Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Duelling (or dualist) pronunciation approaches and methods

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Clip art: Clker
In a 2012 study summarizing five research studies on the potential effect of mind-body dualism on health by Frostman, Burgmer and Mussweiler, summarized by Science Daily, it was "surmised" that " . . . people primed with dualist beliefs had more reckless attitudes toward health and exercise, and also preferred (and ate) a less healthy diet than those who were primed with physicalist beliefs." It went the other way as well, subjects who were less "physical" tended to hold dualist beliefs as well. From an HICP perspective, that translates to something like: Language instructors who have dualist beliefs tend to have more ambivalent and disembodied attitudes toward pronunciation, and are generally less effective than those with more physicalist beliefs. Now, granted, that is a bit of a stretch, but in my experience it is almost that predictive. It is not a matter of whether instructors are sufficiently "cognitive" in their approach or whether they, themselves, are sufficiently "physical." It is about learner "embodiment" as a central principle of method, where the question becomes moot, where mind and body function as one, at least when it comes to anchoring change. Of course, it helps if they are all  on the same page from the beginning . . . 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Smile your pronunciation frustrations (and anchor) away!

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Clip art: Clker
In a couple of 2009 studies by Foroni and Semin of Utrecht University, summarized by Science Daily,  it was demonstrated that " . . . merely seeing a smile (or a frown, for that matter) will activate the muscles in our face that make that expression, even if we are unaware of it." In addition, seeing or reading a word such as 'smile' or 'frown' influenced the subjects' rating of images that followed, e.g., a "smile" would result in a more positive rating; a frown, a more negative rating. Although details of the experiments are sketchy in the summary, they obviously controlled carefully the subjects' attention, eliminating visual and auditory distractions as much as possible. In that setting, the intensity of the somatic response in the muscles of the face was optimized, engendering something of the corresponding emotion. The parallel to haptic anchoring or anchoring of any relationship between the felt sense of the pronunciation of a word and its meaning and orthographic representation is striking, on a couple of levels. Just the set of words used in setting up change and practice lists of sound complexes impacts both the effectiveness of specific anchoring and the overall anchoring "environment" as it happens. No wonder learners so enjoy practicing voiceless grooved sibilants ('s'), once told to just "Smile when you say that!" We knew that. The researchers conclude that " . . . language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic . . ." and " . . . these experiments provide an important bridge between research on the neurobiological basis of language and related behavioral research." Really, ya think? If that isn't enough to make you smile--that there is finally empirical evidence of that "bridge," I don't know what is . . . 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The "PITS!" (Pronunciation and accent improvement therapies)

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Clip art: Clker
Since we do refer to what we do as "clinical" pronunciation, I am often asked if it is a kind of therapy. To the extent that instruction of any kind is therapy or therapeutic, maybe so, but it is generally hard to tell. "Therapy," according to Dictionary.com is: "the treatment of disease, maladjustments or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process: speech therapy." Since we are not dealing with anything resembling a disease or disorder, maybe not, but the term "maladjustment" might still get us in.  (Speech therapists, by the way, do do "clinical" by the way! Next professional life, I want to be one of them.) The point of the "clinical" term in HICP is to focus on what actually goes on in real time between instructor and learner, how targets are presented, explored and anchored, both in the classroom and outside of it. For the most part, in program promotions and even most research studies on pronunciation teaching effectiveness in this field, you will rarely see much if any explicit description of teaching methodology in action--sometimes for proprietary, "trade secret" reasons, of course. Here are a couple of examples where the term "therapy" is used, assuming that the potential client knows what it means in the phrase "Accent reduction therapy." Not a hint is provided as to how, anyplace else on the websites or in accompanying literature. We are simply to believe that they know best. Maybe so, but after decades of encounters with many of them, at least occasionally, I have to conclude that the reason for the absence of mention of method is that either they are hiding something or they are hiding nothing . . .

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Effective pronunciation teacher?

