Saturday, October 15, 2016

(Really) great body-enhanced pronunciation teaching

If you are interested in using gesture more effectively in your teaching, a new 2016 study by Nguyen, A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher, is well worth reading. The study is, by design, wisely focused more on what the instructor does with her voice and body during instruction, not on student learning, uptake or in-class engagement.

The literature review establishes reasonably well the connection between the gesture described in the study and enhanced student learning of language and pronunciation. I can almost not imagine a better model of integrated gestural use in pronunciation teaching . . . The instructor is a superb performer, as are many who love teaching pronunciation. (Full disclosure: From the photos in the article I recognize the instructor, a master teacher with decades of experience in the field teaching speaking and pronunciation.)

From decades of work with gesture, myself, one of the most consistent predictors of effective use of gesture in teaching is how comfortable the instructor feels with "dancing" in front of the students and getting them to move along with her. The research on body image and identity and embodiment are unequivocal on that: to move others, literally and figuratively, you must be comfortable with your own body and its representation in public.

Knowing this instructor I do not need to see the video data to understand how her personal presence could command learner attention and (sympathetic, non-conscious) body movement, or her ability to establish and maintain rapport in the classroom. Likewise, I have not the slightest doubt that the students' experience and learning in that milieu are excellent, if not extraordinary.

The report is a fascinating read, illustrating use of various gestures and techniques, including body synchronization with rhythm and stress, and beat gesture associated with stress patterning. If you can "move" like that model, you got it. When it comes to this kind of instruction, however, the "klutzes" are clearly in the majority, probably for a number of reasons.

The one popular technique described, using stretching of rubber bands to identify stressed or lengthened vowels is often effective--for at least presenting the concept. It is marginally haptic, in fact, using both movement and some tactile anchoring in the process (the feeling of the rubber band pressing differentially on the inside of the thumbs.) In teacher training I sometimes use that technique to visually illustrate what happens to stressed vowels or those occurring before voiced consonants, in general. There is no study that I am aware of, however, that demonstrates carry over of "rubber banding" to changes in spontaneous speech or even better memory for the specific stressed syllables in the words presented in class. I'd be surprised to find one in fact.

In part the reason for that, again well established in research on touch, is that the brain is not very good at remembering degrees of pressure of touch. Likewise, clapping hands on all syllables of a word or tapping on a desk but a bit harder on the stressed syllable should not, in principle, be all that effective. That observation was, in fact, one of the early motivations for developing the haptic pronunciation teaching system.  By contrast, isolated touch, usually at a different locations on the body, seems to work much better to create differentiated memory for stress assignment. (All haptic techniques are based on that assumption.)

I, myself, taught like the model in the research for decades, basically using primarily visual-kinesthetic modeling and some student body engagement to teach pronunciation. The problem was trying to train new teachers on how to do that effectively. For a while I tried turning trainees into (somewhat) flamboyant performers like myself. I gave up on that project about 15 years ago and began figuring out how to use gesture effectively even if you, yourself, are not all that comfortable with doing it, a functional . . . klutz.

The key to effective gesture work is ultimately that the learner's body must be brought to move both in response to the instructor's presentation and in independent practice, perhaps as homework.(Lessac's dictum: Train the body first!)  Great performers accomplish that naturally, at least in presenting the concepts. The haptic video teaching system is there for those who are near totally averse to drawing attention to their body up front, but, in general, managed gesture is very doable. There are a number of (competing) systems today that do that. See the new haptic pronunciation teaching certificate, if interested in the most "moving and touching" approach.

Nguyen, Mai-Han. (2016). A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher. Issues in Applied Linguistics. appling_ial_24274. Retrieved from:

Friday, October 7, 2016

Picture this! Affective use of smart phones in (pronunciation) teaching!
Tigger warning: The following post contains both fun and "happy talk" of various stripes!

Although the research on the effect (and affect) of classroom smartphone presence runs the gamut, from minus (BBC) to plus (Inside Higher Ed.), every new pronunciation textbook or system must be at least highly handheld-compatible or have its own app. Something apparently all studies to date missed, however, was to what extent using a handheld, especially taking and posting pictures, contributes to . . . HAPPINESS!

Chen, Mark and Ali, of University of California-Irvine have happily filled in that gap: Promoting Positive Affect through Smartphone Photography, linking happiness with use of selfies and shared photos. From the Science Daily summary:

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

Without getting into the somewhat suspect methodology and conclusions of the research--which would obviously detract from the fun of drawing out the implications for pronunciation teaching (or any kind of teaching for that matter), let's just focus on a few of the more fascinating possibilities:

A. Selfie's promote confidence and comfort with one's own photos.
Teaching application: In addition to just added confidence, being more comfortable with "objectively" critiquing one's voice production, especially pronunciation would be for many learners exceedingly valuable. 
B. Photos of things that make one happy encourage reflectiveness and "appreciativeness".
Teaching application: Reflectiveness is now the "gold standard" for both learners and instructors. Just imagine the implications for instructor and course evaluations! In addition, some of the most interesting and productive work with smart phones has been with learners exchanging and discussing favorite photos where peer and self monitoring of language form and content is involved (See C, below, too.)
C. Photos to make others happy make one calmer and relieve stress.
Teaching application: Calm, stress-free working milieu is invaluable in pronunciation instruction but exceedingly difficult to maintain. The connection to the connectedness of the other members of the class is, of course, key. A good example of that is having students creating and talking about various kinds of photo collections, collages or web-applications that organize and display pictures with unlimited numbers of contributors.

