

What this study adds for us is, to quote the authors, the potential impact of novel complex motor tasks on plasticity--in other words learning new patterning and relationships. In the HaPT-English system today there are over 300 novel complex motor tasks, that is combinations of gestures+touch associated with unique positions in visual field or on the upper body. They are "novel" in the sense that gesture complexes have been designed to be as distinct as possible from gestures associated with natural languages and cultural systems.

In fact, over the years probably 50 or 60 potential "pedagogical movement patterns" (PMPs) have been proposed and dropped due to possible parallel signalling of other meanings and significance to one culture or another. In that sense then the sound-motor-touch complexes, or PMPs should be both novel to the learner and physically and interpersonally engaging.

This same principle applies to use of gesture in teaching and learning as well, of course. Consistent use of movement and gesture in instruction appears to promote more general brain plasticity than often assumed. So, even if you consider systematic body work useful just to keep things "loose" and flexible, you may have had it right all along.

Start a new movement today!
BPTRRCE! (Better pronunciation through rubral red cell excitation!)
And don't forget to join us for the next bi-monthly Webinar, what we call "Hapticanar" on July 17th and 18th! (For reservations, contact:

Original source:
Giorgio Rizzi, Mustafa Coban, Kelly R. Tan. Excitatory rubral cells encode the acquisition of novel complex motor tasks. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10223-y

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Pronunciation work driving you crazy? Could be "pronunciosis"!
Tigger warning*: This post is more "pro-fun" than profound . . . (What I like to refer to as a 3-beet piece!)

The usual negative rap on pronunciation teaching is that it is either boring/meaningless and/or filled with too many “phonetic” words. Neuroscience sympathizes . . . even inspiring me to create a great  new term: pronunciosis, real (mostly justifiable) dislike for pronunciation and its teaching.

In a catchy summary of the research by Rezaii, Walker and Wolff from Emory University, in what is becoming my go-to source for wacky neuroscience,, entitled, "The whisper of schizophrenia: Machine learning finds ‘sound’ words predict psychosis", we get this:

"Their results show that automated analysis of the two language variables — more frequent use of words associated with sound and speaking with low semantic density, or vagueness — can predict whether an at-risk person will later develop psychosis with 93 percent accuracy."

Does that not "sound" like your typical pronunciation class or lecture on phonetics? Of course what they are studying is the speech of clinically identified subjects with some degree of psychosis already, not classes. Now the actual abstract of the research says it a little differently:

"The results revealed that conversion to psychosis is signaled by low semantic density and talk about voices and sounds." 

Notice that the research focuses on "talk about" voices and sounds, not simply use of such features and apparently you need both variables to get some predictive value. (It is probably relevant that their baseline came from Reddit online chat data as well!!!) That does sound more pedagogical! Any student that I have who begins talking about "voices" they are hearing gets referred to professional help. If it is just sounds, on the other hand, I can help them. 

It is also relevant that the analysis is done using AI (artificial intelligence) systems. Now not to be overly Luddite-ly here, but this, from the summary, is a little spooky: 

"The results point to a larger project in which automated analyses of language are used to forecast a broad range of mental disorders well in advance of their emergence"

This just cries out for an "automated analysis" of pronunciation classes which (predictably) produce all kinds of bizarre speech patterns later as well, even "pronunciosis"? 

Watch your language, eh . . . 

*Tigger warning is used on this blog to refer to posts that contain some playful element reminiscent of the tiger, Tigger, in the classic Winnie the Pooh cartoon series.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Anchoring L2 pragmatics (language use and context) with touch and prosody

New article just published with Burri and Baker, Proposing a haptic approach to facilitating L2 learners’ pragmatic competence. This piece is relatively practical, focusing on use of haptic pronunciation teaching pedagogy for enhancing instruction and memory recall of the stuff of pragmatics: conversational conventions, politeness, indirectness, presupposition, implicature, irony . . . . humor!