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Clip art: Clker
Ever get the feeling that you need a little more professional development? Extracted from a 2009 University of Nottingham study by Day, Sammons and Kington, summarized by Science Daily, here are the main findings or criteria for being the "most effective teacher."(Stare at the pineapple from the previous post for a couple of minutes, take a couple of deep breaths, then rate yourself on a scale from "Whatever" to "Absolutely!") The most effective teachers are: 

  • knowledgeable
  • innovative
  • skilful
  • fun-loving
  • caring
  • supportive
  • task-centered
  • pupil-centred
  • in a class of their own
  • stimulate a pupil’s imagination
  • challenge their views
  • encourage them to do great things
  • motivate them through tailored teaching practices
  • ensure that every pupil feels a sense of achievement 
  • ensure that every pupil feels valued as part of the class community
  • create a positive climate for learning
  • inspire pupils
  • differentiate amongst pupils according to their abilities "where appropriate”
  • differentiate amongst pupils according to their interests "where appropriate”
  • give students more control over their learning
  • give students more engagement in their learning
  • give students more opportunities for success
  • have great enthusiasm for their work
  • have high aspirations for the success of every pupil
  • have positive relations
  • have high motivation
  • have strong commitment 
  • are resilient
  • focus on building self esteem
  • focus on engendering trust
  • focus on maintaining respect.
  • and . . . are not necessarily those with the most experience
It's lists like that that make you realize just how little you have accomplished in 40 years in the field . . . or simply wonder at what an incredible overachiever you are!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

When to do pronunciation work and what to do before you do

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Clip art: Clker
Stare at that pineapple for a minute or so before reading this post, please . . . From a curriculum perspective, pronunciation work can happen most anytime. It can, of course, be more or less integrated into actual classroom or one-on-one lessons depending on a "plethora" of factors. The EHIEP system, for example,  involves (a) decontextualized, out of class or in class introduction on video, (b) formal integration within lesson teaching objectives and content, (c) impromptu correction and anchoring in any lesson, and (c) focus on integration into spontaneous speech. (For a good, basic introduction to curricular integration for beginners, advanced and workplace programs, see Fraser's 2001 general introduction.) Where in time, however, in the course of a lesson or even a personal practice session at home is another question. In general, we begin with Lessac's "Train the body first!" dictum, which applies to the overall pronunciation program to some extent as well, meaning we try to do some kind of explicit body-engaged warm up as an integral part of speaking instruction in general. The importance of some kind of warm up that focuses mind and body has been empirically validated by any number of studies. Here is a striking example, a 2012 study comparing the effect of meditation type on creative thinking. "Open attention focus meditation," in effect clearing the mind and concentrating on nothing specific, enhanced creative, divergent thinking. "Focused attention," on the other hand, where for example one might concentrate on one object, like a pineapple on the table or a visualization of some kind, tended to improve creative, convergent thinking, the sort you might need in pulling together the pieces of a puzzle or problem. In most cases, effective anchoring of pronunciation requires the latter type of mind set. Meditate on that. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Better pronunciation? Shocking!

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Clip art: Clker
Always looking for new approaches to improving effectiveness of pronunciation work, especially kinaesthetic/haptic systems, like EHIEP. There are going to be some significant breakthroughs in efficiency of our work. I have looked at a number of such innovative possibilites in past posts. Here is another that could well be among those tools in the future. Based in part on the general accessibility of fMRI technology, a wide range of "electronic" interventions are in use by neurotherapists, such as this one described in a Science Daily of research by a team from NIH, Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities. In the study subjects who got the right level of stimulation of the motor cortex (for about 20 minutes per day during a 5-day training regimen to learn a new, complex joy-stick based complex motor skill set) performed significantly better:  "tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) involves mild electrical stimulation applied through surface electrodes on the head, and works by modulating the excitability, or activity, of cells in the brain's outermost layers." The main effect was still strong three months later. Granted there might be some technical problems with implementing that approach right now in the classroom, but the principle, of accelerating what the researchers term "consolidation," through focused brain stimulation and biofeedback mechanisms is well established and understood. If that is not enough to get a student's motor (cortex) going, what is?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why pronunciation practice regimens fail