Just doing this post made me feel, well . . . happier! There are, it seems, even more good (affective and pedagogical) reasons why students should be encouraged to use their smart phones in class! Get the picture?

University of California, Irvine. (2016, September 13). Study links selfies, happiness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2016 from

    Monday, October 3, 2016

    Why feedback on pronunciation (often) fails--and how to make it work better.
    We are getting a much better idea from research as to what kind of feedback from teachers seems to produce best results in a range of contexts (various mixes of explanation, modeling and guided practice). Notice that I said SEEMS to produce best results. New research by Winstone and colleagues at the University of Surrey and Aston University (summarized by Science Daily) suggests there may be something else going on here that significantly contributes to the puzzle: what learners DO with the feedback, not the feedback, itself.

    In a meta-analysis of a large number of studies in education, they found that the actual form of feedback was not contributing as much variance to results as was how students followed up on that feedback, either on their own, or preferably in some kind of ongoing dialogue with their instructor. Their primary recommendation is that we "talk" with learners more, seeing feedback more as a process rather than an event. If you do process writing, you certainly know what they are getting at.

    A good example of "one way" feedback in pronunciation work is a nice study by Darcy and Ewert (2013) where explicit feedback and improvement on suprasegmentals (rhythm, stress and intonation) was associated with the kind of feedback provided. From the absract:

    An analysis of classroom treatment recordings demonstrates that explicit phonetic instruction that makes learners notice L2 features (i.e., explicit presentation of contents, guided analysis and
    practice, and corrective feedback.

    What that research report did not look at systematically is how those four classroom activities actually happened. You could imagine a wide range of "interactivity" between instructors and students going on during any of those. In other words, something worked . . . but why exactly. According to Winstone et al., just listing those classroom pedagogical practices, especially the last does not tell really tell us much--or help us predict how well the same study would go with a different instructor who might be more or less "dialogic" in her teaching style.

    In a 2016 study which complements that research, Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Baker and Burri examine what EAP teachers believe about feedback and providing it. From the extensive literature review and the data analysis one question or theme in effect, did not even come up: What do students actually DO with the feedback you (or teachers, in general) provide--and how important is that?

    That the researchers did not probe that line of inquiry, itself, reflects the near complete absence of research on what students consistently do either in class or out of class with pronunciation feedback, i.e., correction of various kinds. Teachers in the study did see the value of individualized feedback, which, if done face to face, would almost certainly involve monitoring of student response to feedback and a more dialogic approach to exploitation of feedback.

    Granted, studying dialogic classroom engagement between instructors and learners to find out what is really going on is both time consuming and expensive, but you almost have to go there to figure out some of this. You can at least do that in your own classroom. 

    Baker and Burri conclude by recommending use of oral journaling, for example, where students can be directed in any number of ways to actively work with teacher-provided feedback. That practice is, in fact, quite popular with language instructors in general, but I have been unable to find published research examining, in depth, what learners actually do with feedback in journaling or elsewhere that may significantly impact effectiveness of learning and uptake of targeted forms.

    Welcome your contribution of other research sources and  feedback on this! 


    Baker, A. and Burri, M. (2016) Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Australian Journal of Education 41(6). 
    Gordon, J., Darcy, I., and Ewert, D. (2013) Pronunciation teaching and learning: Effects of explicit phonetic instruction in the L2 classroom. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th
    Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference. Aug. 2012. (pp. 194-206). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.University of Surrey. (2016, September 21). Research shows that how students engage with feedback is as important as its content. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2016 from

    Tuesday, September 20, 2016

    What (a window into the brain of) the mouse can teach us about learning pronunciation
    Trigger warning: If you are especially attached to your mouse, you may want to skip over the third, italicized paragraph below . . . 

    Fascinating research by Funamizu, Kuhn and Doya of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, "Neural substrate of dynamic Bayesian inference in the cerebral cortex", originally published in Nature Neuroscience, summarized by Science Daily as, "Finding your way around in an uncertain world". (Full citation below.)

