Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Couch potato" pronunciation learning

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
So what if some students, for whatever reason, cannot or decide not to participate in your choral drills or (from a haptic perspective) "move" along with the model on the video or mirror your movements as you try to correct a mispronunciation? According to Science writer, Paul, that may not be as much of a problem as you might think. Apparently, your more passive learners, "couch potatoes" are capable of getting it, too--with a few conditions attached. Research cited by Paul suggests that it is helpful if they have previously been at least exposed to the movement pattern, even better if they have actually been through it physically in some manner. In addition, if they know what to expect or know what is coming, they may pick up more as well. (In one experiment just lying still during an fMRI, so their brain activity could be monitored, as they thought about a coming test on what they were to about to watch, showed both increased activity in related motor areas and enhanced retention of movement patterns later.) But then this final challenge to the more "unmoved":

"Lastly, Grafton of UC-Santa Barbara notes that as valuable as watching others can be, multiple studies have shown that “the benefit from learning by observing is never as strong as advantages derived from physical practice.' With apologies to the couch potatoes out there, sometimes you just need to get up and dance."

Of course, the irony here is that EHIEP uses video clips (the virtual breeding ground of couch potatoes) as the basis of instruction. Turns out that, if done right, the "medium" can indeed still be experienced as the  "massage," (and not just the message) as well!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The music of haptic pronunciation teaching

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The research on the impact of music on exercise is extensive. (The empirical evidence as to how music may influence general verbal learning, at least in laboratory studies, is not as clear cut, however.) A nice downloadable summary article by Foster, Pocari and Anders on the website cites one well known researcher in the field as follows:
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"Over the past 20 years of research, Karageorghis (London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education) has identified three primary things about music that could possibly influence exercise performance: 1) the tendency to move in time with synchronous sounds (e.g., tapping your toe in time with music or the beat of a drum); 2) the tendency of music to increase arousal (e.g., the desire to move rather than to sit); and 3) the tendency for music to distract the exerciser from discomfort that might be related to exercise."

In developing the EHIEP system over the years I have used music from various perspectives. Recent research I have reviewed, such as that noted above, has convinced me to go back to a more systematic use of both background and movement-synchronized tracks with most of the training. One problem has been either creating or finding commercially available tracks that fit both the mood and time structure of the instruction. Now have that figured out. Am creating new (garage band-like) tracks to accompany all videos. In some cases, you can still use pop, country or rock songs, or at least the performance track without lyrics.  By popular demand--and just to give you a sense of the "mood" of the practice videos, here a few links that "work": Warm up, Matrix anchoring, Vowels (review only), TaiChi fluency, and Conversational Rhythm Fight Club.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Confident, "power" pronunciation: in 2 minutes?

Photo credit:
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Here is a 21-minute TED talk by Amy Cuddy well worth watching, "Your body language shapes who you are"--for several reasons. First, at a superficial level it seems to agree with Lessac's "Train the body first" dictum. Second, it is another example of "discovering" biochemical and neurophysiological correlates to body state changes that impact emotional or cognitive performance. Third, it is also wonderfully ethnocentric, egocentric and culturally suspect. What professor Cuddy is recommending is basically (based on what appears to be a solid, experimental, laboratory study): striking and holding a "powerful" pose for 2-minutes to both feel more like an Alpha-fe/male and at the same time boost your power-hormone, testosterone--before going into that meeting where you need to be . . . well . . .more confident and in control.

We know from past research (and this blogpost or that one) that such procedures "work" in some settings. Lessac's system involves any number of body and voice awareness and re-orientation techniques that gradually and systematically change the "vocal life" of the student. As part of a (haptic) integrated method, there is some sense in that. But listen carefully to how Cuddy contextualizes her personal experience to persuasively situate her suggestion that you simply "power up" your posture using the same experimental protocol as in her research. (Any time you see the qualifier "power" before the name of a therapy, technique or training system, step back for 2 minutes, take a deep breath and approach with extreme caution.) Given the cultures, emerging identities (and genders) in your language/pronunciation class, how would that play? Caveat emptor . . . 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sound mirroring of pronunciation: Trick or treat?