It is based on three  . . . well . . . presuppositions. First, is that it is often really difficult to remember meaning and words that occur in only very narrowly defined situations. Second, one of the key functions of pronunciation is helping to anchor expressions and their contexts in memory.  Third, touch-moderated gesture (as in haptic pronunciation teaching) is a better way to do that.

 This is also a pretty good introduction to haptic pronunciation teaching. Of course, if you want more (and you will!), join us in our next webinars July 12th and 13th!  For reservations for the webinar: 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Standing up for pronunciation teaching:12 rules
Reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Jordan Peterson's recent 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos. Although every 'rule" could be applied to pronunciation teaching, two in particular present useful, unique "Petersonian" perspectives for us: (Ch 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back, and Ch 10: Be precise in your speech.) Here we'll consider the application or extension of the first chapter, the idea that posture and movement could contribute importantly to effective pronunciation teaching, identity and confidence--the subject of more than a few posts in the past. Peterson adds a new, more contemporary and neuroscience twist.

Part of the focus of that first chapter is on the neurobiology of confidence and social dominance, much of it related to serotonin, which--at least in lobsters--strongly influences both upright posturing and the corresponding feeling of relative well being as correlates with the relative place of the individual in the social dominance hierarchy. Peterson's point is that the same principle applies to us all: our position in society is reflected in our biochemical makeup. Likewise, our physical posturing can affect, among other things, serotonin levels in the brain that are not easily changed or modified over time but can be by significant events or context.

What that means for haptic or more kinesthetic pronunciation teaching would be something like the following:
  1. Stand up a little straighter when you do pronunciation.
  2. Use more confident-sounding, slightly louder speech (possibly a bit higher or lower in pitch.)
  3. When doing public speaking, prepare enough so you sound confident, with planned gesture on key concepts or ideas. 
  4. (Always) use gesture for modeling or correction.
  5. Use fluid upper torso movement that naturally leads to better, upright posture and breathing.
  6. Use forward "bobbing-like" upper torso movement on main stress syllable when practicing just one word. 
  7. Position written text to be read or imitated at eye level (especially on your PC or laptop).
  8. Briefly warm up the body to activate key muscle groups.
  9. Structure homework practice to use the in-class postural and gestural principles.
  10. Oral reports should be done standing up, with clear guidance as to how to hold and position note cards, moving them at times for emphasis. 
  11. Be more precise in articulation but work on body rhythm at the same time. 
  12. Practice pronunciation using really meaningful text that has either marked or very transparent phrasal and sentence stress placement (anchored with gesture or upper torso body movement). 
How does your teaching M.O. stand up to that model?

Keep in touch!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Killing pronunciation 11: Ortho-phon-a-phobia

Number 11 in the "Killing Pronunciation" series of blogposts.

Ortho-phon-a-phobia or OPP, fear of correcting or correct pronunciation, a term I just coined, was inspired by new research from McComb and Mills of York University on orthorexia nervosa: Orthorexia nervosa: A review of psycho-social risk factors  (To see the previous 10 posts, just enter "Killing Pronunciation" in the blog search field!) The parallel between the two psycho-social "conditions" is, well, near frightening . . . From the summary in Neuroscience News:

"Orthorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder associated with a pathological obsession with healthy eating, has been associated with OCD traits, poor body image, preoccupation with personal appearance and a prior history of eating disorders. Researchers report those who practise vegetarianism or veganism are at an increased risk of developing orthorexia."