    Basically, the study looked at how the (mouse's) brain uses movement of the mouse's body in creating meaning and thought. Reading the research methodology is not for the faint of heart. Here is a piece of the Science Daily summary describing it:

    The team performed surgeries in which a small hole was made in the skulls of mice and a glass cover slip was implanted onto each of their brains over the parietal cortex. Additionally, a small metal headplate was attached in order to keep the head still under a microscope. The cover slip acted as a window through which researchers could record the activities of hundreds of neurons using a calcium-sensitive fluorescent protein that was specifically expressed in neurons in the cerebral cortex . . . The research team built a virtual reality system in which a mouse can be made to believe it was walking around freely, but in reality, it was fixed under a microscope. This system included an air-floated Styrofoam ball on which the mouse can walk and a sound system that can emit sounds to simulate movement towards or past a sound source.(ScienceDaily, September 16, 2016).

    Got that? They then observed how the mice "navigate" the virtual space under different conditions, including almost complete reliance on body movement, rather than with access to any visual or auditory stimulus. The surprising finding (at least to me) was the extent to which kinesthetic memory or engagement took over, directing the mice to the "reward." There is much more to the work, of course, but this "window" into the functioning of the cerebral cortex is really consistent with a wide range of studies that point to "body-based" meaning creation and control.

    So, what is the possible relevance of that to pronunciation teaching? (I never thought you'd ask!) Our work in haptic pronunciation teaching, for example, is based on the assumption, in effect, that "gesture comes first" (before sound and visual phonemes/graphemes) in instruction. (Based on Lessac's principle of "Train the body first" in voice and stage movement work.) For the most part today, pronunciation methodologists and theorists still see the role of gesture in teaching as being secondary, at best, an optional "reinforcer" of word-sound associations or a vehicle for "loosening up" learners and their bodies and emotional states-- or even just having fun!

    What the "mice" study suggests is that sound, movement and vision are more integrated and interdependent in the brain than we generally acknowledge--or at least that movement is more central to meaning creation and retrieval. There are a number of body and movement-based theories that support that observation. In other words, the use of gesture in instruction deserves much more attention than it is currently getting. Much more than just a gesture . . .

    Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University - OIST. "Finding your way around in an uncertain world." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 September 2016. 

    Saturday, September 10, 2016

    Remembering new pronunciation (or anything) . . . in a flash!

    Here is another for your "So THAT's why it works" file, from neuroscience. (Hat tip: Robert Murphy.)
    The phenomenon, explored by Morris and researchers at Edinburgh reported by Neuroscience News, is called: flashbulb memory. (See full citation below.) Working with mice, they found, basically, that a vivid, striking event can cause the release of dopamine by the locus coeruleus, which, in turn " . . . carries dopamine to the hippocampus . . . " which affects how effectively memories are stored.

    So, if you (and your mouse) are about to learn something new--or just did, it will be remembered more efficiently if it is "bookended" by a "flashbulb" event . Talk about counter-intuitive! I have done dozens of posts over the years on how attention figures into learning. (In our haptic work, for example, we often note that we need the attention of the learner for only 3 seconds to anchor a new sound.) In the Neuroscience news summary it is noted that "Our research suggests that a skillful teacher may be able to take advantage of these little surprises to help pupils learn and remember.” Really? How so? They don't speculate--for good reason. How might you adopt that insight?

    My first thought was to go find one of those camera flash attachments and try it out next week. But wait. There may be more to this, more than just dopamine.

    About 35 years ago, I was very much interested in clinical hypnosis, in part as a way to better understand unconscious communication and learning in the classroom. One basic feature some models of trance work was that you had to be very careful to distract the learner (or client) immediately after a significant suggestion has been provided or "uploaded".

    The explanation was that that would keep the conscious mind of the learner from deconstructing and dismissing or undermining the suggestion or metaphor, not letting it be absorbed in toto, in effect. That could be accomplished in any number of ways, such as switching topics abruptly, showing a picture or doing something more physical or kinaesthetic, such as standing up or a gesture of some kind.

    In other words, the principle, of selectively partitioning off classroom experience makes sense. Rather than thinking in terms of always integrating the entire class period and lesson so that learners are metacognitively "on top of it all", so that they constantly know why they are learning what and consciously (metaphorically) attempting to file everything away for later use, think: switch-flash-divert-surprise.

    I knew that my distinct tendency toward ADHD-like excessive multi-tasking was really a good thing! If you have a good "Flash dance" technique that you can share w/us, please do!

    Keep in touch!

    Full citation:
    University of Edinburgh. (2016, September 8). How New Experiences Boost Memory Formation. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 8, 2016 from

    Friday, September 2, 2016

    Haptic (10-year pronunciation teaching) birthday party!

