Friday, August 31, 2012

Body wisdom in pronunciation teaching: Listen to your heart . . .


Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
In haptic-integrated work, the right degree of "body awareness" is essential. There are many ways to accomplish that, of course. Sometimes students come to class with it already; sometimes it requires work. The term "body wisdom" in the title of the blogpost is a reference to Lessac's 1978 book, Body Wisdom, my introduction to Lessac and embodiment. There are any number of systems such as that for leading learners to optimal use of the body in speaking and just daily functioning. One thing they all share is a conceptual (nonverbal or verbal) strategy for checking on and managing the "status" of the various systems of the body, both autonomic and those which you can control consciously, like posture. One of them, in fact, was learning how to listen to your heartbeat. (That is also used in some biofeedback and meditation systems as well, for example.) Dunn and colleagues at Cambridge conducted a study where a similar awareness of heartbeat enhanced decision making. In fact, the better subjects were at monitoring their heartbeat, the better their decisions in a  complex card game tended to be. The researchers do not speculate (enough) on exactly why that should be the case, I will. Even if all that is doing is managing distraction and attention momentarily, that is often enormously beneficial. Often just doing a quick voice and body warm up, the "buzz" that results at least keeps learners thoughts in the room and on instruction for a few minutes--until disinterest, apathy or fatigue set in. In a noisy room, the felt sense of the heart beat can be nearly impossible for some to get. (The researchers used head sets and electronic heart monitors, like the one I run with.) But a good warm up and repeated use of pedagogical movement patterns to anchor speech can serve the same function, and more. In fact, it is relatively easy from the front of the room to visually monitor the fluent/dis-fluent body rhythms of students--and adjust those as necessary. (If you don't know how, ask your local kindergarten teacher.) As the title of the Science Daily says, "Trust your gut . . . " or something close to that!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Circadian rhythm and haptic-integrated teaching

Class getting you down? Generally no energy, motivation and enthusiasm at that time of day, even with your chai latte? Rather than moving to another time . . . you might try just moving!
Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
 If you could choose any time of day to teach your speaking-listening class, when would that be? When would you generally prefer not to? I learned decades ago that between about 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. is not a good time for me to sit through a lecture or meeting--unless I have a very active role in what is happening. My "circadian rhythm" pattern is very predictable. If you haven't plotted yours before, go to this BBC quick test to see a graphic representation of yours. It even comes with some suggestions on how to cope with it, like coffee, the right food, exercise, a quick nap, etc. To that list we could add: haptic engagement, both for instructor and student. "Simply" anchoring key "academic word list" vocabulary carefully in a reading/writing class serves to energize well, keeping those at the nadir of their circadian rhythm cycle in the game. (We have proposed a workshop on precisely that topic at the 2013 TESOL conference in Dallas. If it is accepted, I'm going to ask that that it occur right after lunch in a hot, noisy, jam-packed room full of uncomfortable desks and chairs--and/or maybe right after one of the more mind-numbing plenaries! You can always get the body to join the party, beginning with a gentle warm up and interspersing various kinds of haptic anchoring as appropriate. Start there and normally the brain comes on line not long after. If not, consider going into administration or writing teachers' manuals . . . 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Finding your "inner Spock" in pronunciation modeling

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker

Let's take a little poll: When you face your class, apparently it makes a difference whether you give them your left profile or your right, whether you stand to the left side (stage right) or the right side (stage left.) If not in the center of the front of the class, which side do you prefer? Right or left? According to Owen Churches and colleagues at the University of South Australia, Magill, "Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are each significantly more likely to show their right cheek than their left, while their colleagues in the arts and humanities are each more likely to show their left . . . " The author of the summary in Science Magazine comments further, "The study could indicate a desire on the scientists’ part to project cool-headed rationality." (There was no speculation as to what those in the Humanities, who tend to "face more to the left," might be subconsciously trying to communicate!) So, depending on what you are trying to project, whether "scientific," analytic focus-on-form noticing or holistic, whole-body integrated emotion-packed, expressiveness, you may be able to better project your "inner Spock" or "outer limits" more effectively. But seriously, where we position ourselves in haptic anchoring, relative to the location of the students does seem to matter. For example, we have discovered that you have to be within about 30 feet and probably in the student's right visual field to the extent possilbe, typically with more of your left profile visible. Why that should be the case is not clear but the fact that the left side of the face has been shown in numerous studies to carry more of the emotional content of the message certainly is relevant, as is the fact that the right visual field tends to be the "hotter" in perceiving emotion. If your students are not getting it lately,  it may be just a matter of turning the other cheek . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Expressiveness in pronunciation instruction