Now, granted, I sometimes go pretty far analogically afield in exploring the dynamics of (haptic) pronunciation teaching, but the connection is not as much a stretch as it might at first appear. Two diagnostic questions for you:
  • Are you afraid of correcting pronunciation? 
  • Are you afraid of talking about "correct" pronunciation? (For fear of sounding pedagogically incorrect in suggesting a specific model of accuracy or dialect to learners?)
If so, then, you got it: OPP. My condolences . . . but there is an antidote! Notice the specific features:
  • Obsession with healthy eating (Read: just intelligible pronunciation, instead of aiming at a higher target)
  • OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) (Read: need to control every nanosecond of class time or tending to view L2 pronunciation as pathology)
  • Poor body image (Read: dislike of moving body when speaking or doing gesture/kinaesthetic or haptic techniques--or any number of psycho-social or cultural reasons)
  • Preoccupation with personal appearance (Read: neurosis brought on by teachers who worry excessively about relationship of pronunciation to identity, instructor's or learners'--or not quite enough)
  • Prior history of eating disorders (read: past experience with really bad or null pronunciation teaching, either as learner or instructor)
I said there is a cure. Have no fear! The meta-analysis suggests a couple basic principles that apply to both orthorexia and orthophonaphobia; (1) treatment must be multidisciplinary and integrated, psycho-social, and (2) the "problem" must be faced incrementally and systematically, with multiple methodologies, not through simple avoidance or replacement

What that means is that for effective feedback and correction of pronunciation, teaching the sound system in isolation, as a parallel discourse or channel, should be abandoned; it must be blended, instead, into all class work so that "it" becomes a normal, everyday, appreciated and low stress activity. (For examples of how to do that, see Jones, 2016, listed below.)

Most importantly, however, the idea that you can or should "ignore" or shield students from confronting or dealing with pronunciation errors or being corrected on the spot or models of the L2 that for them may not be realistic to aspire to or aim at (at least in the short term) is just fundamentally wrong.  

Instead, effective instruction requires careful, studied exposure to, not stereotypical rejection of these issues based simply on "desirability" or "achievability" criteria. The effect is to basically inform learners and provide them with controlled practice so they can understand and interact better, not the default of avoidance or uniformed biases . . . 

Integration and inoculation, the cure for orthophonaphobia . . . 

You can either "OPP out" or join those of us in field who do know how to do this and can help you do the same. In addition to taking courses or workshops in pronunciation teaching locally, online or at conferences, for starters, I now recommend two sources: Murphy's books and/or HaPT-Eng courses. 
  • Murphy, J. (2013). Teaching Pronunciation (in the English Language Development Series), available from or elsewhere.
And, of course, Haptic pronunciation teaching courses or webinars!

If you have no background in teaching or pronunciation teaching, pick up at least Murphy's inexpensive 2013 book. (The 2017 text is a great reference, too. Full disclosure: I have a chapter in that book!) and then join us hapticians for the real antidote!


 Jones, T. (Ed.) (2016). Pronunciation in the classroom: the overlooked essential. New York: TESOL

“Orthorexia nervosa: A review of psychosocial risk factors”. McComb, S. and Mills, J.  doi:10.1016/j.appet.2019.05.005

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Resistance to effective (pronunciation) teaching
And another reason why good drill "works!"

If there is a bottom line to (at least haptic pronunciation) teaching, it is this: students (and to some extent, teachers) must practice regularly.  Countless studies,  in a wide range of disciplines, at least in north American culture, come to the same conclusion:  we must establish intrinsic motivation.  Eventually, somehow students have to come to the point where they really want or need to do it!  But how do you get there?

(Caveat trigger emptor warning: This post contains references to bodily functions of “older adults”!)

Whenever I have questions about motivation, I just go to the source: fitness trainers.  If you need to get in great shape, and have the cash, hire one.  You’ll get there much faster, and may wind up with intrinsic motivation to keep going. I say “may” because those trainers also have a vested interest in keeping you coming back for more. So, in general, they may not be too good at letting you go,  but, if you study their method, you can learn a lot. About a year ago I did that in prepping for a 10k.

A new study by Kekäläinen, Kokko, Tammelin, Sipilä and Walker. of University of Jyväskylä adds a neat piece to the puzzle. The title of the ScienceDaily summary summarizes the study well: Resistance training and exercise-motivation go hand-in-hand: Resistance training improves exercise motivation and contributes to making exercise planning among older adults. 