    We are planning a couple of parties next month, celebrating 10 years of haptic pronunciation teaching. If you are a haptician in the Vancouver or Kamloops areas of British Columbia, please join us. (More specifics on that soon!) Should you not be (either in the area or a haptician by practice) you'll still be invited to join us "virtually" in celebrating! That will include:
    • New video released describing the history and development of  Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation (EHIEP).
    • Birthday webinar/party  (We'll post a series of "success stories" before that happens. If you have one you'd like to contribute, please pass that on to me.)
    • Release of new student self-study course.
    • Recognition of "shrewdnesses, pandemoniums and zeals" of hapticians worldwide! (Each local group needs to choose its respective collective noun, based on which best describes their collective "personality", of course.) 
    • v3.0
    • We are also working on setting up a new professional organization or "shrewdness" of Hapticians or reviving the earlier International Association of Haptic-integrated Pronunciation Teaching Researchers and Instructors (IAHPTRI) from a few years ago. (If you belonged back then, we'll be in touch.) 
    It has been an amazing "haptic" decade. It all began with the discovery that kinaesthetic, gesture work in pronunciation teaching could be considerably enhanced with just a "touch of touch!"

    Keep in touch!


    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    Great pronunciation teaching? (The "eyes" have it!)
    Attention! Внимание!

    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

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    Conducting a great (pronunciation) class--according to Hazlewood!

    If you haven't seen this phenomenal 2011TED talk by Charles Hazlewood--and you plan to be an even better (haptic pronunciation) teacher--this is definitely REQUIRED VIEWING! Hazlewood, one of the world's premier orchestra conductors, demonstrates beautifully both the "gestural" art of conducting and the central role of trust in the relationship between the conductor and the musicians. (The finale, from Haydn, alone is worth watching the talk for.)

    Photo credit:
    The parallel to what we do (or what we could do) is striking. One "problem" with pronunciation teaching is that it demands both serious risk taking on the part of the learner and the ability of the instructor to "conduct" the class in a atmosphere of genuine trust with strong musical overtones of rhythm and melody. Hazlewood's depiction of the "degrees of freedom" between the conductor and members of the orchestra is a fine analogy to what is foundational to any "great class". 


    Saturday, August 13, 2016

    Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Certificate Course (v4.1) Preview - FREE!

    HaPT-E v4.1
    v4.1 includes several new "touching" features. The Preview includes:
    • Modules 1 and 2 (of the 10 modules system)
    • 1 month free access to the course videos
    • The Instructor's manual
    • SKYPE consultation upon completion of the Preview.
    • Option to purchase the course at a reduced price (until January 2017)
    For more detail on the system itself, check out the Certificate Description, including the Certificate Forum. v5.0 is now scheduled to be available in January or February, 2017.

    If you purchase v4.1 you will automatically be given access to the new v5.0 beta videos as they come on line for field testing this fall. 

    To get the preview, contact:

    Tuesday, August 9, 2016

    Haptic dance, Aikido and the future of language (and pronunciation) teaching
    For an intriguing glance at what future language (or pronunciation) teaching may "look" like, check out the following "haptic dances" by media artist, Landau: Exploratory Dance 1.1, and Motor Imagery Dance. Computer-mediated mirroring will be key; not just culturally appropriate body movement and gestures, for example, but gesture-synchronized speech as well (not unlike what we see in haptic pronunciation teaching, not surprisingly!)

    Another piece or theoretical model of what that process will involve is evident in this article in Gesture focusing on the full-body, dialogic "dance" between opponents in Aikido,"The coordination of moves in Aikido interaction." Lefebvre's 2016 framework was developed examining the interplay involved, created with the goal of being able to better characterize the way entire bodies communicate with each other, the intricate synchrony of moves and counters that characterizes all "conversation".

    Aikido embodies the moves of your opponent, in part by almost subliminally synchronizing the body to the motion coming at you. Bouts are "won" often by simply redirecting or escorting one's opponent to the floor or out of the ring. (That was, by the way, my wife's basic approach to dealing with first graders: You cannot possibly just block them or stop them, but you can almost always deftly redirect their energy and motion more to your purposes!)

    What those two systems in part provide us with is the beginnings of a framework by which to design methodologies that (literally) embody language models, including technology that "manages" articulation as well. There have been for quite some time haptic systems that assist patients with various articulatory conditions, guiding the vocal apparatus in producing more "normal" speech patterns.

    Embodied, computer-mediated language learning, something analogous to the Aikido experience, will provide learners with a way to (safely and completely) give themselves over to the "dance" as they are guided to speak and move with models, and ultimately be able to adopt and use the energies, words and moves of the L2, themselves--faster and more efficiently.

    This is one dance you'll not want to miss! In the meantime, of course, you might prepare by doing some Aikido--and Haptic Pronunciation Teaching!

    Full citations:
    Daniel Landau -
    Lefebvre, A. The coordination of moves in Aikido interaction. Gesture 5(2) 123-155.

    Sunday, July 31, 2016

    Becoming an "expert" at English pronunciation: practice may not make perfect!