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In keeping with the spirit of the season, how about this title of a summary from Science Magazine Why creepy people give us chills! of research by Leander and colleagues at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Because mirroring of pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) is central to EHIEP training, insight into what influences learner response (i) when they are mirroring video models or (ii) where they mirror a "live" instructor--or (iii) where they, themselves, are mirrored during correction of pronunciation--is very important.

Quoting Finkel of Northwestern University, "The study . . . effectively combines several hot research topics, from behavioral mimicry to embodied cognition, the idea that humans can feel their emotions in very physical ways." One key (not surprising) finding was that, " . . . people who fail to appropriately imitate the mannerisms of others during social interactions can actually make their peers feel colder—" Without going into the details of the experiment, in one condition, subjects actually DID report feeling colder, literally!

Now not that any instructor doing haptic-integrated work even could be un-empathetic, the subtle impact of mirroring (effective or ineffective) has been the subject of several earlier posts. One of the principles that has emerged --as strange as it may sound--is that having students mirror a video in initial training is generally preferable. (That can be a simple video created by the instructor, his or herself--or later one that we'll be making publicly available.) Likewise, subsequent use of mirroring of PMPs in correction must be done appropriately as well. It is a cool (but not creepy), good trick that almost always treats the problem efficiently! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Connecting reading to pronunciation

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Fascinating study of the neurological correlates of literacy in children by Yeatman and colleagues at Stanford, summarized by Scientific American, "Brain connectivity predicts reading skills." The basic finding was that changes in the "white matter" connective tissues in the brain help explain individual differences in development of reading ability. Note how that happens:

" Differences in the growth of both tracts (the arcuate fasciculus, which conects the brain's language centres, and the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, which links the language centres with the parts of the brain that process visual information) could predict the variations in reading ability. Strong readers started off with a weak signal in both tracts on the left side of the brain, which got stronger over the three years. Weaker readers exhibited the opposite pattern . . . Both processes are influenced by experience — underused nerve fibres are pruned, whereas others are myelinated — so they occur at different rates and times in different people."
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The researchers go on to propose that " . . . individual children might benefit from reading lessons that are tailored to their patterns of brain development." Research on the underpinnings of the process and pedagogy of L2 phonological system development seems to point to a common "thread," if you will: relative connectivity of language-related brain centers. By extension, L2 learners also "benefit" from a pedagogical system that involves multiple-modalities and multi-senses. Does your pronunciation method need a touch of pruning or myelination? It does . . . 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Haptic entrainment: Why haptic works 2

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
May do a series of research updates on "Why haptic works!" Following up on the previous one relating to Grapheme-phoneme linkage, here is another connection. Research by Matthews, Beckman, Fabiani and Gratton of the University of Illinois, reported by Science Daily, has demonstrated that those subjects showing stronger "alpha" brain waves tend to be better at learning how to play a new video game. Alpha wave states have been associated with a wide range of behaviours and dispositions. Another way to modulate alpha wave intensity is through "entrainment," using various kinds of meditative or haptic-based body movement exercises. The pedagogical movement patterns, accompanied by vocal production, of the EHIEP system qualify as entrainment. Although I have not verified that, the impact on alpha wave frequency with fMRIs on students, the effect on general concentration, relaxed composure and attention is always evident and consistent. In fact, haptic-integration and anchoring is often so enjoyable that we should perhaps coin a new term for it: "ENTERTRAINMENT!" 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ERN more with self-esteem; correct more (pronunciation) errors!

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Clip art: Clker

Interesting study by Legault and colleagues of Clarkson University, summarized by Science Daily, which looked at the effect of self-affirmation on responding to errors or mistakes. Self-affirmation was operationalized by having subjects rank their top six personal values and then write a 5-minute mini-essay on the top one. In a subsequent experimental task they proved to be better at correcting errors than the control group. Now having students do something like that every class is probably not feasible but the underlying principle is worth considering. Self-affirmative thought, according to the researchers, activates a neurological response termed "error-related negativity"(ERN)--which, in turn makes one more alert to errors and, apparently, better able to respond to them. In this case, with attention just having been focused on "higher" values, the "negative" reaction proves beneficial. The importance of insuring that learners' attention is continually brought back, if only temporarily, to the tangible progress that they have made--and where they are headed--is almost a given in the field. How that works and how to nurture it consistently (and haptically!) has remained something of a mystery. Until now. But we are l-ERNing . . . 