Clip art: Clker
A few blog posts back I assembled a set of musical terms that could be used to characterize speaking performance. For example, as part of a set up for the mood of a dialogue, you could indicate something like "con spiritu, a placere" (with spirit, but need not follow strict rhythm pattern). Another term, espressivo (expressively), appears (as "expressiveness") commonly, for example, in rubrics used in public speaking or classroom presentations, etc. I have over the years done several workshops with titles like "Expressive pronunciation," the idea being that if you can get learners to be more "expressive" (however that is defined) you should be better able to move them to fluency and integration of focus-on-form targets. What is "expressiveness?" Here is 2005 a study by Fabian and Schubert that looked at how that concept was unpacked and used in a study of listener judgment of two versions of a Bach violin concerto. Some of the parameters of expressiveness and related criterion used in the study were:
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  • Phrasing (Continuous, Legato, Articulated, Detailed)
  • Tone Production (Vibrato, Intensity, Straightness, Lightness) 
  • Rhythm (Grouped, Strict, Measured, Flexible)
Subjects were also asked to rate each performance on more global criteria : Romantic Expressiveness  and Baroque Expressiveness. Not surprisingly, each of those two correlated quite directly with very differing subsets of the three "linguistic" categories. The point of the study was to demonstrate that expressiveness can be understood from a set of parameters such as those and that its realization in any piece or context will depend upon the style in which it is situated. The same goes for oral production or interpretation of any text used in pronunciation-focus work: By systematically and explicitly varying those or similar parameters, learners can be assisted in speaking "expressively" within their own personal L2  expressive style or identity, whether more "Baroque-like" or more "Romantically." Just because the learner seems relatively over-"buttoned down," rigid or emotionally constrained does not mean that he or she cannot develop genuine, authentic expressiveness. In other words, If it's Baroque, don't (be too quick to try to) fix it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Learning intonation in your sleep? Nothing to sniff at!


Compliments of Dr Seuss
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You may have seen comment on this study someplace recently. Sobel and several colleagues at Academic College of Tel Aviv -- Jaffa, summarized here by Science Daily, found that by exposing sleeping subjects to both a tone and and odor together, that later after awaking, when exposed to the tone they would begin "sniffing!" Is that big or what? (To quote Dr Seuss in the Sleep Book, one of my absolute, all time favorite books, by the way) "Now that may  not seem very important, I know, but it is so I'm bothering telling you so!" I do dabble in olfaction in EHIEP work, often having students rub some Mary Kay "Mint Bliss" on their hands before class--which I would highly recommend, in fact. The relevant point here, however, is that there, in that study, you have an example of using one modality to "set off" or anchor another. (In our work we use movement and touch--and to some extent, color--in attempting to do the same thing with targeted speech, for example.) For decades there have been all kinds of "sleep" techniques tried for learning new language material or reinforcing it. None have been shown to be empirically verifiable, however. This one is interesting. What if the subjects had been played various prosodic features  or melodies in their dreams, such as intonation contours, instead of single tones--while breathing in Mint Bliss . . . who knows? Better sleep on it. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

(Program summary of) Preliminaries to Haptic-Integrated Pronunciation Instruction paper presented at PSLTT 2012


Here is the program summary of the talk yesterday at the PSLTT 2012 conference. It presents a pretty good picture of the basis of the EHIEP system. The conference proceedings draft will be available in a month or so, too. 

Preliminaries to Haptic-Integrated Pronunciation Instruction

William Acton, Trinity Western University
Amanda Baker, Wollongong University
Mike Burri, British Columbia Institute of Technology
Brian Teaman, Osaka Women’s University

This paper reports on aspects of a haptic-based (movement plus touch) system for anchoring typical targets of pronunciation instruction: syllables, stress, rhythm, intonation, and prominence.  Research in the last decade into various applications of haptics has been extensive, especially in the military and in the fields of robotics, prosthetics, virtual reality training systems, and hand-held computers (e.g., the new HD iPad.)  The use of haptic integration procedures in part serves to more systematically coordinate all sensory modalities involved in a targeted task.  In virtual reality systems, haptic feedback guides the learner in appropriate movement and developing a realistic “feel” for the object of the virtual simulation.  The recent addition of systematic touch to typical kinesthetic procedures used in pronunciation teaching offers the promise of a substantial improvement in ensuring that instruction “sticks.”  An initial version of the system described was developed for relatively untrained instructors.  That method begins with a simple, haptic-integrated process for getting pronunciation, meaning, and usage from the dictionary and then later applies the same basic procedures to general classroom instruction.  Most of the techniques involved application of movement and touch (much like that used in sign language or interpretative dance) under carefully specified conditions across the visual field.  In informal field testing, this application of haptic procedures to general pronunciation instruction seems to enhance efficiency in anchoring words and sounds and in facilitating both recall and integration of targeted material in spontaneous speech.  

