Monday, March 23, 2015

The posture of (haptic pronunciation) teaching and learning

Especially if you are new to language learning--or a robot, here is fascinating study by Morse, Benitez, Belpaeme, Cangelosi, and Smith of Indiana university, "Posture Affects How Robots and Infants Map Words to Objects," summarized by ScienceDaily (See full citation below).

Basically what the research demonstrates is the role of body attitude (or orientation) in space in name and concept learning. From the summary:

"Using both robots and infants, researchers examined the role bodily position played in the brain's ability to "map" names to objects. They found that consistency of the body's posture and spatial relationship to an object as an object's name was shown and spoken aloud were critical to successfully connecting the name to the object."

And a quote from the lead author as to the implications of this line of research: 

"These experiments may provide a new way to investigate the way cognition is connected to the body, as well as new evidence that mental entities, such as thoughts, words and representations of objects, which seem to have no spatial or bodily components, first take shape through spatial relationship of the body within the surrounding world," . . .

In haptic pronunciation teaching (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation, EHIEP) we basically associate the sounds, words and patterns of language (English in this case) with specially designed gestures across the visual field, what we call 'pedagogical movement patterns' (PMPs).  We realized almost a decade ago that, at least for some learners (those that are more visually eidetic), the precision with which those models are presented and practiced initially is critical.

Studies in any number of "physical" disciplines, such as athletic training, rehabilitation psychotherapy have long established that principle, that where the new learning occurs in the visual field--and in the body--is integral to efficiency and effectiveness of learning. 

Of course the relevance of those studies goes far beyond learning pronunciation. Depending on your agenda and method, the "context of learning" extends out from the body to the concepts to the words, to the social milieu--even to the room. 

Sit up and take notice! (And join us at the TESOL Convention in Toronto this week on the 28th!)

Full citation:
Indiana University. "Robot model for infant learning shows bodily posture may affect memory and learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2015. .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

(New) Haptic Pronunciation Teaching at TESOL 2015 - Introductory Package!

Even if you aren't coming to Toronto next week, you can still "get haptic!" The Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop (Saturday 9:30~11:15, room 206A) at the TESOL Convention in Toronto will introduce several new features of the AHEPS system, including the new "PronHaptic (recycled tennis) Ball" versions of most of the protocols. We've put together a special, limited-time introductory package offer.

It takes (tennis) balls to teach (Haptic) Pronunciation!

For five years or so we have been using tennis balls for one of our haptic pronunciation teaching protocols (techniques). A couple of months ago, while looking online to renew our recycled tennis ball supply, I stumbled onto a website that had this intriguing set of (haptic) "qualities" for tennis balls that might equally apply to our work, with analogical-metaphorical lenses on, of course. Among them:  

"Soft, thick felt, designed for beginnersconsistent, delivers a great gaming experience, very responsive, highly visible, can handle a beating while not playing too fast or bouncing too high . . . "

Within a few days, I made the decision to try using recycled "PronHaptic (tennis) Balls" in almost  ALL of our initial presentations of haptic pronunciation teaching techniques. The preliminary  results from the classroom have been stunning.

Basically, it works this way. The ball is held in the right hand or the hand that is touched (or squeezed) on the stressed syllable or a word or phrase (as the other hand moves from across the visual field to land on that spot). It appears to strongly increase concentration and energy expended on the stressed syllable and give the instructor a new, more visual perspective on monitoring what students are doing and how they are doing it. Holding the tennis ball, students generally speak louder, more confidently and move more consistently.

There are probably any number of reasons for those effects, including consigning touch to a hand on a ball rather than a hand on another hand, or a shoulder, or a forearm or the abs. We'll figure that out. My guess is that the uniquely "haptic", felt-sense qualities of the tennis balls contribute greatly to holding attention and linking the sound to the syllable. (That is, in essence, what our haptic modality does for us!)