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Clip art: Clker
Stress . . . according to a 2010 study by Bale at the University of Pennsylvania on the long-lasting effects of dieting . . . on rats. Biochemically, the changes affected by just a 25% decrease in calorie intake for a limited period made the mice substantially more susceptible to stress--which then drove them to overeat long after the course of the diet was over. Being on a diet while working on pronunciation would appear to be a double whammy! The effect of stress on general health and performance--and pronunciation--is well established. What is different about this study is that it makes more explicit the role of chronic stress, in this case created by a diet, in disrupting integration of behavioral change, in this case, weight loss. In other words, the impact of relatively short-term stress on any aspect of the learner's experience generalizes to all functioning--and may be exceedingly difficult to moderate. (The researchers' recommendation is to at least consider, for example, drugs to manage the stress created by diets to up the chances of success.) This is an interesting argument, one that was central to much of the thinking behind language teaching methodologies in the 1970s and 80s: Deal with stress decisively before beginning a lesson, manage it carefully throughout and train learners in stress management systems for use the other 23 hours a day. Often the rationale for a technique was not obviously related to language objectives--it didn't need to be. Affective concerns were key to learning and performance. The shift to communication, content and task in language teaching that followed has backgrounded or at least deemphasized the place of explicit affective procedures. Rats! Turns out, we were on the right track. (And, of course, so were Lessac and many others.) Simple. To make sure homework gets done consistently: Train the body first--to experience the felt sense of sound--which should help it manage stress in other aspects of its life and recent experience as well . . . or stick with donuts. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Touching tactile tactics for tapping new pronunciation?

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Clip art: Clker
Previous posts have alluded to the fact that students working with haptic-integrated pronunciation change often report beginning to "listen" with their bodies, as if they have recorded a word or phrase by "moving" with it or mirroring what was said. (Recent research on mirror neurons of course strongly supports that observation.) Two fascinating studies summarized by Science Daily address the underlying mechanisms which may be involved. One was conducted by researchers at Yale in which subjects were trained using a robotic device attached to their jaws to pronounce new sounds. As they did, they became substantially better at hearing them as well, noting that " . . . Learning to talk also changes the way speech sounds are heard. . . " Wow. The other, by a team at the University of British Columbia, basically "confused" subjects into thinking what they heard were aspirated consonants (when they actually heard voiced, unaspirated consonants)--by gently hitting them in the back of the neck with a small burst of air on targeted sounds. (That's right. Got to try that sometime!) The first was a bit more kinaesthetic than tactile; the second, decidedly more tactile. In both cases, the haptic or tactile "anchoring" dramatically affected perception of sounds. That is also the intent of the haptic-integrated protocols of the EHIEP system. The idea is to train learners to anchor haptically new sounds or patterns, what we call "MAMs" (more appropriate models--using movement and touch along with articulating the sound) at places in the visual field that are as "proprioceptively," visually and perceptually as distinct as possible from the learner's "inaccurate" or less appropriate current version of the sound. The summary of the latter study begins with this great line, "Humans use their whole bodies, not just their ears, to understand speech . . . " Really.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Deliberate (pronunciation) practice!

"Deliberate practice" as described in a Science Magazine summary report on an experiment using it at the University of British Columbia is an 
" . . . active, iterative process that involves working through their misconceptions with fellow students and getting immediate feedback from the instructor . . . [based on] the latest research in cognitive science, neuroscience, and learning theory . . . [that] begins with the instructor giving students a multiple-choice question on a particular concept, which the students discuss in small groups before answering electronically. Their answers reveal their grasp of (or misconceptions about) the topic, which the instructor deals with in a short class discussion before repeating the process with the next concept."

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Clip art: Clker
Breathtaking huh! (Boldface there is mine. In elementary education the analogy would be the KWL chart on the wall: what we know, what we want to learn and what we learned.) So, how would we apply that amazing process in pronunciation teaching? I'm not entirely sure at this point, but I'm sure there is a cognitive phonologist out there someplace who can not only tell us how but who would take that and run with it. I have seen comments in various studies where student beliefs about pronunciation were "discussed" or where students were provided with the opportunity to talk about those issues in journaling, etc., but not in a systematic, interactive class and small group process. In one of the upcoming pilot studies with learners of sufficiently high general competence to pull it off, we'll give that a try. In fact, it should be possible to work out a general set of brief multiple choice tests to go along with each protocol for students. Let me discuss it with my "small group" here and get back to you . . . 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Integrative hypnosis" and mind/body pronunciation