A touch for teaching English rhythm and fluency

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A question in the hall at the conference yesterday woke me up this morning. Figuring out the neurophysiology of how rhythm is learned will be a major break through in understanding language acquisition--when it happens. At the moment, if it is systematically  part of instruction at all, rhythm is "taught" for the most part, inductively, through techniques such as identifying rhythm groups and then doing poetry or jazz chants, etc. In this research report from MIT, it was discovered that brain rhythms during habit formation differ radically from those evident once the "procedure" was initially mastered. In effect, during "learning" there is high gamma activity. Once the frenetic work is over; beta wave patterning dominates. Beta is the same pattern associated with meditative states of various kinds. Interesting. In the EHIEP system, the order of march of the syllabus and taught in the protocols is something like:

Warm up < (discourse prominence) < vowels < stress  < phrasal grouping < intonation  < rhythm < conversational "speed" < classroom integration.

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Wow. Rhythm is embodied using a pedagogical movement pattern based on a "TaiChi-like" set of moves that I first became aware of in Japan watching a group of seniors do TaiChi every morning in the park across the street. In general, rhythm is identified or experienced with structures of more than one focal or phrase grouping. And notice where that happens: after the "basic stuff" has been worked through. If you are working with a written conversational dialogue, that rhythm phase happens literally on the 5th pass through. (Discourse prominence would have been identified prior to the "Vowel" pass.) The felt sense of the TaiChi PMP is one of flowing fluency. (It was earlier termed the "TaiChi Fluency Protocol), in fact. Our intuitions were right all along . . .we just didn't have MIT behind us!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

(More) Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction


Clip art: Clker
Courtesy: Tourism Vancouver
As reported earlier, that is the title of our presentation today at the Pronunciation in Second Language Learning & Teaching Conference at Simon Fraser University here in Vancouver. Here is the link to the conference program. It should be a pretty good introduction to our work and the EHIEP model. Excellent conference, as usual. Especially look forward to the opening panel on pronunciation assessment and, of course, Amanda Baker's presentation on integrated pronunciation in content teaching, which happens in the same room as ours an hour later. If you'd like to see a draft of our paper, let me know. (We will be submitting a revised version to the conference proceedings as well.) Based in part on the work we have done in putting together this new framework, I am working on a new index for the blog that will make it easier to find topics and specific research studies. The index, itself will use the same general structure as the "Preliminaries" presentation. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Speaking of pronunciation: We get no respect!


 Have talked about this before, but, obviously, it deserves a little more attention!
Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
About a decade ago, at the TESOL conference in Long Beach, we had something of a talent show. The topic of the 12-bar blues that I wrote for that evening was the lack of respect afforded the syllable in pronunciation teaching at the time. (Actually, that hasn't changed much since!) Of course there is nothing quite as effective in making you feel better about most anything than singing the blues about it. Turns out there is now empirical evidence that that works--and how! Two studies reported in Science Daily confirm that if you just talk it out, even in the most negative of terms, it'll make you feel better about it, whatever it is. (Granted that may be yet another candidate for the "Well . . . duh!" file.) Anyway, if you want to feel better about your syllables or the fact that we "Pronunciattis" just get no respect, here's an excerpt from  the song: (If you need the other 8 verses to get all the way to feel good, email me!) 

The Syllablues

Oh, I am just a syllable
But I got this vowel in my heart. (2x)‏
Sometimes there’s a consonant
Or even a glide at the start.

Oh but suprasegmentally, you say
I become something else. (2x)‏
Not just a crummy syllable
I can be myself.

Yeah, sometimes I do get stressed, Honey,
Sometimes I don’t. (2x)‏
But when I do, Teacher
Just swish you’d take note.