We have tried many other kinds of balls, including stress balls, baseballs, golf balls, sponge balls, oranges, etc., but none seem to have the consistent impact of yellow (not white or red) tennis balls. Used ones are fine as long as they are reasonably clean and have adequate colour left.

In meantime, if you haven't already, get some recycled tennis balls and have students use the protocol linked above (The Rhythm Fight Club--substituting a yellow tennis ball for the cute chickadee, of course) with new pronunciation or vocabulary or idioms.

Game. Set. Match.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why cognitively lazy women (and their smart phones) may make better language learners!

clip art:
Women are (in my experience, intuitively speaking) generally:

Most now realize that the attitude in education of "It is not so important what facts students have in their heads, but rather if they can find the right answer on the web!" does, indeed, have it's downside--particularly when there is an urgent need to impress somebody at a party--without Siri being part of the conversation.

We also know at least intuitively (rather than analytically, based on hard research) that successful language learners tend to be better at "looking up" words (either from other people or "books" of some kind, online or dead-tree) and are better at remembering them--which probably doesn't mean just memorization.

New study by Barr, Pennycook, Stolz, and Fugelsang of University of Waterloo, summarized by ScienceDaily, found that intuitive, as opposed to analytical thinkers, tend to use their smart phone web browsers more to arrive at answers, as opposed to "thinking" it out themselves. (Full citation below--To paraphrase Will Rogers, I only know what I read on

Here's the bad news: According to the researchers, reliance on the smart phone may well make the more intuitive user "lazy" cognitively: "They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it".

They did not find any correlation between use of smart phones for entertainment or social media and intelligence or cognitive "decline," however. (Clearly, a "no-brainer" . . . )

Here's the good news:. As we use more and more hand-held technology in language teaching and learning (especially pronunciation work), it should just get easier and easier--at least for some of us! And simply from an analytical perspective, or is it just intuitive, nothing in "print" says that smarter language learners are necessarily better ones?

The reported correlations between learning language in school and general academic success really don't count here, for a number of reasons, including gender bias. Again, in my experience, the less "intelligent" (boys) have to be even more ambitious and work harder at it. They cannot afford to kick back and take it easier.

Probably should have done more web search to explore this, of course, but being the wannabe analytic that I am, just figured it wasn't all that necessary.

Full citation:
University of Waterloo. (2015, March 5). Reliance on smartphones linked to lazy thinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 11, 2015 from

Monday, March 9, 2015

Language teaching insights from other fields? (a new book from TESOL Press)

Credit: TESOL Press,
Although only a few chapters qualify as directly applicable to haptic pronunciation teaching, Language teaching insights from other fields, (from TESOL Press) edited by Stillwell, certainly captures the spirit of the HICPR blog in demonstrating the great commonality in principles of teaching and learning across disciplines.

Most importantly, however, I think it makes another point, albeit indirectly,  that research studies and practice paradigms from other fields should be seen as potentially valid and credible evidence to support teaching practice in this field.

That was, understandably, more in vogue a couple of decades ago, before more empirical studies (in the area of pronunciation, for example) began to appear. Like all developing fields, we borrowed heavily from models of  related disciplines--until our "native" research base and identity emerged. A sign of the recent maturation of the field is appearance of  the new Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.

Lately the pendulum has also begun to swing back in the other direction, however, a trend evident in the social sciences in general: the territorial, professional, "pedagogically correct" (PC) imperative: (For at least some theorists today) only research done in the classroom or the laboratory of language teaching by language professionals/researchers can be considered as adequate or sufficient support for classroom practice.

This book provides some welcome perspective on that issue.


Dance your way to better classroom management (and pronunciation teaching)?

Clip art:
Here is a moving study--especially if you are a dancer or dance fan (of which I count myself a member) --summarized by ScienceDaily, conducted by Hujala, Laulainen and Kokkonen of the University of Eastern Finland: "Manager's dance: reflecting management interaction through creative movement," published in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion

The researchers' methodology and conclusion, excerpted from the abstract on (To buy this piece would cost $41 CAD, or about 8 Vente Carmel Frappuccinos, so we'll just have to go with what we have here!)