EHIEP Asia (Anchors, the way!) Spring "Tour" lite!

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I will be coming to Japan, Korea and China, between early February and mid-March, 2013. Am in the process of setting up half and full day training workshops in several places to introduce the EHIEP system. Those can be for instructors, or instructors and students together. They will be relatively low cost, open to a wide range of English teaching professionals. The main objective is to get out the word on the web-availability of the EHIEP program. Will get the schedule out next month. If you do know of any other organizations or venues where that might work, let me know, as soon as possible! (If you can join me in carrying out a workshop, even better, of course!)

Sound-grapheme nexus: why 'haptic' works!

The research on why haptic integration in pronunciation work should facilitate encoding and recall is substantial. A good example is the study of learning sounds related to a set of Japanese characters, by Gentaz and colleagues at the Université de Savoie, summarized by Science Daily. Their conclusion: "When visual stimuli can be explored both visually and by touch, adults learn arbitrary associations between auditory and visual stimuli more efficiently." The same team had earlier done similar research with children as beginning readers. Earlier posts have also examined the intervening variables that may compromise that effectiveness, such as other visual or auditory clutter, imprecise haptic anchoring and certain types of repeated touch which in effect cancels out earlier anchoring. Haptic-integration in EHIEP work is, of course, not a "no-brainer" but it is a very powerful and "hand-eye" tool!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Explaining the EHIEP 'haptic' system to students and colleagues

As promised, here is an updated, basic set of "elevator talking points" for introducing Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation (EHIEP):

  • It's a new "haptic video" system used in ESL and EFL for teaching English pronunciation, based on extensive research in several fields and has been thoroughly classroom tested. 
  • It is designed for instructors with little or no training in pronunciation teaching. For less experienced instructors, all basic instruction can be done by the instructor on the video. (Teachers and students can learn together.) 
  • EHIEP uses rhythm, movement and touch along with the "aerobic-like" videos. Students move along with the model on the video as they speak and practice. 
  • "Haptic-integrated" means using movement, and especially touch, to improve a student's ability to learn a new sound, remember it and recall it later. Haptic techniques are especially good for helping students more quickly learn to use what they have studied in class. 
  • Any teacher can use it, can "outsource" initial pronunciation training and then follow up later using those techniques in tutoring or typical speaking and listening lessons. 
  • It is based on a standard, simplified, “essential” set of pronunciation objectives.
  • It is relatively inexpensive and easy to use. It requires only a good dictionary and a laptop, LDC projector or iPhone-like handheld device. 
  • It is composed of: 
    • 10, 20~30-minute teaching modules (best done one per week)
    • 12, optional 5-minute consonant teaching mini-modules 
    • 3 optional 15-minute homework mini-modules with each of the 8 modules. (Total of 24 mini-modules)  
  • It is designed to work in classes of up to 50 students of any proficiency level, teenage and older. Here is a link to a video of an introduction I did for a class taught by a friend recently. One of the key objectives of the course is vocabulary so I emphasize that somewhat. Not exactly professional grade video or production, but you'll get the idea! 
  • Excerpts from some of the more recent videos have been linked in previous blogposts. The entire system will be available online in late Spring 2013 and introduced through workshops in various countries and at the TESOL Convention in Dallas (along with the organizational meeting of HICPR at the convention.) The "hard media" set of videos will be available about that time as well. 
  • In the interim, if you are interested in field testing a module in your class, get "in touch!." (

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mimic movement and pronunciation? Not always your cup of coffee!

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Clip art: Clker
That's right. Observed a great example of that recently at a conference. According to research by Ondobaka, de Lange, Wiemers, and Bekkering of University of Nijmegen, and Newman-Norlund of the University of South Carolina, summarized by Science Daily, it only works if your students have the same goals that you do: "If you and I both want to drink coffee, it would be good for me to synchronize my movement with yours  . . . but if you're going for a walk and I need coffee, it wouldn't make sense to be coupled on this movement level." Hmm. I can see where not being "coupled" might not facilitate a walk, but how about the impact of the same effect in pronunciation instruction, especially kinaesthetic or haptic-integrated work?