Yes, my timing as a syllable
Could be more lonely and blue (2x)
If my speech stream wasn’t filled with so many . . . hot
Discourse processes like you.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pronunciation homework as "action" research

In the process of finishing up work on the student workbook of the EHIEP system for the next set of field trials this fall. Have reviewed every student pronunciation textbook and related article methods book that I can find looking at how homework is treated or prescribed. "Advice" runs the gamut from "practice X at home," to sets of exercises (often including audio) with detailed instructions. (I am aware that speech pathologists, 1-on-1 pronunciation tutors and intelligibility "businesses" often have sometimes complex systems for homework assignment and execution, but nothing is--understandably--accessible in print on the details of those frameworks.) On an interesting handout from Professor Do at University of Illinois-Champaign, on the contrast between homework problems assigned in Engineering and research problems, I found this fascinating quote from Fujio Cho, President of Toyota, which has been very helpful in rethinking the basic framework and task sequence to be assigned. It highlights the essential functions both "Just do it!" and "Research it! --or at least just think about it constructively!"

"There are many things one doesn't understand and therefore we ask them why don!t you just go ahead and take action, try to do something? You realize how little you know and you face your own failures and you simply can correct those failures and redo it again and at the second trial you realize another mistake or another thing you didn't like so you can redo it once again. So by constant improvement, or should I say, the improvement based upon action, one can rise to a higher level of practice and knowledge.”

"Improvement based on action." I like that expression. Something like this: Establish a practice regimen for learners that is structured from the same perspective, that is, consistent, prescribed action, followed by systematic reflection on (incremental) improvement (See previous post.) Sort of like Toyota's current (Canadian version of its) slogan: Moving forward, eh . . .

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vivid, emotionally-enhanced pronunciation instruction?


Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Here's another one for the "Well-duh . . . " file. Researchers at the University of Toronto have just: " . . . discovered that we see things that are emotionally arousing with greater clarity than those that are more mundane," Furthermore, " . . . how vividly we perceive something in the first place predicts how vividly we will remember it later on . . . " They even have a term for it: emotionally enhanced vividness. There is a new acronym for us: Emotionally-enhanced, vivid pronunciation! (EVP) That topic has been addressed on the blog from several different perspectives. Now we have "empirical" evidence. Wow. Actually, there is something there worth mention, the use of the word "clarity" in that context--as long as you keep the terms "arousing" and "clarity" together. In other words, conceptual clarity must always be coupled with controlled emotional engagement--and even enthusiasm! Research has also repeatedly established that arousal, by itself, can also serve just as well to encode in memory all sorts of baggage that later interferes with efficient recall of specific targets in instruction--or life, in general. Emotion and attention management are key to our work, and pronunciation instruction, in general. For more memorable (and arousing!) lessons, try a little more (haptic-integrated) EVP.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Haptic (or near-haptic) pronunciation teaching techniques


Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
I have often linked to pronunciation instructors, methodologists and websites where haptic or haptic-looking techniques are evident. In most cases, the procedures described are not exactly those we use, but they do, nonetheless, involve the use of movement and touch in sound system instruction of some kind. In pronunciation instruction there are many examples of non-systematic haptic anchoring. Early posts have referred to several of these. Most involve some condition or process that does not for some reason efficiently support haptic or multi-sensory learning or memory access. (Consequently, we do not use them in EHIEP work.) They are all still very helpful in "regular" instruction, however! In parentheses is the name of a relatively well-known somebody who uses, used or recommended that technique in some way:
  • Rubber bands (e.g., Judy Gilbert)
  • Procedures that involve holding an object and, for example, lifting it up on the stressed word of a phrase as a command is given or responded to.(e.g., James Asher) 
  • Various intensities of hand clapping on stressed syllables (e.g., Linda Grant)
  • Snapping fingers during jazz chants (e.g., Carolyn Graham)
  • Using a pencil to trace intonation contours as a sentence is articulated (e.g., Kenneth Pike)
  • Moving hand to touch or move across mouth area to anchor sound articulation (e.g., Joan Morley)
  • Dancing feet with steps on stressed syllables or words (e.g., Bertha Chela-Flores)
  • Action songs that involve touch and movement and often rhythm instruments, especially for kids (Every early elementary school teacher!)
Accidental but good haptic:
  • Singing with patterned gestures or juggling juggling balls while talking (e.g., Tim Murphey) 
  • General movement and touch in rhythm work -  (e.g., Marsha Chan)
  • Touching stressed vowels of words on chart w/baton (e.g., Caleb Gattegno)
Touch not coordinated explicitly with sound or movement but still very powerful in enabling anchoring and access of language material:
  • iPhone apps! (Several for pronunciation work now on the market)
  • Touch screen responses in CALL and CAI
The EHIEP system includes (among others) four types of haptic anchors. The key criteria is that the pedagogical movement pattern include an anchor or end point that involves touch-on-prominence or focus of some kind, especially touch that is consistently in the same general location in the visual field.
  • Hands touching on stressed elements, using four or five different types of touch or haptic textures
  • Hands touching upper body on stressed elements
  • Hand squeezing ball or similar object on stressed elements
  • Baton touching other hand or forearm on stressed elements