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Clip art: Clker
On Badenhop's SeiShinDo website there is an excerpt from an interview he did with Melissa Tiers, an "integrative" hypnotherapist. Now to understand exactly where the two of them are coming from you'd need some background in hypnosis, psychotherapy, NLP, CBT--and SeiShinDo, but a quick read is instructive. Tiers talks about her four therapeutic stages of a session with a client and something about how she figures out which technique to use. (The "how" itself is fascinating, sounding very much like what I have often heard from highly experienced pronunciation instructors . . . it just comes to me . . . but I'll leave that for another post!) In essence, the four steps are: (1) identify the problem, (2) isolate the problematic emotional state associated with it, (3) identify another context the client associates with a more positive emotion, and then (4) connect up the emotion of (3) to (1). What is especially relevant to integrated pronunciation teaching is the assumption there that change must be (a) a multiple-modality, mind/body operation, that it (b) requires extreme attention (perhaps a little short of the classical hypnotic "trance!"), that it (c) demands some "out of the box" thinking at times, and that it (d) requires explicit, principled management of emotion. Now I am not necessarily "suggesting" that you get trained in hypnosis (or sign on with Charlie Badenhop for a little stress therapy online) but Ms Tiers' perspective, as one working "in the middle" of change, is near mesmerizing . . . (You may not remember this post, but next time you hear a the word "Badenhop" it will bring "Tiers" to your eyes . . . ) 

Three mistakes pronunciation instructors may make (especially if they play guitar badly)

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 It is not a coincidence that language instructors who gravitate toward speaking and pronunciation instruction tend to be musical. (My guess is that they play or have played an instrument or are singers of some sort as well. That connection is mentioned in several studies but I can find no systematic research on it.) Being a guitar player, one of the sites I stumbled on, Guitarscalesystem.com, has a list of 3 mistakes to avoid and 6 principles to practice. (Unfortunately, to get to this list you have to sign up for the newsletter, etc.!) The "translation" to pronunciation work is very straightforward . . . if you play an instrument, especially the merging of motor learning and meaning (My extrapolations are in italics):
1. Too many scales and keys without ever deeply mastering a single scale - Acting like simply "pointing out" problems is effective technique.
2. Not making real music out of the scales - "Rich" repetition of targeted sounds, with haptic-integration and/or engaging expressiveness is the antidote.
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3. Mindlessly repeating scale patterns - If you do "mindless" repetition, without multiple-modality involvement, you should be teaching something else, not pronunciation. 
Principles of good practice:
1. Memorize your scale patterns - Yes, teach learners how to memorize more efficiently, based on their personal cognitive style preferences.
2. Learn to jump to anywhere on the neck - Link target sounds across lexical sets and exemplars. (Pedagogical movement patterns, based on haptic research in several areas, should do that.)
3. Learn to switch direction in the blink of an eye - Use the visual field for anchoring targeted sounds consistently. 
4. Know the building block shapes and how they interact together - Yes . . . the "sense" half of "felt sense" means having very concise, clear cognitive and rule schemas for learners as well.
5. Learn your scales on single strings, as double stops and beyond . . . This is critical, focusing on targeted sounds with maximal attention, in an "uncluttered" visual and emotional setting in class.
6. See the entire keyboard as one "monster pattern!" - Both instructor and learner need to understand how the whole system functions, instructors at a theoretical level; learners, by being equipped with a simple set of explanations, practices and anchoring procedures--especially the latter. 
Time to face the music on how you manage drill, repetition and anchoring? 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Better pronunciation? Better sleep on it!

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Clip art: Clker
The basic visual, pedagogical "tool" of HICP work--and the EHIEP system--is a 3 by 3 matrix enveloping the visual field in front of the learner. Vowels, stress assignment, rhythm and intonation are anchored in various ways in that conceptual space. It is, for vowels, for example, a mirror image of the standard IPA matrix. In part because learners use the "matrix" so extensively in learning and practicing target pronunciation, it is not uncommon to hear reports of them dreaming related to the experience. In a rather remarkable 2010 experiment, summarized by Science Magazine, Wamsley, Stickgold and colleagues at Harvard School of Medicine had subjects work with a maze problem--before taking a nap! Those who reported dreams related to it while asleep--performed significantly better on the problem after they woke up. Hmm . . . I have generally recommended that students do their practice in the morning before work, for any number of reasons, including just time management and having a fresher  mind and body to work with. I may reconsider, or at least begin something of an informal experiment, asking some students to practice daily after morning coffee, as usual, and the rest, just before falling asleep. Sounds promising. We'll see what happens. Until we get some "dreamy" data, however . . . better just sleep on it!

Intonation deafness? The fix may be "psycho-or-somatic!"

