Monday, December 19, 2016

Tired of just "horsing around" with pronunciation? Key principles of equestrian training applied to pronunciation teaching

Clker.com
If you have followed this blog for a bit, you know that some of my favorite models for understanding key aspects of body-biased/haptic pronunciation teaching come from golf (Hank Haney) and horse training (Griffin, University of Kentucky), two disciplines where "training the body first" (Lessac) are a given. Recently I spent a pleasant evening with trainers of "cutting" quarter horses.

The commonality of effective training concepts was striking. One reason for that is that both disciplines require at least understanding of how to train the body, relatively independent of language and meta-cognitive involvement. Here are some of the principles from Griffin's list, along with my informal extrapolation to pronunciation teaching (in italics):

  • "Research has shown that horses work harder and maintain higher response rates when reinforcements are not on a predictable schedule. You should avoid becoming routine when reinforcing responses." Question: How do you reinforce appropriate pronunciation? My guess is that you have a very limited repertoire of responses, at best. Record yourself or have a colleague observe you in action . . . weep!
  • "Long, concentrated learning sessions are an inefficient method of training horses. A more effective training method is to have more training sessions per week of shorter duration. Work on different maneuvers each day. Refrain from repetitive drilling on a maneuver after the horse has learned it well." This is the gold standard of integrated instruction, especially with multi-level classes, requiring consistent preparation and follow up. That last note is especially revealing, what is known as the "delearning effect." (In haptic instruction that is particularly relevant.)
  • "Inherent emotionality is a horse's (general) psychological state.  . . . A good trainer quickly recognizes the emotional state of the horse and adjusts training regimens accordingly." Pronunciation teaching/learning is perhaps the most emotionally problematic aspect of language learning. Research (e.g. Baker, 2012) has established that a surprising number of instructors avoid pronunciation for that reason alone.
  • "  . . . An older horse may have a decreased learning performance, most likely because it has learned to ignore the type of stimuli often utilized in learning." This actually goes back to the first point: balance between variety and consistency. Pronunciation techniques have the (probably deserved) reputation of being boring in the extreme, with drill and meaningless "speaking" or oral reading. There are, of course, other ways to anchor new patterns and sounds. (See the right hand column, for instance . . . )
  • "Horses have very good memory . . . Recent research in this area has shown that horses learn to learn. The learn-to-learn phenomenon is simple: The more tasks a horse learns to perform, the easier it will be for that horse to learn new tasks. These new tasks may be tasks that the horse will never use, but they will aid in learning ability." This one is critical for pronunciation instruction: It is not absolutely essential that everything presented is recognized by learners as being immediately applicable or "relevant" to their use of the language. Learning, itself, enhances ability to learn, in effect. Recent research on "simple" memorization, for example,  has demonstrated that the very practice itself helps learners develop better memories and aptitude for learning in general--and memory for longer lists of procedural "steps" as well.
The parallel is remarkable. With the advent of more and more web-based instruction, learners are by default being forced to learn more by reading text and listening, along with often exceedingly "disembodied" speaking in response. Haptic pronunciation teaching, of course, is one approach, as are several others, requiring more or less instructor explicit management of body movement and presentation/control.

Saddle up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what relationship there might also be to "stable vices" and animal stereotypy? For example one treatment for stable vices is to let a horse out to pasture for six months and start fresh. Also underscores the importance of a healthy table/classroom learning environment.

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