    The recent (and welcome) debunking of the "10,000 hours of required practice to become an expert" myth by several studies, including that by Macnamara, Moreau, and Hambrick, summarized by, has interesting implications for pronunciation learning and teaching. Gladwell's popular theory was that the only path to true expertise was by practicing for years until you reached the 10,000 hour threshold. That, of course, did not guarantee "master" status, but there seemed few "masters" who did not appear to have similarly paid their "hourly" dues, so to speak.

    What the Macnamara et al. research focused on was the variability associated with excellence in various disciplines or arts. Results varied widely. In a report on a meta-analysis described in "Psychological Science", Macnamara and colleagues note the following:

    However, the domain itself seemed to make a difference. Practice accounted for about 26% of individual differences in performance for games, about 21% of individual differences in music, and about 18% of individual differences in sports. But it only accounted for about 4% of individual differences in education and less than 1% of individual differences in performance in professions.

    There is obviously a lot going on there, but of particular interest for us is the overall range of "skill areas" sampled. In a very real sense, ALL of those relate to pronunciation proficiency, in part due to the relative degree of physical and cognitive involvement required, especially for adult-age learners. My guess is that pronunciation probably falls somewhere in the middle, around 10 to 15%.

    So, if that is the case, what would that mean for instruction? One obvious question is how much practice is effective at different stages of the acquisition process. A new study getting underway here, which will be reported on in a Panel presentation on the role of homework in pronunciation teaching, at the TESOL convention in Seattle next March 27th, will address that question.

    Some preliminary interview work with a broad slice of learners about their pronunciation practice  suggests that something like the 26-21-18-4-1 ratios may actually map on to beginning through highly advanced L2 phonological proficiency and "accent retention".

    In other words, as learners improve, the demand for pronunciation practice diminishes accordingly. That, of course, makes perfect sense--as long as the "bottom" is addressed. Without the 26-21-18 in the early stages--which entails significant degree of body or physical engagement--learning the sound system to "intelligibility" level can be seriously compromised for many learners.

    When the "education" approach is taken from the outset, with its resulting 4% variance--and its generally strong cognitive vs physical practice approach to pronunciation--little wonder some conclude that practice (primarily insight, plus aural comprehension and oral drills) often does not appear to make much difference.

    Reminds me of Tom Scovel's wonderful tongue-in-cheek definition of an "expert": "ex-" (former, "has been" out of touch) plus "spurt" (gush out forcefully but be gone quickly)

    See you in Seattle, if not before!

    Original source reference:
    B. N. Macnamara, D. Moreau, D. Z. Hambrick. The Relationship Between Deliberate Practice and Performance in Sports: A Meta-Analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2016; 11 (3): 333 DOI: 10.1177/174569

    Sunday, July 24, 2016

    Pronunciation "workabouts": brain train or drain?
    There are decades of research on the potential effects of exercise of various kinds on the brain, from cognitive training (such as Luminosity) to physical training such as jogging or working out in the gym.  Interesting recent study (Summarized by by Chapman, Aslan, Spence, Keebler, DeFina, Didehbani, Perez, Lu, and D'Esposito of the University of Texas explores the relationship between exercise (mental and physical), decision making and memory"Distinct Brain and Behavioral Benefits from Cognitive vs. Physical Training: A Randomized Trial in Aging Adults."

     A key finding was how the two complement each other: "Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways." In essence what they found, not surprisingly, was that mental training/exercise, like Luminosity, improves executive functions (planning and decision making); whereas physical exercise enhances memory.

    So, how might enhancing general cognitive and physical conditioning improve learning pronunciation? As opposed to other dimensions of language learning, pronunciation involves a unique degree of physical engagement. In adults, that must generally be balanced with effective conscious, cognitive involvement (explanation, insight, discovery, planning, communicative practice, etc.) What the research suggests is that although cognitive training and engagement should be good for the brain (and pronunciation), without sufficient, "body engagement and training" learners, especially adults, may not be able to remember well what they have been taught.

    My guess is that before long we will be doing much more specifically non-language related cognitive and (and even aerobic) physical training in preparing students and maintaining optimal brain conditioning for learning. Many programs and methods do that now randomly or intuitively, but the research points toward much more systematic and targeted training approaches.

    For example, Marsha Chan's entertaining "Pronunciation workout" videos attempt to use high energy, highly kinaesthetic exercises to get the body and motivation activated in learning sounds and selected prosodics (e.g., rhythm and stress). What the cognitive/physical training study suggests is that "fun" may motivate and present aspects of pronunciation well, but the critical connection to that sound pattern may be weak, at best, in part because kinesthetic/body experience is remembered more as a whole--not just isolated pieces of the "moving" event. As Willingham (2005) puts it: "What is critical is that the child is taught in the content's modality." (not simply in her preferred or isolated modality such audio or visual or kinesthetic.)
    What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn't affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content's best modality. - See more at:
    What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn't affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content's best modality. - See more at:
    And what is the "content modality" of pronunciation in teaching? A delicate balance of cognitive and kinesthetic engagement. In practical terms, one implication of the research is that we too often, to paraphrase Damasio (2005), commit "Decartes' error" of separating mind from the body ("I think, therefore, I am learning pronunciation!") For most learners, understanding and insight (at least in pronunciation teaching) must be well-integrated with physical, experiential learning and practice if new sound is to be efficiently remembered and available later in spontaneous speaking and listening.