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Clip art: Clker
Have students who have great difficulty imitating intonation contours? Could be tone deafness or "amusia," in varying degrees. (If you have a question, there is a self-administered test off the first link that may be of some help.) Both studies, summarized by Science Daily, relate to singing, not speech intonation directly. The "phenotypes" identified, however, are of interest to us: (a) those who have difficulty perceiving pitch and pitch change and (b) those who sing away, regardless. I have worked with several over the years of the latter type. (In diagnostic work I often will have learners sing along with me on some simple songs to check their singing pitch control.) The relationship between intonation problems and inability to sing is complex, of course. Occasionally, serious hearing or speech production disorders were involved; other times, there appeared to be interpersonal, psychological issues of identity and self-confidence. I have been unable to find credible, published research on effective "treatment" for tone deafness. Intonation "deafness" may be something of another matter, caused by a wider range of factors. Sometimes haptic anchoring of pitch (by using PMPs set high or low in the visual field as a phrase or word is articulated) can be moderately effective, or at least serve to enhance slightly the lack range or production of pitch change, such as "rise-fall" contours. That type of work, based loosely on Lessac and Observed Experiential Integration Therapy, has to be done one-on-one at this point in time and it can be time consuming, but the potential for "embodying" that concept in a computer-mediated system is intriguing. The approach, regardless, must be very much "whole-person," mind and body, "psycho(and)somatic!" 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The "Nocebo" effect in pronunciation teaching.

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
I wrote an article in 1997 entitled "Seven suggestions of highly successful pronunciation teaching." It began with a quote from the introduction of a then popular pronunciation book (no longer in print):

"Acquiring good pronunciation is the most difficult part of learning a new language. As you improve your articulation you have to learn to listen and imitate all over again. As with any activity you wish to do well, you have to practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more . Remember that you cannot accomplish good pronunciation overnight; improvement takes time. Some students may find it more difficult than others and will need more time than others to improve (Orion, 1988, pp. xxiii-iv)." 

My point in quoting that rather foreboding piece was to illustrate the sometimes "less than encouraging"  language (and attitude) used by instructors to orient learners or attempt to motivate them during pronunciation work. At the time I didn't have a term for it; now I do: a "nocebo"--as contrasted with a "placebo." In the research summary by Winfried Häuser and co-researchers of the Technical University of Munich, summarized by Science Daily, defined 'nocebo' effects as " . . . adverse events that occur during sham treatment and/or as a result of negative expectations . .   or by unintended negative suggestion on the part of doctors or nurses. . ." The above "nocebo" may, for many, be at face value a realistic prognosis, but there is almost certainly a less "nocebic" way to put it. So, along with "noticing" we need to add the term "nocebo-ing" or "nocebo-ation" to our haptic toolbox--or try to eliminate it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Get in the mood for pronunciation work? Try a touch of vowel color!

Clipart: Clker
Clip art: Clker
According to this research by Ackermann and colleagues at MIT, summarized by ScienceNow, touch--expressed in texture and hardness--can not only "color" one's mood but "impact . . . how we perceive the world!" For example, " . . . running your hand over sandpaper may make you view social interactions as more hostile and competitive." In the study, subjects put together either a puzzle with pieces that had sandpaper-like texture or one where the pieces had by contrast, a very smooth surface. Depending on which puzzle they had assembled, their mood in responding to a video clip varied accordingly. So, how is what students touch in your class affecting how they feel about the work? In the EHIEP vowel protocol (a set of techniques for teaching and anchoring the vowels of English), there are four distinct touch-textures: (a) a light tapping (lax vowels), (b) gently dragging the fingernails across the palm of the other hand (diphthongs or tense vowels plus off-glide), (c) holding the hands together gently (tense vowels), and (d) one hand pushing the other hand about 5 centimeters either to left or to the right (lengthened lax vowels before voice consonants). Those pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) are also performed while articulating the vowel with as much "euphonic resonance" as possible, anchoring the sound to the movement and touch-texture. The mood encouraged by those PMPs, based on the sensations experienced on the hands, is at least pleasant (See earlier post.), if not slightly stimulating. (This sense of the potential "coloring" of one's mood by "vowel-texture-touch" is different from but somewhat related to the inherent visual intensity or phonaesthetic quality of vowels in English, addressed in several earlier posts.) Assuming that the class began with something of a full-body warm up, the effect of haptic-integrated touch-on-vowels should at least help learners to perceive the process more positively. It does more than that, of course, but systematic attention to "mood maintenance' is always a nice touch. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pronunciation modelling on "cue?" You said it, MAM!