"Four managers and three researchers participated in two creative dance sessions with a dance pedagogue. The sessions were videotaped, and the visual material and reflections of participants were used in the interpretation. The use of creative movement 'revealed' unconscious dimensions of behaviour and the relevance of feelings in management interaction. In addition, the therapeutic outcomes appeared to be an essential part of the study for the participants."

Here is what ScienceDaily pulled from the study (boldface, mine):

"They suggest that creative movement harnessing the whole body may give rise to new knowledge about management interactions. Most intriguingly, they suggest that a person's dance moves might reveal unconscious and unnoticed thoughts about their life and their position in the workplace and so highlight the aesthetic and embodied dimensions of management."

We often characterize what we do in haptic pronunciation teaching as a kind of dance, where instructor and learner move together as they work on new or "correctable" sounds, as if in synchronized dance across the room from each other. We have not, however, formally looked at the class management side of what is going on, that is exerting control over the "whole bodies" of learners as we do that.

The methodology seems pretty straightforward (from what we can get from the abstract). Might be a bit uncomfortable for some, to sit and watch videos of themselves teaching, talking about their feelings during synchronized "haptic dance" and how they managed it, but to paraphrase Garth Brooks, to avoid the "pain" might be to miss the "dance!"

Keep in touch.

Full citation:
Inderscience. (2014, March 6). Hey, boss! Lose yourself to dance, know yourself better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2015 from

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Signs of spontaneous change in pronunciation teaching: more than just "weist darauf hin" . . .

Photo credit: Sunburst
Marsha Chan has a "handy" system (including demonstration video) for using the hands to support English pronunciation teaching. Have used aspects of it and similar techniques for decades. Still do, in fact. Adam Brown describes somewhat similar techniques in teaching phonetics.

Chan's repertoire of hand gestures used for both initial teaching and providing feedback is, in many ways, emblematic of behaviourist approaches to language teaching: the instructor signals to the learner, points out what to correct. The idea is that the learner then takes note or "uptakes" the correction and goes ahead to integrate that new form into spontaneous speaking or at least spontaneous listening.

Had a German English teaching colleague a couple of decades ago who fervently believed that to "weist darauf hin" (point out) was his only pedagogical responsibility when it came to assisting students with pronunciation change. It was their problem from there on . . . He, too,  had a neat gesture system. It was, indeed, only a "gesture," however.

We "hapticians" (haptic pronunciation teaching enthusiasts) who work with EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) or the haptic video system, AHEPS (Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System) have been focusing for some time now on spontaneous correction of pronunciation in class. The basic concept is that (a) students have been earlier introduced to not just a sign that lets them know what they may need to work on, but rather (b) how to figure out the source of the problem, themselves, and (c) what to do once they do.

For example, say a student uses the wrong vowel in a word. The interaction may go something like this:

A. Instructor: What is the number of the vowel in that word? (Morley, 1992)
B. Learner: (Considers for a second and then takes her best guess: "Ah . . . vowel #4)
C. Instructor either confirms or provides the correct vowel number.
Students had earlier been introduced to the vowel system and a set of haptic techniques for anchoring the sound (with gesture and touch). 
D. Learner and instructor then practice the word briefly 3 or 4 times together with a (haptic) pedagogical movement pattern, i.e., "Do that word with me!" (We do not use the dictum: Repeat after me.)
E. Learner writes down the problematic word/phrase immediately and then later
F. She puts it on her current practice word list that is systematically practiced for about 2 weeks, 3x each week.

If you are new to haptic pronunciation teaching, now might be a good time to "sign on!" A good place to start would be at the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop on Saturday, March 28th, 9:30 a.m., at the TESOL Convention in Toronto!