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