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Interesting 2010 study by Luypen at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues on the relationship between verbal cues and visual processing. They investigated the potential impact of hearing a word before it or the object it represents appears on a screen in the visual field. In effect, hearing the name first significantly enhanced subsequent visual recognition. Somewhat surprisingly, however, they also found that, " . . . A visual preview did not make the invisible target visible. Getting a good look at the object before the experiment did nothing to help participants see it flashed." What this appears to "speak to" is how to best sequence haptic feedback with pedagogical movement patterns (PMP) in instruction. For example, when a learner produces an inaccurate pronunciation of a word, the instructor, in cueing a more appropriate model (MAM), has some options:

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(a) Verbally model the MAM.
(b) Do just the appropriate PMP, moving across the visual field.
(c) Verbalize the MAM while doing the PMP.
(d) Just provide the name of the PMP (in the case of vowels their numbers, such as "3y" or intonation contours, "Rise-fall" or rhythm grouping, "2-3"--indicating the number syllables appearing before after the prominent syllable).
(e) Ask the learner to do the PMP once and then try the MAM, speaking out loud.

And there are a few other possible combinations. The research seems to suggest that (d) might be the more efficient cue, first saying the name--which should evoke both the visual and haptic dimensions of the anchor before the instructor then provides feedback in the form of the PMP and MAM done simultaneously. Try it out with me in your classroom and report back either here on on the "data" blog! What's in a name? Possibly a great deal in this work. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Haptic phonetics for pronunciation teaching

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
Most would agree that some training in phonetics is essential for both instructor and learner. How and when that is done can vary greatly, of course. (See summary article by Ashby on the LLAC website, for example.) Most consonant work in phonetics instruction involves a substantial amount of kinaesthetic and tactile engagement, directing learner awareness to points of contact and movement of various parts of the vocal tract. (In EHIEP work, the techniques used for basic consonant change are quite standard, although how that new felt sense is anchored once it is established can be quite different, more systematically L2 learner-oriented.) The haptic-based procedures for teaching the vowel system of a language have been designed for presentation and adaptation of the vowels of any language, not just English. Anchoring sounds in the visual field means positioning higher vowels relatively . . . higher, lower vowels relatively . . . lower, front vowels more to the right, and back vowels more to the left. Diphthongs and vowels with off-glides involve movement across the visual field. Tense vowels involve intense concentration on the sound without movement. Lax vowels involve a light tapping of hands with the articulation, etc. (Those are just representative of how movement and the felt sense of vowel resonance and quality can be anchored in the visual field.) I have done demonstrations of haptic-anchored versions the vowel systems of many languages and dialects, including Korean, French, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, various US dialects, often in first anchoring the learner's L1 before moving to English. Will begin posting Youtube comparative vowel systems this fall. Train the body first, but do "Phonhaptic" training right after that! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Inattentive students? (Too much task-based pronunciation instruction?)

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
In a 2011 study of what they term "inattentional deafness," researchers at University College London (summarized in Science Daily), Lavie and Macdonald observe that, " . . . In our task, most people noticed the sound if the task being performed was easy and did not demand their full concentration. However, when the task was harder they experienced deafness to the very same sound." Several other posts have addressed the "competition" between visual and auditory processing, where one in effect cancels out the other in conditions of tightly focused attention. So, what does that mean for pronunciation instruction? Currently task-based instruction is "seen" by most as being the optimal format for integrating instruction, where communicative interaction and metacognitive engagement (attention to the principles and rules involved) are paramount. This research would suggest, somewhat ironically, that the extent to which attention is drawn away from the felt sense of the articulated sound--to context and informational parameters, the less effective the anchoring in memory of the targeted change may be. Managing that balance is key. As also noted repeatedly in reports on "haptic" research,  relatively speaking, movement and touch as anchoring mechanisms seem to function more independently from that of auditory and visual processing. In other words, a little "inattention" here and there is probably a good thing. Just keep in touch . . . 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Let's get clinical (pronunciation instruction)!