If you don’t lift weights, start tomorrow.

In essence, resistance training (weightlifting) as opposed to aerobic training (e.g., walking or dancing) added significantly more to motivation and meta-cognition (planning and persistence). And why should that be? I have a theory . . . . Once you get into weightlifting, it’s all about following the formula. Requires little or no motivation to at least figure out what to do, to quote Nike: (you) just do it! Before long, you can feel and see the difference. Relatively quick positive feedback and reinforcement gets you hooked in roughly 30 days or so. What the research shows, in effect, is that discipline and persistence in one area feeds over into another — but, in this case, only in one direction: matter over mind!

I’m not saying that about 60 years of weightlifting has made me a more disciplined person, but it should have! What that does explain is my fascination with the work of Lessac, and his dictum of “train the body first" and how that has guided my thinking in terms of pronunciation teaching. Gesture-based haptic pronunciation teaching is very much a form of resistance training (as is just good old-fashioned pronunciation drilling when done well!) in that it focuses on directing sound production from the body out, as it were. Some of it, in fact, is also quite physically demanding when conducted properly! And most importantly, it is relatively easy to get students to do homework regularly and (for them) to use the gestural patterns spontaneously in class for correction and modeling.  (See more on that process in upcoming blogpost.)

In other words, some selective "mindlessness" centered on physical training, not all that different from aspects of "mindFULness" today, can play an important role in developing disciplined persistence and better time management or priorities. 

If you have been "resisting" learning about haptic pronunciation teaching, now is the time to join us in the webinars next weekend. For reservations and more information:

University of Jyväskylä. (2018, August 16). Resistance training and exercise-motivation go hand-in-hand: Resistance training improves exercise motivation and contributes to making exercise planning among older adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 11, 2019 from

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

50+ ways to touch on and remember better pronunciation

Fascinating study by Hutmacher and Kuhbandner of the University of Regensburg  (summarized by that helps us better understand the possibilities and potential of haptic engagement in integrated learning and recall: Long-term memory for haptically explored objects: fidelity, durability, incidental encoding, and cross-modal transfer. 

In that study, blindfolded and not blindfolded subjects were asked to consider the texture, weight and size of 168 everyday objects--by handling them. The first group were told to memorize the objects since they would be tested later. (post-test accuracy of 94% ) The second group was instructed just to evaluate each item on its aesthetic qualities without further clarification as to what that meant.

In the follow up tests a week later subjects (blindfolded) were given half the items accompanied by similar items varying in only one parameter (texture, weight or size). Both groups demonstrated remarkable ability to distinguish the targeted objects (79% ~73% respectively). The point of the study was to explore both the extent of information recall in the purely haptic condition, as opposed to the visual-haptic experience, and the relative impact across modalities.

The parallel to haptic pronunciation work is striking: identifying differences in sounds or sound patterns that are, in reality, very similar and initially difficult to both perceive and produce for the learner--based to some extent on both touch and touch plus conscious visual appreciation of the objects. 

Haptic pronunciation teaching, not surprisingly, involves extensive use of about a half dozen types of touch. If we count based on technique/type x location, there are something like 400+ actual instances of the hands touching in various ways, various other "body parts." The ability to discriminate between types of touch appears to be the key--a valuable feature of  all pronunciation teaching but especially haptic work.

It works something like this. The targeted sound, a vowel, for example, is associated with:
  • a position in the visual field 
  • a position of one hand at that point in the visual field (at a azimuth on the compass)
  • a trajectory of the other hand from in front of the larynx (voice box) to touching the other hand that varies in terms of speed and course (straight or curved) 
  • some type of touch (See description of touch types below.) That is part of the information encoded with the sound which should contribute to production and recall. 
The idea, the fundamental principle of haptic pronunciation work, is that learners can more accurately recall the sound while performing the haptic "move" that accompanies it. (Research on gesture-enabled recall is compelling and extensive in several perceptual domains.)  In fact, to be most effective, when corrective feedback is provided, generally the leaner first sees the instructor perform the gestural move, termed a "pedagogical movement pattern", without the sound before performing the "haptic complex" of sound plus movement and touch themselves.