Previous blogposts have looked at a range of factors that may affect effectiveness of mirroring of pedagogical movement patterns, from personality, cognitive preferences and clutter in the visual field, to lack of achievable objectives. Orienting learners (and instructors) to why they should consistently "dance along with" the EHIEP  model on the video--or even the usual practice of mirroring videotaped conversations for fluency, is critical.

As one participant at our workshop commented, "This stuff is paradigm shifting!" (A common response, of course!)  Another participant, however, one who came in late and missed hearing the theory and "goals" of the workshop and left early, had a very different take. Later he told me apologetically--in part by his clearly unambiguous, uncoupled paralanguage over coffee--that it made "absolutely no sense, whatsoever" to him without "getting it all," up front. Q.E.D. (quod erat (non) demonstrandum), so to speak!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Navigating, resetting and remapping pronunciation change

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Clip art: Clker
When is a pronunciation "error" or mis-speak so serious that it interferes the developing L2 interlanguage model in the learner's  brain? Some early Behaviorists' models would have (and may still) predict(ed) that avoiding errors of almost any kind is critical. Contemporary theorists and methodologists see that differently, for a number of reasons. When it comes to spatial navigation "errors," (at least in rat brains) research by Valerio and Taube of Dartmouth College summarized by Science Daily suggests that there is a discernable threshold in that regard:

"When the animal makes a small error and misses the target by a little, the cells will reset to their original setting, fixing on landmarks it can identify in its landscape. "We concluded that this was an active behavioural correction process, an adjustment in performance," Taube says. "However, if the animal becomes disoriented and makes a large error in its quest for home, it will construct an entirely new cognitive map with a permanent shift in the directional firing pattern of the head direction cells." This is the "remapping.'"

In haptic-integrated work, coordination of sounds and pedagogical movement patterns is central to the methodology. Numerous blogposts have made that connection, especially as it contributes to how well learners of different cognitive preferences (e.g., visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or tactile) relate to the EHIEP system. We have repeatedly seen an effect analogous to what is described by Valerio and Taube: For some, if the visual model on the screen which learners are moving along with deviates "substantially" from their perspective from the anticipated, regular point in the visual field, they quickly become very frustrated and report that they seem to lose that "node" at least temporarily. Minor deviations, like allophonic variations are ok. 

In this case, to paraphrase Bateson, a difference that (does) make a difference--does make a difference. Rats . . . 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Confident, successful pronunciation?

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Yet another potential piece for your "Well . . . duh!" file. The term "self confidence" and "pronunciation" are commonly associated, getting over 1,000,000 hits on Google . . . For example, in this introduction to a short piece by Shelly Vernon, the website begins like this: "Do you avoid teaching pronunciation in your classroom? In this article, Shelley Vernon suggests going right back to the level of the phoneme to build learners' confidence." (Bold face, mine.) Now although implying it perhaps, Vernon never actually says that explicitly in the article. I do like that point of departure, nonetheless.

In a research report, entitled "Minority Report" about to be published (with apologies to the real Minority Report, one of my favorite movies), however, one of the findings may relate to the impact of confidence "on the job" --seemingly supporting Vernon's perspective. In a Science Daily summary, Hasmath and colleagues at the University of Melbourne report " . . . a strong correlation between confidence and occupational success." There are several other tidbits included such as one referring back to earlier studies suggesting height and attractiveness may also contribute to confidence or

 " . . . that workers who described themselves as 'extroverted', 'neurotic', 'open to experiences' or 'agreeable' (standard indicators of conscientiousness) were also found to be more motivated, and doing well professionally." And then the pies de resistance: "Interestingly, members of visible ethnic minorities reported lower rates of confidence, but similar levels of conscientiousness . . . This may partially explain why their wages and rates of advancement are consistently lower than members of a non-visible ethnic minority."