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Clipart: Clker
With apologies to the all time favorite aerobic dance anthem, having read over yet one more thread of comments, "a near-conversation" between clinical and experimental psychologists on a blog, the parallel to where we are in the field of pronunciation teaching today was too much to miss. In essence, the experimental types were saying "There is no real evidence for the validity of your clinical practice, especially the procedure that you are recommending." The clinicians, in response, were responding that "Your studies are pretty much irrelevant when it comes to dealing holistically with our real clients. Experience, especially as it is applied to "similar" treatment contexts--and people--is enough to go on, at least for the time being." Sound familiar? A recent research study summarized by Science Daily on the efficacy of online peer support groups, which does relate somewhat to recent posts on group learning theory, ends with the quintessential retort from researcher/clinician, Salazar of Temple University: "These groups likely provide some degree of comfort in sharing a similar experience . . . While we can't yet quantify the benefit with our measurements, it does appear that participants benefit in online contacts with one another . . . If anything, clinicians should become more familiar with online groups because of their prevalence . . . They should be discussing their use with clients, and talking about ways to safely navigate online resources to get the maximum benefit." Now, substitute in any pronunciation teaching technique that you find especially effective for the word "online or groups" in that quote. Does that work in the context of your integrated, "clinical" pronunciation practice? It should. If not, just consider this your online support group and tell us all about it . . . here or on the EHIEP teaching blog!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Visual intonation in pronunciation instruction

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
One of the early inspirations for the EHIEP system, as reported earlier, was my work with deaf students at the university who communicated with American Sign Language (ASL). Sign gestures, along with upper body and facial expressiveness have been researched extensively; I have referred to those studies several times in trying to better understand how ASL behaviors can be effectively exploited in our pronunciation work. I found this 2009 study on "visual intonation"in Israeli Sign Language recently which demonstrates vividly the role of the systematic movement of facial muscles (e.g. raised eyebrows, squints, knitting brows) in conveying prosody, especially as it accompanies pitch change. The analogous pedagogical movement patterns of EHIEP are designed primarily to help the learner get the felt sense of intonation, where learners' hands and arms move around the visual field to anchor pitch (H, M and L) and pitch change (fall-rise, rise-fall, etc.) However, once a student is able to "repeat" a PMP along with the instructor in articulating a target word or phrase, the "visual intonation" portrayal also serves to communicate to the instructor and student something of accuracy of the pitch or pitch change. In other words, an instructor also uses the visual PMPs in both assessing and providing feedback in class on intonation. Just as in the case of the ISL study, spatial-gesture serves more than just as an analogy for pitch and pitch change--it is potentially a very powerful physical anchor. See what I mean? 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pleasant (physical) pronunciation practice

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
Do you generally associate the word "pleasant" with "pronunciation practice?" You should--or could--according to this Penn State University study of the effect of 15 minutes or more of exercise on mood. What the research revealed was that even mild physical exercise results in a temporary "pleasant-activated feeling" which seems to encourage one to keep it up. (Earlier posts looked at the factors involved in general exercise persistence.) Beginning the day or class with a body-based warm up which might include movement and stretching of not only the vocal tract but much of the entire body, for example, (See previous post!), should get things off in a better mood. Add to that various "pleasant"  pedagogical movement patterns accompanying presentation, review, anchoring and correcting of language being focused on in the speaking or listening class and both attitude toward pronunciation--and results can't help but improve. In other words, there should be a felt sense of physical engagement and "exercise" that is ongoing, especially in speaking instruction. That is clearly the case in most good public speaking programs, some even creating an almost dance-like mood to capture the dynamic of speaker and audience rapport and communication. In my experience, even coming back to haptic or just kinesthetic engagement intermittently during a lesson achieves much the same effect. If you do a bit of systematic choreography such that you have physically active anchoring near the end of the class in some form, the overall reaction to the work of the day on the part of the students--and myself!--will inevitably be more positive. Plan on it. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Haptic-integrated pronunciation . . . and "Ro-butts?"