    A complementary approach balanced with Nike's nonsequitur--"Just do it!, is essential. If you are not sure about how to make that happen in your classroom, one way is to "Just ask (your neighborhood haptician)!" 

    Center for BrainHealth. "Mental, physical exercises produce distinct brain benefits." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 July 2016.

    Thursday, July 14, 2016

    Why your avatar (could/will) make a better pronunciation teacher than your are!
    Since the emergence of Second Life in 2003, I have been fascinated with the prospect of avatars teaching language. At the time, for technical reasons, I could not get my avatars to respond quickly enough with good audio to do much and gave up. (From recent reviews, it appears that most of those issues, including monitoring of offensive content, have been resolved and I may give it another look.)

    A 2016 study of avatars teaching math to kids by Cook, Friedman, Duggan, Cui and Popescu provides an interesting perspective. The focus of the study was to attempt to isolate the effect of gesture, independent of facial expression, body motion and other features of the presenter's persona. As the researchers note, one of the problems with identifying the impact of gesture (from the abstract) is that it is "known to co-vary with other non-verbal behaviors, including eye gaze and prosody along with face, lip, and body movements . . . "

    The avatars presented a fixed background such that only the hand movement varied. (The voice used and various graphic figures remained constant.) The effect was "pronounced". The subjects who viewed the gesturing avatar not only learned the concepts more successfully but also were later able to apply the material better. (That is not really surprising since a number of studies have established that students just learn better when teachers gesture more.) But avatars bring something more to the party--or less!

    In principle, how much of pronunciation could an avatar teach (either with or without gesture assist)? Probably most of it. (And I predict that that day is not far off.) One reason for that, mentioned above by Cook et al. is the fact that gesture tends to co-vary with other "non-verbal behaviors" such as . . . prosody? (Prosody is nonverbal? Really?)The basis of effective gesture use in instruction often depends critically on the learners' attention being "locked" on the cuing or anchoring motion; the gesture in tern is also strongly associated with a sound or process.

    As reported in several previous posts, loss of attention or distraction is a most important variable in haptic (gesture plus touch) pronunciation teaching as well. The video models that we use now are for the most part black and white, with black background and no subtitles on screen, designed to focus learner attention on the movement and positioning basically of my hands, not the model's face or body. Addition of color, extraneous movement, or additional graphics will always pull at least some learners away from the focus of the lesson embodied in the pedagogical gestures. (Research on competition between visual, auditory and kinaesthetic or haptic, has demonstrated consistently that visual displays almost always trump the others, even in combination.)

    For gesture-based pronunciation or other kinds of instruction for that matter, interactive "thinking" and responding Avatars offer real promise. The technology has been around for over a decade, in fact. Advantages of avatars include:
    • Individualized, more affordable computer-based instruction 
    • Systematic application of gesture in instruction, especially providing consistent placement of gesture in the visual field.
    • More effective attention management, neutralizing potential visual distractions
    • Emotionally "comfortable" instruction for a wider range learner personalities
    • Avoids unconscious transmission of:
      • Instructor "bad day" images and attitudes
      • Typical "hyperactive" pronunciation teacher behavior
      • Overreactions, positive or negative, to student miscues or "victories"
      • Instructor bias toward "teacher pets" or gaze avoidance in eye contact patterning during instruction
     Time to reactivate my Avatar. Will upload a demo later this summer.  

     Cook, S. W., Friedman, H. S., Duggan, K. A., Cui, J. and Popescu, V. (2016), Hand Gesture and Mathematics Learning: Lessons From an Avatar. Cognitive Science. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12344

    Sunday, July 10, 2016

    A "reptilian brain" approach to pronunciation teaching (What Haskel says neuroscience says!)
    Fun, superficial, slightly funky 2015 blogpost by Haskel at on marketing, appealing to the "Reptilian brain". "Appeal to neuroscience" (what was formally called "brain research") has now become one of the favorite foils of both educators and comedians. A recently discovered "bug" in the use of fMRIs may cast some additional, welcome doubt on that, in fact.  No matter what you want to "sell" . . . there seems to be some neuroscientist's often pseudo-scientific research study to back you up.