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A key to pronunciation exercise and practice persistence: perceived incremental progress


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Several earlier posts have referred to the use of "self determination theory" in exploring factors relating to exercise persistence. SDT (Deci & Ryan 1985) holds that four factors may combine in various settings to account for exercise persistence: (Professed) autonomy, relatedness (to group or institution), (program or group) support and (achieved or initial) competence. In a 2011 MA thesis by Martinez, which looked at physical exercise program persistence over the course of a semester, only the latter was shown to predict persistence, and that only in women, not men.

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There are no systematic studies that I am aware of in pronunciation instruction that look at (a) what kind of homework is prescribed in pronunciation instruction, (b) the effects of "homework persistence" or (c) personality characteristics or context support features which might support persistence in doing assigned pronunciation exercises and procedures outside of class. If we assume that (a) is important and that (b) is essential to success and that (c) is at least worth considering, then Martinez' research gives us an interesting clue, perhaps a place to start. Why would achieved competence appear to be the sole significant motivator of persistent exercise, and that only in women? Martinez' conclusion is that (probably) the course was structured so that participants could recognize incremental progress on an ongoing basis, week to week, and were thus motivated to keep going. (The men, apparently, were (predictably) not quite as attentive to the "details" of the work or the course, itself.)

Designing physical exercise regimens of that kind seems, at least at face value, to be an easier job than managing pronunciation improvement. In haptic-integrated work, where consistent practice and developing precision of pedagogical movement pattern is tied to pronunciation accuracy, evidence of change and progress, in part because of the "physical" basis of the work, should be easier to both build in and (for both students and instructor) easier to perceive. (See earlier blogposts on "future pacing" and benchmarking trajectories.) Now that is progress. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Full-body pronunciation learning readiness

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In a recent post I alluded to the fact that karate masters develop the ability to bring their entire bodies into the act of punching. The EHIEP protocols, taken as a whole, exercise the whole body. (The Warm up protocol thoroughly engages at least the upper body.) I am often asked if there are not some learners or instructors who do not feel comfortable doing these kinds of kinaesthetic and haptic activities. If not carefully introduced to the process and "warmed up" properly, there are, indeed, those who have difficulty just moving their arms along with the videos, let alone their entire bodies. I have over the years been especially interested in talking to those people. Some have learning disabilities, some are ambidextrous, some seem just very introverted. One of my standard questions for one of them is always, "Do you do yoga or some kind of full-body physical exercise that involves extensive, formal body awareness?" I don't recall meeting more than a handful who answer in the affirmative. At the other end of the continuum, often those who seem especially good at learning the system--have done yoga or something similar, even some types of full-body weight training or aerobics, where they had to develop close, conscious monitoring of muscle position and elasticity. The key, ironically, is often that conscious attention to movement that develops. One of my favorite yoga instructors is Denise Austin, not just because she is very polished and easy to follow but because of her superb use of instructional/pedagogical language in directing students attention to where in their bodies they should have some kind of operational "felt sense." I'm absolutely certain that if I began class with the linked, 15-minute full-body yoga routine that students' performance in class in acquiring pronunciation would go right off the charts. Likewise, some treatment of that type might even set up an interesting empirical test of aptitude in haptic-integration or kinaesthetic pronunciation work. If you don't have time for that, at least do it yourself three or four times. (Caveat emptor: extremely addictive!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Postmodern pronunciation practice . . . as therapy

The "clinical" in "Haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation" is key to understanding the focus and methodology of EHIEP (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation)--and much of what passes as pronunciation instruction in general. The central focus of Scott's 2007 article, Teaching as Therapy, is the postmodern replacement of the "moral" in education with "emotion," in part realized in the "hyper-individualization" of contemporary Western culture:

"Contemporary approaches to teaching (‘constructivism’), then, are not necessarily an educational cause to celebrate, or indeed the ‘reform’ that the dominant rhetoric paints them to be. Rather they are a remaking of education and schooling to match the ideals of the postmodernist (hyper-individualist) era, which, it would seem are neither better nor worse than what went before, merely different . . . the pain and uncertainty of the postmodernist project of self creation, with its heavy and inescapable burden of responsibility, goes a good way to explaining why ‘constructivist’ approaches are resisted by students. Sensibly, it would seem that they prefer to leave the responsibility with their teachers rather than to risk being found inadequate for the task of constructing themselves and their learning."