Where to begin . . . psychotherapy, obedience training, elevator shoes, cosmetics or phonemes? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Four "Haptic" sessions at TESOL 2013 in Dallas

Image: TESOL 2013
If you are going to be at TESOL 2013, join us at one of following EHIEP-based presentations:
  • Teaching Basic English Intonation by Non-native English Speaking Teachers Workshop, by Richmond Donkor, Shine Hong, Moses Lam, Nori Takatsu and Yuyue Zeng (These five will all be graduates of the MATESOL program at Trinity Western University by then!) 
  • Anchoring Academic Word List Vocabulary: One Touch at a Time, by Mike Burri, Nate Kielstra and Bill Acton (This one is our first workshop that explicitly addresses using haptic-integrated anchoring with vocabulary.)
  • Essentials of Haptic (Kinaesthetic+Tactile)-Integrated Pronunciation Instruction, Pre-conference Institute, by Mike Burri, Brian Teaman, Karen Rauser, Amanda Baker, Nate Kielstra and Bill Acton (This day-long PCI on Tuesday provides "basic training" in the EHIEP system.)
  • TESOL 2013 Breakfast with TESOL’s Notable Experts: Haptic-integrated (using movement and touch) pronunciation teaching, with Bill Acton (Need to work on this one some to justify asking anybody to pay $45 for a "touching and moving"  hour or so around the breakfast table!) 
As noted earlier, we will also have our founding meeting of IAHICPR (International Association of Haptic-integrated Clinical Pronunciation Researchers) sometime at the convention. (May also have a booth or part of a booth in the exhibition area if the complete haptic video packages are ready by then.) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Effortless," fluent English speaking--even without conversation?

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Wow. Once in a while you stumble on a commercial English teaching website where the claims are almost breathtaking. Here is one. There is 2-minute video by the creator of the program that is worth watching, if only to see the model of "effortless" English that he uses in pitching his stuff in the form of the promise of 7 rules and related materials which you can get for about $97--and to contrast that with what McCarthy is saying, as reported in the previous blogpost. The contrast is striking, to put it mildly. The "effortless English" system, like so many approaches to speaking fluency (as opposed to other aspects of communicative competence), is based on the concept of individual practice in private, without reference to how fluency, as characterized by McCarthy, is developed in conversational interaction.

There was a time when that, the "public speaking" approach, was the industry standard. No longer. There are, indeed, aspects of the experience of speaking a new language which appear to be "effortless." Most, however, are related to the felt sense of using what is known, not learning what to use. It is, of couse, possible to train to "speak" fluently, colourfully and rapidly--and still be utterly incapable of communicating interpersonally with the rest of us out here. ( I'm sure you know a native speaker who fits that category.) The antidote: something like attending skills. At least for the time being, there is no good substitute for f2f, or something very close to it, for developing genuine fluency. Now that's not hard to understand, is it? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spoken fluency rides again . . . in conversation, that is!

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Clip art: Clker
Excellent plenary at the 2012 TESL Canada conference by Michael McCarthy entitled, "Spoken fluency revisited." The focus was " Most researchers agree that fluency involves smooth, automatic production. However, evidence from spoken corpora suggests that fluency in dialogue also involves attention to the linking of speaking turns to create mutual ‘flow’." By that he meant that corpus work reveals, in part, evidence of the words that serve to link one conversational turn with another, creating the sense of connectedness, coherence and most importantly: fluency. He didn't suggest how to teach those terms were to be taught, however. Haptically speaking, we have some ideas on how. Two in particular: attending skills (see previous post) which is not explicitly haptic but can be, and what we call the TaiChi fluency protocol--which is. (It does not use genuine TaiChi moves, but embodies the flowing, fluent felt sense of the real thing.) Combining McCarthy's set of conversational discourse markers (words or fixed phrases at or near the beginning of each turn in the dialogue below) with that gentle sweeping motion, up and down, where the hands touch on marked syllables, we get something like the following:

A: What is the Taichi protocol?
B: Actually, it is very easy.
A: Really? How do you do it.
B: Glad you asked . . .
A: Ok. Can you demonstrate?
B: Delighted to . . . like this . . .
A: Y'know, that looks familiar
B: Right! Here's another example . . .
A: Got it. Very cool . . .

Try that in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n for starters. Do you follow

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In your ears!!! (Not for accurate sound discrimination!)