Representative haptic (variable touch-plus-gesture) gesture types and visual properties involved:
  • light tap of finger tips in middle of palm 
  • hold (full hands touch; no movement) 
  • finger tips touch: then push in one direction 
  • open hand moves/rolls around fist 
  • finger nails scratch across palms 
  • light touch of ball in hand 
  • strong squeeze of ball in hand 
  • middle fingers slide from finger tips to heel of other hand 
  • finger tips tap deltoid muscle 
  • finger tips tap bachio-radialis above elbows 
  • feet contact with floor, either to syllable stress or heels raise on rising pitch
  • hands to various points of contact on the face, collar bones, abs, etc.
  • tongue, teeth, lips touched by wooden stick or hands to mark points of articulation
To see demonstrations of those haptic pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) and learn more about haptic pronunciation teaching, join us at the next webinars on May 17th and 18th. For reservations:

Association for Psychological Science. (2018, November 27). Touch can produce detailed, lasting memories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 22, 2019 from

Monday, April 8, 2019

New Syllablettes Chorus Line at BC TEAL Conference!

This Friday (April 12th) at 3:30 at the  BCTEAL conference  at Langara College, BC, we'll roll out the 2019 version of the Syllablettes. The Syllablettes Chorus Line Technique was introduced in 1996 at the TESOL Convention in Chicago. In many teacher training programs world wide it is still a staple, a fun and effective way of introducing the importance of the syllable in English pronunciation teaching.

In essence, each student takes on the role of a syllable, performing "it" with full-body as the word, phrase or sentence is articulated by the rest of the "syllables."  The individual can be tasked with any of several features of a syllable in English:

  • Pitch (5 levels)
  • Pitch movement
  • Volume (5 levels)
  • Length (3)
  • Linking to adjacent syllables
  • Embodying consonants or glides on either side of the vowel core
  • "Falling" out, as in vowel ellipsis
  • Creating space between syllables

There is much new in this 2019 version, including attention to both suprasegmentals and internal make up of the syllable. You don't need to use ALL those features, of course, but it works for any set of learners, from beginners to phonetics classes.

The session will be recorded and available here on the blog shortly. If you are coming to the conference and are OK with being seen on video worldwide acting really "silly-able", please let me know!

And remember to sign up for the next Haptic webinar on May 17th and 18th (

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Under (or between) cover pronunciation teaching: CHIP
Here is an instructive tale, describing a situation that may actually be becoming even more common, ironically, as textbooks "improve" and demands on teachers to do more and more "book keeping"--as opposed to teaching--increase.

Heard recently from a reliable source at a well-paying language school where there is (a) an unbelievably detailed curriculum, right down to near minute-by-minute classroom instructions and draconian oversight, (b) all books provided, no teacher-choice or adaptation allowed, and (c) at least three core, nonnegotiable methodological principles: No grammar, No vocabulary and No pronunciation. (There are virtually none of those in the lesson plans.) The curriculum, although basically English for Academic purposes is essentially extensive reading, free conversation and writing-centered. And when they say "no pronunciation" . . .  they mean it!

Now, granted that is a little extreme, even for a profitable North American sweat shop, but around the rest of the world, it isn't at all. The root cause may be different, of course, but the result is the same: Teach the book or you are gone!

So . . .  if you were teaching there and you believed that pronunciation work is essential (to both
intelligibility and. well . . . encoding and memory recall) what would you do and not lose you job in the process? Seriously, if you have an effective workaround where you teach (anonymously, of course), comment on this post and tell us. I have my grad students working on it, too, and will report back after they finish their  research papers.