That we must now "manage" emotion in teaching is, as Scott later notes, both inevitable and predictable. But the degree to which we are actively involved in assisting students in "the task of constructing themselves and their learning" is the question--especially the latter. The EHIEP system does, from that perspective, depart from radical constructivism, exerting extensive and direct control over early pronunciation learning, including responsibility for moment-by-moment classroom instruction. 

Great, Scott! I feel better already . . . 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Need a little more "punch" in your pronunciation teaching?

One of the techniques taught in the EHIEP system involves a sparring action, much like a boxer shadow boxing. It has been alluded to in previous blogs, from various perspectives. Its basic function is to help learners experience and develop more compact, conversational speaking style. Of all the techniques it is unquestionably the "fastest acting" in affecting rate of speech and general "packaging" of rhythm groups. It not only results in more "processing" time on either end of each group of syllables, but, more importantly, it seems to engage the entire body in the process and felt sense of English rhythm. A study by researchers at  Imperial College London and University College London of how karate masters produce such powerful "punches" may also suggest something of why the "Rhythm Fight Club" (Linked is the pair-training version) works as it does. What fMRI analysis of the structure of the "masters" brains when they were in "punch" mode revealed was this:

"The karate black belts were able to repeatedly coordinate their punching action with a level of coordination that novices can't produce. We think that ability might be related to fine tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately."

This gives new meaning to the concept of "mastering" a grammatical or phonological pattern. Trust me. This IS worth fighting over!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pronunciation feedback: KISS errors goodbye . . .


There are literally dozens of posts on this blog relating to error correction in pronunciation work, including this one from 2011. The research literature, in general, does not find strong support for systematic error correction, although all methodologists maintain, correctly, that it is essential at some levels in the process. Where and when is always the question. This research, by Osman and colleagues, focuses on the potential negative effects of feedback in a somewhat different domain: " . . . about 100 people . . . were given the task of choosing how best to either predict or control the state of health of a baby, revealing that feedback can play a negative role in a particularly complex decision-making scenario . . .  how complex the task is in the first place  . . . will determine how much feedback will actually interfere with rather than facilitate performance." What is interesting about this perspective is that it helps pull apart relatively "simple" (KISS=Keep it simple for students!) error correction of pronunciation from more general, complex and  "constructive" feedback on grammar, vocabulary or usage, discourse structure, etc. In other words, there are probably at least a half a dozen distinct responses to "errors" in the classroom. Some will substantially interfere with communication, some have a chance of being "uptaken" or at least registering with the learner at some level, and some don't. Pronunciation feedback, especially that focusing momentarily on pronunciation at the word and phrase level--and haptically integrated and anchored, of course-- works. Correct me if I'm wrong . . . 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting to "Ah . . . " Pronunciation warm up--Olympic style!

Credit: Marco Paköeningrat/Creative Commons
Most vocal warm ups at some point include a maximal stretching and opening of the mouth into something like a wide-open "Ah . . . ," generally accompanied by an expansive gesture such as thrusting out the chest and throwing back the head a bit. As long as you work your way up to it gradually, most learners will come along with you and at least give it a try. In warming up the class for pronunciation or general spontaneous speaking work, getting to "Ah . . . " is a not a bad benchmark. I was delighted, thanks to the media coverage of the Olympics,  to see that it is now universally interpreted as signifying 'victory!' I am proud to say that of the several warm ups I use, all generally conclude with a "Michael Phelps-like" low or back central  vowel and pedagogical movement pattern not all that different from that pictured to the left. (If you haven't seen the 2009 ETS video I did, it is here. Caveat emptor, of course!) Yes!!!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The "feel good" factor in pronunciation teaching: Multiple-modality uni-tasking vs multi-media multi-tasking