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
(Caveat Emptor: There is probably a serious point in the following but it may not be all that obvious!)  The character in the  EHIEP logo off to the right, what we affectionately refer to as "EHIEP-bot," embodies a few key features of the system, including controlled, precise movements, the sounds of language in the visual field--and attitude! But up until now there was no plausible analogy or connection between the robot personna and the efficacy of touch in learning. Now there may be. Japanese inventor, Takahashi, has figured out how (or at least where) to do haptic anchoring with robots: on the gluteus maximus! I suppose, were it not for certain cultural constraints--or lack of them for example, here in a Youtube of a German folk dance move -- that might work on us non-robots in doing pronunciation, particularly rhythm, as well. Instead of using the visual field, looking forward, we might focus on pronunciation in retrospect! Actually, doing two of the more rhythm-oriented protocols when seated, the critical butts-in-chairs variable in group dynamics and sales-- does seem to help anchor or "nail down" the pattern being attended to, especially with the right Latin beat in the background. Wow. A whole new area of research and exploration here? This is supposed to be a "whole brain and whole body approach," after all! Ah . . . perhaps we'd better sit on that for the time being!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To bee or not to bee: in class vs one-on-one pronunciation teaching

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
The clipart of the "lazy" bee in the last post reminded me of what a line of research on honey bees has revealed about the striking impact on learning of individual vs group or community based learning. In essence, what happens is that older forager bees, when brought back into the hive to take on nurturing "duties," experience a significant increase in ability to learn again. The analogy here to pronunciation work will be evident to anyone who has worked with changing the pronunciation of older L2 learners: studying in small groups is generally far more effective than tutoring. (I'll post a case study related to this idea shortly on the EHIEP "data" blog.) Clearly, social practice is critical for almost any integration of pronunciation change, but experience (at least) has shown that it is especially so with "fossilized" students. There have been a number of posts that have dealt with parameters of effective social practice and how to manage it in this field. I have not been able, however, to locate good, empirical studies of that "old bee vs new bee" phenomenon in the general adult learning literature, but I'm certain it is there. (If you know some of that research, please let us know!) How do you keep your classroom buzzing with excitement--or learning?  "Apiarical" linguists of the world, unite!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lazy students? It's their "pronunciation literacy's" @ fault!

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
Interesting piece by Howard of National Geographic News citing Harrison, “Literacy makes you lazy; we don’t memorize 10,000-line epic poems any more," David Harrison, the director of research for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, told an audience at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado this past weekend." His point, in part, is that literacy in English is achieved more and more by being able to speak fluently and access information when necessary--not by keeping all that stored in the brain--or being able to produce or reproduce "it" with inordinate (or extreme) accuracy, etc. Fair enough. He doesn't really unpack that statement much, especially in terms of the functions of memorizing poetry, which generally demand extraordinary attention to the expressive dimensions of language. (If it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, perhaps 10,000 lines of poetry is enough to make you an honorary native speaker as well?) From that perspective, from the standpoint of the English learner, he may have a point. The emphasis on comprehensible input and output, along with the  high priority on communicative, intelligible interaction has unquestionably produced a new ideal or model of the successful learner's pronunciation that, almost by necessity must ignore attention to the finer nuances of L2 expressive speech. In fact--and I'll come back to this later--for many theorists today it is as if some level of the expressive system of the L1 must remain firmly in place, surviving principally as "accent" and higher forms of pragmatic competence, to ensure that the L1 identity of the learner is not washed out or assimilated in the process, what we might call "Lazy faire pronunciation literacy." 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Getting a Beckham-like "kick" out of pronunciation

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
A group of physics students at Leicester University have figured out how Beckham was able to execute those incredible bending shots on goal. What the group found, the formula they derived (with a little analogical, creative liberty) extends to anchoring (making a change stick) in haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction: My HICP interpretations are in italics.

  • The distance a ball bends (D) - the success of the anchoring experience
  • as a result of this force (the contact, the kick) - the intensity or "stickiness" of the haptic anchor
  • is related to the ball's radius (R) - the size/scope of the anchoring experience, both in time and size
  • the density of air (ρ) - the resistance to learning in the individual or in the class
  • the ball's angular velocity (ω) - the evidence of cognitive and somatic engagement in anchoring
  • it's velocity through the air (v) - the residual, felt sense of the anchoring as it is enacted
  • it's mass (m) - the size and emotional relevance of the target being anchored
  • and the distance travelled by the ball in the direction it was kicked (x) - the amount of context and connectedness that is accessed during the anchoring
That is, of course, actually a very good framework or set of parameters for assessing the nature and potential efficacy of an anchor in any type of training, not just pronunciation. In HICP, for example, that might mean, a pedagogical movement pattern which accompanies the overt pronunciation of a word with changed vowels, consonants or stress pattern. What a kick!