Not surprisingly, we have one answer: Covert Haptic-Integrated Pronunciation or CHIP. It works like this: systematically, map onto any language used in the classroom some kind of gesture or body-synchronized movement. In the covert version, you can't talk about pronunciation or explain too much without giving away the game, but if it is apparently spontaneous and done consistently, there are ways.

In the "regular" version Haptic Pronunciation Teaching (HaPT-Eng), v5.0:

(a) We begin with  some kind of very brief mini-lesson (~5 minutes) where learners are introduced to sound(s) or sound process and then briefly embody/practice it accompanied by specifically designed pedagogical gestures. That is just to introduce mind and body to the "embodied pronunciation schema" (EPS).

(b) Next, either by design or when an obvious opportunity or need comes up in the lesson plan, the gestural set is mapped on to language being learned or practiced. That may or may not involve a little explicit, verbal explanation or reminder, pointing back to the EPS mini-module. The "learning" in a very real sense, happens here, with embodied practice, in what we call "initial interdictions" or IIDs, pronounced: I-Ds.

(c) From then on, anytime pronunciation feedback, modelling or correction will be advantageous, the gestural mapping is used, without accompanying explanation or focus, in "subsequent interdictions" or SIDs, pronounced: sids.

(d) Ideally, best case, pronunciation that is "body-lighted" in class is then automatically or routinely  assigned to homework practice, using the same gestural complex in practice. In other words, speaking out loud with accompanying gesture.

In one way or another, however, the key is still EPS, the initial, embodied understanding of how (and with what) to change pronunciation, consistently, over time. The general model is termed: EPS*AIC (embodied pronunciation schema, applied in the integrated classroom).

The covert version, not recorded in lesson plans or done when hostile observers are in the room, begins with a basic IID, done with as little verbal rationale as possible, and is followed up with SIDs, whenever. For most learners, just mapping on gesture, either modeling it with no comment or having them do it with the instructor is good, especially with kids. That relationship is, of course, something of the core of empathetic communication in all cultures and face to face interaction. (See forthcoming blogpost on that!)

Good, I-D, eh? Tell us how you teach pronunciation successfully, covertly. 

And . . . remember to sign up for next Haptic Webinar, May 17th and 18th (email:

Monday, March 18, 2019

TESOL 2019 Report - from a haptic perspective!

Every year after attending the TESOL convention, I do a slightly tongue in cheek report back to my program and friends. Here are some excerpts from this year's:

Next year it is in Denver. Denver was snowed in while we were in Atlanta two days. 8 years ago Denver was snowed in during the TESOL convention while we were there . . .

Our haptic workshop went really well. Especially nice doing it with two of TWU MATESOL’s most distinguished and successful grads, Amanda Baker and Mike .Burri! Had about 50 participants. My favorite feedback/comment: “Pronunciation teaching cannot possibly be this much fun.” It can . . . 

The Electronic Village, the area where eLearning and software ideas are hatched every year, continues to appear to be something of a bellwetter of where we are going. If we assume that is the case:
  • The future is in our hand(held)s.
  • Anyone not highly visual with short attention span need not apply.
  • Vetting of presentations is really not that critical (caveat emptor . . . )
  • The “dead tree” textbook is . . . dead.
There were about 6500 at the conference. (Down about 3500 from two years ago in Seattle.) TESOL is beginning to suffer from the maturation of the field. There are probably a dozen specialization, beginning with Applied Linguistics about 20 years ago, that have spun off and have their own conferences annually now. 

What that means is if you are more experienced and are looking for more advanced thinking in any skill area—you will probably find less and less of it at TESOL. Heard several reports that what is being presented is (understandably)  aimed more and more at beginners in the field. The same thing has happened to every discipline, of course. For some, like MLA or APA, however, the conferences just keep getting bigger to accommodate all interests and strands.