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Clip art: Clker
Have long recommended that learners NOT use headsets when working on pedagogical movement patterns--and also go easy on that practice in general sound discrimination work. (For one thing their arms get tangled up in the cords!) Now there is an empirical study that adds a little support to that principle. As reported in Science Daily, Okamoto and Kakigi of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Japan, along with Pantev and Teismann from the University of Muenster, have demonstrated that listening to loud music with mini earphones may have a detrimental effect on ability to make fine judgements on sound discrimination. Although the "damage" was not detectable using standard hearing tests, the effect was striking with their more sensitive instrumentation. They termed the effect one of losing perception of "vividness" in contrast. The impact would then be even more "pronounced" with a learner that does not have good sound discrimination ability in the first place--especially one who plays his or her mp3 player at levels well beyond "vivid!" On the other hand, the learner may be cranking up the volume to compensate for lack of perceived vividness--especially men with typical loss of high frequency response with age. So, help students learn to carefully manage the volume of their recorded pronunciation practice and the rest of their mp3-ing. Sound advice. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Making scents of haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching

Image: Mary Kay Cosmetics

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As noted in an earlier blogpost, I have discovered that having students rub in a little "Mary Kay - Mint Bliss" into their hands before we start seems to jump start things well. Now we have some evidence as to why that may work. In research summarized by Science Daily, Yeshurun, Lapid, Dudai, and Sobel, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, report on the impact of associating a scent with a visual schema of some kind. What they discovered was that one's "first encounter" with a scent in that context persists strongly, even when other scents are later experienced in the same context. As learners tell me, the "message" of Mint Bliss is something like: stimulating, relaxing and energizing--not far off from what it says on the tube, in fact! (Yesterday, in fact, in the bag of free "goodies" at the TESL Canada conference was a little bottle of Aveda's " Botanical Kinetics" hand lotion.) Specifically, the impact of creating that kind of initial impression of what haptic-integrating is about can be striking and memorable, one that does seem to persist as the new research suggests. Does that make scents--something that you should consider when you "rub your hands together" in anticipation of pronunciation work? 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Advice on pronunciation teaching: What do you expect?

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According to Warrington of Asia University, asking questions in a class discussion such as '“What do you need to learn in this class?” and “Why do you need to learn that?” offers an avenue for adult learners to express their preferences and desires about the kind of language they want to learn and how it is relevant to their lives."' Ever done that? If you have--and were satisfied that you had accomplished something--you might want to rethink that, according to research by Liu of UCSD and GAL of Northwestern. What they found was ""Stating expectations tended to make consumers focus on themselves and their own needs, and . . . (as a consequence) created a sense of distance between the participant and the organization . . . " Soliciting advice, on the other hand, " . . . tends to have an intimacy effect whereby the individual feels closer to the organization,"

So how do you achieve the right balance between setting up (often unrealistic) learner expectations and doing an effective needs analysis that serves the real needs of both you and your students? In pronunciation work that can be especially problematic because just conceptualizing what the learner's problems are is difficult enough for the instructor, let alone the learners.

If you must carry on that kind of dialogue involving pronunciation--and I generally do not recommend it--one of the better ways is to manage it in the appropriate channel: personal, pronunciation journals, not general class discussions. On the other hand, asking students for their ongoing input on how things are going and advice on how you could improve use of class time in a confidential format, based on clearly stated goals and objectives for the course,  can be enormously helpful, if done right, where expectations for that kind of openness and candor are invited and well established. So what do you expect? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Putting a little more muscle in your (pronunciation) teaching

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Clip art: Clker
Every body builder knows that increasing muscle mass requires moving more iron or the equivalent. Turns out, the same principle applies in the brain when learning--in this case, language. In a study by Mårtensson and colleagues at Lund University (summarized by Science Daily) it was shown that in learning a language something analogous happens: certain areas increase more in size, depending on how efficiently the learner acquired the language:

"Students with greater growth (increase in mass) in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning (superior temporal gyrus) had better language skills than the other students. In students who had to put more effort into their learning, greater growth was seen in an area of the motor region of the cerebral cortex (middle frontal gyrus)." (Bold face, mine.) 