    Haskel identifies 7 findings of neuroscience that suggest how to market anything (even your pronunciation teaching, I assume!) as long as you aim your pitch right at your students' "reptilian brains": pain, selfishness, contrast, tangibility, beginning and endings, visual metaphors, and "strike an emotional chord".
    A. Pain - "All native speakers hate you because of your pronunciation or accent! Shed it!"
    B. Selfishness - "Your accent is your identity, your inner Komodo. Next time somebody criticizes it, just tell them to be more multicultural and get over it!"
    C. Contrast - "Have a good snake as a model: Justin Trudeau, David Cameron, Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama--take your pick."
    D. Tangibility - "You do these tongue twisters long enough, they'll fix anything--including your lizard-like sun-tanned appearance."
    E. Beginning and end - "Imagine your pronunciation now and how it will sound at the end of this course. Fill your mind with new sounds . . . Channel your inner cameleon (See C!)"
    F. Visual metaphor - "Watch this CT-scan of me pronouncing 'th' several times tonight, especially my darting tongue." 
    G. Strike an emotional chord - "All those notes in the book and in research about how hard it is to change your pronunciation are just a crock! You can do this!"

    Coming soon: A pre-frontal (brain) peon to Teacher Cognition research in pronunciation teaching.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2016

    Temporary Mind-FILL-ness in (pronunciation) teaching: Weil's 4-7-8 technique

    A few months ago I sat through a good presentation on a technique for "fixing" the English rhythm of adult Japanese learners--in relatively big classes. At the time I was very interested in research on the role of attention in learning. Later, over coffee I asked the presenter something to the effect of "How do you know that the students were paying attention?" (I had earlier taught for over a decade in a seemingly very similar context in Japan, myself.) His response was: "Good question . . . Almost everybody was looking at me and more than half of the lips were moving at the appropriate time . . . "

    How do you establish, maintain and manage attention in your teaching? (Anybody looking for a great MA or PhD topic, take note!) Based on my recent survey of the research literature, I'm preparing a conference proposal on the subject now. This is a follow up to the earlier post on how pronunciation should be taught "separately", in effect partitioned off from the lesson of the day and the distractions of the room and surroundings.

    One problem with efficient attention management  is often in the transitions between activities or just the initial set up. Some tasks require learners to be very much "up"; others, decidedly "down" and relaxed. 

    The popularity of Mindfulness training today speaks to the relevance of managing attention in class and the potential benefits from many perspectives. Most of the basic techniques of Haptic Pronunciation Teaching are designed to require or at least strongly encourage at least momentary whole body engagement in learning and correcting articulation of sound in various ways. I have experimented with a number of Mindfulness-based techniques to, in effect, short-circuit mental multitasking and get learners (sort of) calmed down and ready to go . . .

    Powerful, effective stuff, but it is not something that most teachers can just pick up and begin using in their classes without at least a few hours of training, themselves, especially in how to "talk" it through with students and monitor "compliance" (manage attention.) I'd recommend it, nonetheless.

    I recently "rediscovered" an amazing focus technique, suggested by Dr Andrew Weil (Hat tip, this month's issue of Men's Health magazine!), that works to create very effective boundaries without requiring any special training to administer. One of the best I have ever used. Simple. "Mechanical" (not overly cognitive or "hypnosis"-like) and quick. Takes maximum of 90 seconds. Anybody can do it, even without having seen it done:

    A. Breath in with mouth closed, a slow count of 4
    B. Hold the breath for a slow count of 7
    C. Blow out through the mouth softly for a slow count of 8

    *Do that four times. It basically lowers the heart rate and helps one focus. May take a two or three times for 4-7-8 to get to full effectiveness, but it does quickly, almost without fail. You can use 4-7-8 two or three times per class period. If you don't have a warm up that gets everybody on board consistently, try this one. I'd especially recommend it before and after pronunciation mini-lessons.

    Pronunciation, and especially haptic techniques, are very sensitive to distraction, especially excessive conscious analysis and commentary. 4-7-8 is not necessarily the answer, but it will at least temporarily get everybody's attention. After that . . . you're on!

    Sunday, June 26, 2016

    Why pronunciation should be taught "separately" (and the 15 second rule)!
    The pendulum is swinging back, my friends. A central concern among pronunciation teachers is that what is "taught" in class, in whatever form, is so often not integrated well (or at all) into spontaneous speaking. One reason for that, I am convinced, is the general reluctance to correct spontaneous speech today.

    This one is for all of you who teach a successful, stand-alone pronunciation course in the face of current theory that seems argue that pronunciation should generally be integrated in instruction, any skill concentration--not taught in isolation.

    When a pronunciation problem just "pops up" in class, what do you do? Correction of pronunciation is again an important focus of research in the field. In fact, it is coming to be seen as more and more central to effective instruction. (From a haptic perspective, as developed in this blog and elsewhere, correction, especially during spontaneous speaking activities, is key to successful pronunciation work.) The other option, I suppose, is still that instruction is done so well early on that few errors in spontaneous speech occur . . . That was the dream of some early structuralist and behavioral approaches. They just forgot to factor in sufficient boredom and fear.