The convention is also getting expensive, too much for many, I’m sure (around $400 US, in addition to special events, etc.) We had ordered the same booth in the exhibition area for what (we thought) was about the same price as two years ago. Different this time, however. Everything else was al a carte, to the tune of about $1000 US. Ouch . . .

(#@&!%) Mac users. One of the tech support people commented to me that the TESOLers, almost exclusively MAC, were amazingly clueless about working with the projection and sound interfaces, compared to the previous “business” conference people who were all PC. The fact that I use a PC and didn’t need hand holding—and probably seemed like one of the really “old” guard, made me something of a celeb . . . “

Some of my TESOL friends my age looked REALLY old and wrinkled . . . They all recognized me but I didn’t recognize many of them. May be time for me to either make new friends or get new glasses!

Put the next Haptic Pronunciation Teaching webinars (May 17th and 18th) on your calendar. To reserve a spot, contact:

Keep in touch!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Dr Bill's Vowel and Consonant Repair Shop at the 2019 TESOL Convention!

If you are going to be in Atlanta for the 2019 Convention next week, stop by the Trinity Western University booth in the exhibition area to at least say "Hi!" In addition to promoting the TWU MATESOL, we'll be offering free, quick, and effective haptic pronunciation teaching "repair" of a vowel or consonant.

In general that only applies to students or student-teachers, but if you speak some English other than North American and would like a minor upgrade, we can probably do that, too.  (Limit: one segmental per day, by appointment, so you could, in principle, get three fixed during the conference.) This is, of course a bit "tongue and teeth and lips and vocal apparatus" in cheek, but for minor, relatively easy fixes like "th" or "r" or "l" or "syllable-final voiced consonants", a quick, 10-minute repair is really quite feasible, as long as you follow up with practice for the next 2 weeks or so.

If you want to know HOW to do such quick, haptic repairs, we will also have information on the basic Haptic Pronunciation Teaching workshop on Friday at the conference (with Baker and Burri), the upcoming Haptic Pronunciation Teaching webinars, May 17th and 18th, and the 4-week, online Haptic Pronunciation Teaching course in July in conjunction with the TWU MATESOL program seminar in Applied Phonology. (More on that shortly!)

Keep in Touch!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Use it or lose it or feel good about it: myths, habits and pronunciation

Clipart by
*Tigger warning: Research on rats generalized to people who appear to be losing it!

Two fascinating studies which challenge two "sacred cows" of behavior change and skill development (especially as related to pronunciation teaching!)

(A) Use it or lose it (forever)!
(B) Habit change requires some positive reinforcement (or good feelings)
Study A, by Schwartz of University of Massachusetts, short version: Found that you don't lose it (muscle memory), not really; it can be reawakened faster than learning it first time.
     Details: Studies with "rodents and insects" establish that (from the Neurosciencenews summary) " . . . nuclei are not lost from atrophying muscle fibers, and even remain after muscle death has been initiated . . .This suggests that once a nucleus has been acquired by a muscle fiber, it belongs to the muscle syncytium — probably for life."
     Implications for (pronunciation) teaching: If learners can pronounce a sound right sometimes, even if only in oral reading carefully, they can be guided into using it spontaneously . . . believe it or not! The muscle "memory" for the action is nearly permanent; you just have to get back to it. There are a myriad of ways to do that, regular, disciplined practice being one!

Study B by Ludvig of Warwick University and colleagues, short version: Found that establishing a good habit depends more on how often you do the action rather than any inherent satisfaction you might get from it.
     Details: Another study with (digital) rodents, established that (from the Neurosciencenews summary) " . . . habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome.”
      Implications for (pronunciation) teaching: Regular drill and practice, done rationally and with strong "felt sense" (focused awareness on what it feels like to say the targeted words or processes.), develops effective habits and improvement, NOT whether or not it feels good prior to when the habits are firmly established. In other words, trust the method or instructor, at least temporarily, until sitting down (or standing up in haptic work) is nearly automatic, something you are just committed to.