In other words, some subjects, probably your average learners, relied upon more motor or tactile/kinaesthetic engagement in the process, whereas the "gifted" appeared able to learn in a more visual/auditory mode, where experiential, oral practice may not have been as critical to success. We all know someone like that, who seems to be able to either read or listen to new language material and almost as if by magic is able to use it immediately in speaking, understanding or writing. They simply have "superior temporal gyrus(es)!" Unfortunate "motor-mortals" like myself  depend more on our "middle frontal gyrus(es)". So much for the myth that learning a language better just requires more hard work. More haptic-integration for the rest of us may help, however . . .

Monday, October 8, 2012

Better online? Video modelling for line dancing and pronunciation

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Clip art: Clker
Video modelling is used extensively in many education and training contexts. The previous post sketched out reasons for using a video model to teach EHIEP techniques, rather than doing it yourself, "in person." (Even a video model of yourself on the screen is generally  better than you "live!" You can also, of course, get training videos from the "EHIEP Store" when it opens in Spring 2013!) For a number of reasons, the use of that procedure is also highly effective with autism. (See this summary by Twyman on "Autism Community" blog of a recent dissertation,  "The Use of Video Prompting on the Acquisition, Maintenance, and Generalization of a Line Dance by Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders," by Gies at Ohio State University. In that study, the basic protocol was structured as follows:

a. View video segment   AND   b. Attempt to imitate
c. Error correction   AND   d. Reinforcement
e. Maintenance checks   AND   f. Generalization checks

Those phases could as well describe an EHIEP training protocol and follow up. (a) and (b) represent the initial introduction and training of a technique on video. (c) and (d) happen when a target sound is either presented or corrected in class. (e) is generally done as homework; (f) represents the (inevitable) recognition of change by either instructor or student. Notice "b" -- attempt to imitate. That is for many about all it takes, not mastery of the pedagogical movement patterns or the target sound initially. Don't take my word for it.  Ask Brad Paisley

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hearts and hand grenades: Why students must like you using movement in pronunciation teaching!

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Clip art: Clker
Now here is a very interesting, relevant study. According to Aziz-Zadeh and colleagues at USC, (Summarized by Science Daily, of course!) if your students like you, they will be more likely to mirror your movements more accurately--and enjoy doing it. Not only will they be able to "lock on" better, they will perceive your actions to be relatively faster than were they to like you "less." There have been studies demonstrating the impact of attitude toward the speaker on perception of message, etc. for decades, but this one demonstrates how that happens, how it affects the observer's response.

This "I like the way you move, there!" effect is, in part, behind the use of video as the "lead instructor" in EHIEP work. Learners are initially oriented to and trained in the protocols (sets of procedures that teach one or more techniques that can be used in the classroom or for independent study) in short, aerobic-training-like videos. (Currently, I am the model, but we will replace me before long!)  Getting to that strategy took over a decade of experience with training ESL/EFL teachers in how to do selected techniques themselves in front of the class. What we discovered was that most trainees could learn to do the techniques easily but the results when they took them back to the classroom were mixed, at best. Once the entire system was in place we could begin to see why a particular strategy did or did not work.

One thing became obvious: the relationship between the instrutor and learner was crucial, from several  perspectives. Having someone mirror your movements is, in many respects--as reported in previous blog posts--analogous to requiring better rapport and empathy, obviously something many students may not buy into! Ironically, why a technique didn't seem to work could be due to lack of "liking" or excessive "liking." Either one. Going in the opposite direction from the USC research, if you are "too close" to a student or students in front of you not only can it cause you to look at them too often but it can also easily disrupt your ability to execute and monitor the pedagogical movement patterns in play.

The solution: have a video model do the critical initial training--and then the instructor and students can use the PMP as necessary in presenting, correcting, monitoring and recalling a sound or word or phrase with a "repaired" sound in it. You're gonna like EHIEP (or the instructional videos your create yourself, even of yourself)--so will your students. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Total recall: haptic anchoring and integration vs cross-modal reinforcement of pronunciation