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Pronunciation instruction is not generally something one associates with good "vibrations,"or a felt sense that it is (almost) rewarding to even practice L2 target sounds--but it should be, of course! Had a student not long ago tell me that she felt like she was able to do pronunciation practice best--while working on her laptop with the TV on showing English-language (British) dramas, including Pride and Prejudice. I was naturally a bit skeptical at the time . . . however . . . Research Wang at Ohio State University, summarized by Science Daily, ends with this observation: "This is worrisome because students begin to feel like they need to have the TV on or they need to continually check their text messages or computer while they do their homework. It's not helping them, but they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it. It is critical that we carefully examine the long-term influence of media multitasking on how we perform on cognitive tasks." The same principle applies to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction: multiple-modality engagement does much to manage attention effectively, whereas multi-media multitasking, along with the typical, fragmented cognitive, affective and kinesthetic delivery of  instruction in the contemporary classroom, where the student's mind and attention can wander almost at will, probably does not. Most research on pronunciation effectiveness relies upon a major piece that is something like student satisfaction or how students "feltl" about the class and their achievement. (Pronunciation) "customers" may not always be right, no matter how emotionally or intellectually satisfying the lesson was. Even if it keeps them coming back for less.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Essentials of Haptic-Integrated Pronunciation Instruction all-day Workshop at TESOL 2013 in Dallas!

That'll be Tuesday,19 March 2013, 9 am-4 pm before the 2013 TESOL Conference begins (It is called a Pre-conference Institute), at the Dallas Convention Center, in fact. I'll be doing it with with Mike Burri, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Karen Rauser, University of British Columbia-Okanagan, and Brian Teaman, of Osaka Women's University, Not sure what the enrollment is limited to; the cost is something like $150, usually. (Well worth the fee, of course!) If you are interested in attending, let me know (wracton@gmail.com). If demand is a big as I think it'll be, I'll make sure we get a bigger room. (We could do the PCI with up to about 40 participants, given the current framework.) As mentioned earlier, after the PCI we'll locate a restaurant nearby for anybody who'd like to be present at the founding meeting of the International Association of Haptic-integrated Clinical Pronunciation Researchers (IAHICPR . . . pronounced: I, a hiccuper!). Looking forward to it! Keep in touch for more details.

Hehehe! (De-stressing with high front tense vowels!)

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
This should be enough to make you smile--or at least make your students smile . . . 2009 research by Kraft and Pressman, reported by Psychological Science, appears to demonstrate that even faking a smile can be de-stressing. In pronunciation work we often tell students to smile as they pronounce high, front tense vowels, like in "Hehehe!" or when attempting to make the distinction between 's' (as in see) and 'sh' (as in she), slightly rounding the lips on the latter. I'm not saying that that is the best way to fix and s/sh problem necessarily, but sometimes it is helpful. I have also used something similar when working on word-final velar nasals, as in 'ing'. In effect just activating the muscles of the face to look and feel like a smile "orders" the brain to feel better, less stressed, physiologically. For the native speaker, we generally think of facial expression as being driven by attitude or "feelings." For nonnative speakers--and actors--it often happens in the opposite direction, taking on the paralanguage of the other results (if only temporarily) in changes in attitude and personna. Even if you don't believe that is the case, at least smile when you say it. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The "truthiness" (or thereabouts) about haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
I have gotten several questions as to why I use clip art and the "left-pointing hand" on blogposts. Other than the obvious, just to "spiff" things up a bit, it turns out that those visuals actually reinforce the "truthiness" of the post.  Newman and colleagues, in research inspired by comedian Stephen Colbert, summarized in Science Daily, report that: "A picture inflates the perceived truth of true and false claims . . . In four different experiments they discovered that people believe claims are true, regardless of whether they actually are true, when a decorative photograph appears alongside the claim." Then, at the conclusion of the summary, in another one for your "Well, duh . . ." or "Ya think?" file, the authors are quoted as observing, "Our research suggests that these photos might have unintended consequences, leading people to accept information because of their feelings rather than the facts." Unintended consequences? I am almost tempted to go back and edit out all the graphics from the last two years--and then have you reread--or ignore many of them, just to check that theory. We could, alternatively, just go back to "pre-haptic-integrated" pronunciation teaching. As noted in several previous blogpost, haptic engagement has been shown believably to at least constrain the influence of visual "clutter" and interference with auditory and somatic anchoring, processing and retrieval. (And, as usual, ignore the hypnotically beautiful, engaging geisha over there to the left . . . or the finger off to the right pointing to the geisha on the left!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Attention! Malleable L2 pronunciation? Just keep at it!


Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Malleable pronunciation. I like that term, especially in relation to error correction and so-called fossilized language. (Have another blogpost about ready on that topic, too.) How's this for an intriguing conclusion to a 2012 study by McClelland and colleagues at Oregon State University, reported by Science Dailey: " . . . the study gives compelling evidence that social and behavioral skills, such as paying attention, following directions and completing a task may be even more crucial than academic abilities . . . " Attention and persistence. Two of my favorite topics here on the blog. Now, of course, the research was looking at the correlation between subjects who could pay attention as preschoolers and their later success in graduating from college, but there is a relevant implication here. They then add: " . . . the good news for parents and educators, the researchers said, is that attention and persistence skills are malleable and can be taught." And how do you do that in your work? For adults, of course, it is not only that it should be part of instruction--and many students DO indeed need to learn how to be better at both--but it must be a constant feature, moment by moment, in the classroom. Multiple modality instruction and clear targeting and anchoring do much to achieve the former; systematic instruction and carefully planned homework and practice outside of class help achieve the latter. You paying attention? 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The music of (haptic-integrated) pronunciation instruction

Here is a set of musical terms which I have been using for some time to characterize the range of mood, expressiveness, affective setting and felt sense of various aspects of haptic-integrated, pronunciation work:
  • abbandonatamente: free, relaxed
  • amabile: amiable, pleasant 
  • con moto: with motion
  • andante: at a walking pace; i.e., at a moderate tempo
  • piacevole: pleasant, agreeable
  • a piacere: at pleasure; i.e., need not follow the rhythm strictly
  • con anima: with feeling
  • con spirito: with spirit
  • liberamente: freely
  • deciso: decisively
  • energico: energetic, strong
  • enfatico: emphatically
  • espressivo: expressively
  • facile: easily, without fuss  
  • hervortretend: prominent, pronounced
  • legato: joined; i.e., smoothly, in a connected manner
  • leggiero, leggiermente or leggiadro: lightly, delicately
  • mezzo forte: half loudly; i.e., moderately loudly
  • mezzo piano: half softly; i.e., moderately softly
Taken together, that is provides a good impression of how the flow of HICP classroom instruction should be experienced. How might you label or describe in those terms your classroom pronunciation techniques and mood? Time to face the music?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ping Pong Pronunciation Practice

Clip art: Clker
Seeing the table tennis competition in the Olympics inspired me. On the "Inner game of table tennis" website is this characterization of "coaching questions": Coaching questions should compel an answer, focus attention more precisely and create feedback. Instruction does none of these. The coach, which I think is a very useful analogy sometimes to what goes on in clinical pronunciation work, has some other advice for perfecting your (haptic-integrated pronunciation) game:
  • Handle your racket like a pro. (Follow along with the model on the "haptic video" as closely as possible. Each of the techniques or protocols are first taught by a video model and then later used in class and homework practice.)
  • Perfect your reaction time. (Respond immediately when either repeating an utterance either out loud or to yourself, accompanied by the appropriate pedagogical movement patterns)
  • Increase your speed.(With the help of pedagogical movement patterns, speak faster, compressing words and space between syllables, but also providing more processing time at word-group boundaries.)
  • Engage your core. (Engage the whole body, including diaphragm and upper chest resonance)
  • Sharpen your serve. (All protocols promote upper torso fluidity and, confident, uncluttered delivery of speech.)
And, finally, this one from one of the NBC Olympic commentators quoting somebody's coach: "Confidence is that voice in your head (and that is coming out of you!) that tells you, You belong!" Could there be a better characterization of the felt sense of speaking an L2 well? 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A "critical hypersensitivity period" for pronunciation learning?

This may fall into the "Well, duh . . . " category of research findings. According to Steinberg of Temple University, Summarized by Science Daily, teenagers develop intellectually well before they do emotionally, experiencing an extended period of "hypersensitivity to immediate rewards," especially when hanging out with friends. Ya think? Actually, that is worth considering a bit in relation to pronunciation work, especially haptic-integrated pronunciation work. A couple of decades ago, the idea of the "critical period" in language learning, ending roughly with puberty, was seen as giving children an enormous advantage over adults. Subsequent research has very much moderated that view; adults learn in different ways but are still capable, given appropriate conditions, of very effective learning, even of sound systems. (It is interesting that most studies compared children with adults, not children with teenagers, nonetheless.) The Steinberg analysis suggests something of what the difference is, especially to the extent that emotional engagement--and management is critical to language learning. The same principle is very evident in haptic-integrated pronunciation work, as noted in previous posts: when movement and touch are involved, any affective or visual distraction from the target of instruction during the process of anchoring can be enormously disruptive. That is one of the reasons that the EHIEP system is carefully designed to avoid over-emotional responses and "dramatic" gesture and dialogue. Should you, too, constrain your use of highly enthusiastic, pronounced, motivational, over-the-top, out-of-control "cheer leading" and nervous giggling? Need to be a little more "hypersensitive-sensitive?"