How long does it take to establish a habit? Generally about a month in fitness training (See James Clear!), maybe a little less in pronunciation work, but not much . . . trust me.

Learners need to be motivated to practice, in part by being informed about and understanding this and related research--and practicing what you assign them--all the way to progress and the satisfaction and warm feeling that comes with it. 


Frontiers (2019, January 25). Muscle Memory Discovery Ends ‘Use It or Lose It’ Dogma. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 25, 2019 from

University of Warwick (2019, January 28). Train the Brain to Form Good Habits Through Repetition. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 28, 2019 from

*On this blog, "Tigger warning" refers to "paper tigers", such as the Tigger of Winnie the Pooh!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Differences in pronunciation: Better felt than seen or heard?
This feels like a "bigger" study, maybe even a new movement! (Speaking of new "movements", be sure to sign on for the February haptic webinars by the end of the month!)

There are any number of studies in various fields exploring the impact of racial, age or ethnic "physical presence" (what you look like) on perception of accent or intelligibility. In effect, what you see is what you "get!" Visual will often override audio, what the learner actually sounds like. Actually, that may be a good thing at times . . .

Haptic pronunciation teaching and similar movement-based methods use visual-signalling techniques, such as gesture, to communicate with learners concerning status of sounds, words and phrases. Exactly how that works has always been a question.

Research by Collegio, Nah, Scotti and Shomstein of George Washington University, summarized by“Attention scales according to inferred real-world object size", points to something of the underlying mechanism involved: perception of relative object size. The study compared subjects' reaction or processing time when attempting to identify the relative size of objects (as opposed to the size of the image of the object presented on the screen). What they discovered is that, regardless of the size of the images on the screen, the objects that were in reality larger consistently occupied more processing time or attention.

In other words, the brain accesses a spatial model or template of the object, not just the size of the visual image itself in "deciding" if it is bigger than an adjacent object in the visual field. A key element of that process is the longer processing time tied to the actual size of the object.

 How does this relate to gesture-based pronunciation teaching? In a couple of ways potentially. If students have "simply" seen the gestures provided by instructors (e.g., Chan, 2018) and, for example, in effect have just been commanded to make some kind of adjustment, that is one thing.The gesture is, in essence, a mnemonic, a symbol, similar to a grapheme, a letter. The same applies to such superficial signalling systems such as color, numbers or finger contortions.

If, on the other hand, the learner has been initially trained in using or experiencing the sign, itself, as in sign language, there is a different embodied referent or mapping, one of experienced physical action across space.

In haptic work, adjacent sounds in the conceptual and visual field are first embodied experientially. Students are briefly trained in using three different gesture types, distinctive lengths and speeds, accompanied by three distinctive types of touch. In initial instruction, students do exercises where they experience physically combinations of those different parameters as they say the sounds, etc.

For example, the contrastive, gestural patterns (done as the sound is articulated) for  [I], [i], [i:],and [iy] are progressively longer and more complex: (See linked video models.)
a. Lax vowels, e.g., [I] ("it')- Middle finger of the left hand quickly and lightly taps the palm of the right hand.
b. Tense vowels, e.g., [i] ("happy")- Left hand and right hands touch lightly with finger tips momentarily.
c. Vowel before voiced consonant, e.g., [i:] ("dean") - Left hand pushes right hand, with palms touching, firmly 5 centimeters to the right.
d. Tense vowel, plus off glide, e.g., [iy] ("see") - Finger nails of the left hand drag across the palm of the right hand  and, staying in contact then slide up about 10 centimeters and pause.

The same principle applies to most sets of contrastive structures and processes, such as intonation, rhythm and consonants. See what I mean, why embodied gesture for signalling pronunciation differences is much more effective? If not, go here, do a few haptic pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) just to get the feel of them and then reconsider!