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
There are an almost infinite number of ways to create heuristics to assist learners in attending to and remembering sounds. For a good overview of suggestions as to how that works in different modalities in teaching phonetics and pronunciation, see this 2011 summary by Wrembel and Mickiewicz  of the University of Poznan. From that perspective, in EHIEP there are half a dozen or so modalities involved: sound, movement, touch, positioning in the visual field (which includes associated colours), sensations of resonance in the bones, muscles and flesh of the vocal tract--even olfaction in the form of aromatic hand creams, or "taste" with mint breath strips in some cases. It is one thing to anchor a sound using a color or phonaesthetic word association or gesture in teaching a sound, as in phonetics, yet quite another to systematically integrate that into classroom instruction. In other words, "cross-modal" reinforcement (linking sound to some other sense) makes very good sense but it just the beginning. That association has to be both balanced appropriately, so that one does not cancel the other modalities (an important issue - See previous posts) and scaffolded in over time. In EHIEP, the "haptic anchoring" (a convenient short cut for full-body, multi-modal engagement) is employed in class or in personal practice regularly, whenever required,  for presentation, correction, practice or integration . . .  total (sensory) recall!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pronunciation more than communication?

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In yet another study for your "Well . . . duh . . . straw man" file, (Summarized by Science Daily) Trofimovich of Concordia University and Isaacs of the University of Bristol report on a study based on what they term 'comprehensibility': "Understanding accents: Effective communication is about more than simply pronunciation." That question has been the subject of research for decades. That it should be "news" in the popular science press still should not be surprising. Comprehensibility is partially defined, at least in the summary, as simply " . . . linked to vocabulary and grammar." But to what extent is pronunciation just "accent", what is potentially problematic for the listener? The socio-political strategy of educating the public to learn to attend less to accent in some contexts is absolutely valid. But equating or trying to parse the two terms in that manner is a mistake, in a couple of senses. First, as any Linguistics 100 student knows, pronunciation is at least a morpho-phonemic (grammar + phonology) problem. A mispronounced segmental can cause a grammatical ending to "disappear." Conversely, a syntactic breakdown may impact very directly the intonation of the constituent structure. In addition, calling attention to grammar may bring with it even more inherent bias. Second, and more importantly for our work, pronunciation is, indeed, more than just interpersonal communication in how it is experienced by the speaker and the effect that just the act of speaking has on the speaker. For example, resonant, rich, (haptic-integrated) strong pronunciation can have a very positive effect in itself, on both the speaker's state of mind and sense of identity, "intra-personal" communication of a sort, the essence of embodiment.--which in term affects one's attitude toward one's accent. A "pronounced" difference, to be sure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In praise of (my) pronunciation teaching!

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Clip art: Clker
According to research by Harzer and Ruch at the University of Zurich (summarized, as usual by Science Daily) your satisfaction with your work is strongly correlated with the fit between your character strengths, " . .  . defined as traits that are evaluated as morally positive, such as self-control, teamwork or kindness"-- and your ongoing experience in the classroom. Most people, according to Harzer and Ruch, tend to have at least 3 or 4 identifiable, dominant character strengths. So pick your top half dozen or so from those used in the research and then see how well they fit what you get paid for. According to the study, if you have 4 or more strong matches, you enjoy what you do:

Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love of learning, Perspective, Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest, Love, Kindness, Social intelligence, Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership, Forgiveness, Modesty, Prudence, Self-regulation, Beauty, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Religiousness 

There are, of course, some of those "strengths" that appear to fit better with effective, haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching (e.g., creative, curious, love-of-learning, self-regulating and persevering, zestful, "socially intelligent.") Having fun yet? If not, there is still . . . hope!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Haptic bonding: connecting new or modified L2 pronunciation back to visual images of words or graphemes

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Haptic bonding! I love that term! It has been common practice with children to use tactile engagement in working with pre-reading, helping them link the sounds with graphemes. The same ideas have been applied widely in rehabilitation as well but the underlying mechanisms involved have not been well understood. In a fascinating-- and very relevant--study by Gentaz and colleagues at the Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neurocognition in Grenoble (CNRS/Université Pierre Mendès France de Grenoble/Université de Savoie), Learning of Arbitrary Association between Visual and Auditory Novel Stimuli in Adults: The “Bond Effect” of Haptic Exploration, summarized by Science Daily, it was demonstrated that " . . . When visual stimuli can be explored both visually and by touch, adults learn arbitrary associations between auditory and visual stimuli more efficiently." And there you have it!