Seeing the connection between two new studies, one on the use of gesture by trial lawyers in concluding arguments and one on how a "visual nudge" can seriously disrupt our ability to describe recalled visual properties of common objects--and by extension, pronunciation teaching--may seem a bit of a stretch, but the implications for instruction, especially systematic use of gesture in the classroom are fascinating.
The bottom line: what the eyes are doing during pronunciation work can be critical, at least to efficient learning. Have done dozens posts over the years on the role or impact of visual modality on pronunciation work; this adds a new perspective.
The first, by Edmiston and Lupyan of University of Wisconsin-Madison, Visual interference disrupts visual knowledge, summarized in a ScienceDaily summary:
"Many people, when they try to remember what someone or something looks like, stare off into space or onto a blank wall," says Lupyan. "These results provide a hint of why we might do this: By minimizing irrelevant visual information, we free our perceptual system to help us remember."
The "why" was essentially that visual distraction during recall (and conversely in learning, we assume), could undermine ability to describe visual properties of even common well-known objects, such as the color of a flower. That is a striking finding, countering the prevailing wisdom that such properties are stored in the brain more abstractly, not so closely tied to objects themselves in recall.
Study #2: Matoesian and Gilbert of the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an article published in Gesture entitled, Multifunctionality of hand gestures and material conduct during closing argument. The research looked at the potential contribution of gesture to the essential message and impact of the concluding argument to the jury. Not surprisingly, it was evident that the jury's visual attention to the "performance" could easily be decisive in whether the attorney's position came across as credible and persuasive. From the abstract:
This work demonstrates the role of multi-modal and material action in concert with speech and how an attorney employs hand movements, material objects, and speech to reinforce significant points of evidence for the jury. More theoretically, we demonstrate how beat gestures and material objects synchronize with speech to not only accentuate rhythm and foreground points of evidential significance but, at certain moments, invoke semantic imagery as well.
The last point is key. Combine that insight with the "Nudge" study. It doesn't take much to interfere with "getting" new visual/auditory/kinesthetic/tactile input. The dominance of visual over the other modalites is well established, especially when it comes to haptic (movement plus touch). These two studies add an important piece, that random VISUAL, itself, can seriously interfere with targeted visual constructs or imagery as well. In other words, what your student LOOK at and how effective their attention is during pronuncation work can make a difference--an enormous difference, as we have discovered in haptic pronunciation teaching.
Whether learners are attempting to connect the new sound to the script in the book or on the board, or are attempting to use a visually created or recalled script (which we often initiate in instruction) or are mirroring or coordinating their body movement/gesture with the pronunciation of a text of some size, the "main" effect is still there: what is at that time in their visual field in front of them or in their created visual space in their brain may strongly dictate how well things are integrated--and recalled later. (For a time I experimented with various system of eye tracking control, myself, but could not figure out how to develop that effectively--and safely, but emerging technologies offer us a new "look" at that methodology in several fields today.)
So, how do we appropriately manage "the eyes" in pronunciation instruction? Gestural work helps to some extent, but it requires more than that. I suspect that virtual reality pronunciation teaching systems will solve more of the problem. In the meantime, just as a point of departure and in the spirit of the earlier, relatively far out "suggestion-based" teaching methods, such as Suggestopedia, assume that you are responsible for everything that goes on during a pronunciation intervention (or interdiction, as we call it) in the classroom. (See even my 1997 "suggestions" in that regard as well!)
Now I mean . . . everything, which may even include temporarily suspending extreme notions of learner autonomy and metacognitive engagement . . .
See what I mean?
Matoesian, G. and Gilbert, K. (2016). Multifunctionality of hand gestures and material conduct during closing argument. Gesture, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2016, pages: 79 –114
Edmiston, P. and Gary Lupyan, G. (2017) Visual interference disrupts visual knowledge. Journal of Memory and Language, 2017; 92: 281 DOI: 10.1016/j.jml.2016.07.002