    In-class instruction and practice is not sufficient in many contexts. Ongoing, effective feedback is essential. Research, however, has consistently revealed a strong reluctance on the part of instructors to correct learner pronunciation in any instructional context, in part a legacy of communicative language teaching and the current de-emphasis on pronunciation teaching in general (Baker, 2014; Saito, 2016).

    Some of the most recent research on spontaneous correction of pronunciation in the classroom (See my blogpost focusing on delaMorandiere, 2016) has begun to point to two key features of effective correction (a) a link back to earlier instruction is "remembered." and (b) that link is used by the instructor in various ways, including a quick reference to the concept or explanation or reminder (or a question to the learner). In other words, correction works best when it is anchored back to an earlier consciously constructed schema, not just by a simple prompt, such as repeating the "correct" pronunciation.

    So what does that mean in the classroom? Effective, corrective feedback on pronunciation generally depends upon good "prior knowledge" of the correct form that can be reactivated or reinforced . . . That does not suggest that rhythm, intonation and stress should not be attended to in other areas of language instruction; they should, if only to reinforce learning of meaning, structure and vocabulary. But to CORRECT some aspect of any of those, something other than or in addition to simply "repeat after me" has to be employed. In the case of adults, that should generally refer back to well-conceived explanation and focused practice, both controlled and meaning-based.

    Now that can, for example, be accomplished by teaching one chapter of a student pronunciation text occasionally as part of a speaking or conversation course, but the experience of more and more intensive English programs, particularly, is that a designated pronunciation class that is used as a point of reference for all other instructors in the program to refer back to in in-class correction is far and away the best approach. In that context as well, research has identified the types of classroom interaction where such intervention by both instructor and other students is most appropriate (small group discussions, prepared oral readings, impromptu speeches, etc.)

    To be in a position to intervene, interrupting the flow of conversation, generally requires an expectation that important errors will be addressed continually in an atmosphere of confidence and trust--and even collegial fun and support. Spontaneous error correction in pronunciation should be received with genuine appreciation and "uptake". The conditions for that to happen consistently are not that complicated but require for some a rethinking of the form of pronunciation instruction and its place in (virtually) every class. I think most would agree, however, that it is often exceedingly challenging to temporarily switch on and off that "safe" classroom mode or milieu in any setting other than one focused only on pronunciation. (Pronunciation classes are generally rated as the most useful and enjoyable by students.)

    What research is suggesting is that effective "spontaneous" correction is very important to helping learners integrate changed forms--and that it is actually not all that spontaneous, in the sense that it relies on rapid recall of not just previously taught forms, structures, phonemes and specific words, but a concise, explicit understanding of the issue as well. That level of clarity can require more than just a brief note or simply drawing attention to a feature of pronunciation in class: a previously completed,  designated pronunciation class session or something analogous, such as complete modules, either online or f2f. 

    That is a fundamental principle of most public speaking systems and, from our perspective, the Lessac method, upon which much of my work is based: explanation and practice must be carefully partitioned off from performance, so that errors in performance can be efficiently recognized at least post hoc (after the fact) and effectively recast by the learner in real time. For many pronunciation issues--and especially integration of change into spontaneous speaking-- that is best facilitated by a team approach as well, where the instructor briefly refers the learner back to not just the correct sound but also its structure and rationale (SSR), and the learner momentarily "holds that thought" and physically experiences what it feels like to produce words or phrases to be used more appropriately the next time they occur.

    It is not necessary to do all three SRR components every time, of course, but the intervention used must in some sense reconnect to the in-class instructional experience in toto. Just repeating a word or phrase might accomplish that on some occasions, but the research suggests that more cognitive involvement accompanying a verbal recast is essential. I could not agree more, only adding that more somatic (body-based) engagement is essential as well.

    The best option, I think, despite its limitations, is still something like the "traditional" pronunciation class taught by a well-trained and experienced instructor, where correction of all kinds, done right, is seen as immensely valuable and productive--and relatively speaking, stress-free!

    Haptic work attempts to create the experience of that classroom by linking earlier training in systematic gesture to the pronunciation of the word or expression, which could also have been done in a separate class or class meeting or online, independently. The key is that it be conceptually partitioned off, by itself, without demanding thorough content and context integration, and also not requiring a  "seasoned" instructor to do the presentation, instruction and practice. (More later on the importance of such seemingly counter-intuitive conceptual partitioning to subsequent recall and utilization. In the meantime, consult your local neuroscientist or hypnotist!)

    Try the 15-second rule: During spontaneous speaking and interaction with students, only pause to correct what can be effectively reconnected to previous (brilliant) instruction--which may include a bit of SSR--and practiced three times in 15 seconds. That will get you a better sense of how well your initial teaching of pronunciation "bits" is going, too.

    However you approach correction and facilitating integration of pronunciation change, it should at the very least be more than just "spontaneous."

    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    Why research on (pronunciation) teaching is often irrelevant to my method and my classroom

    In 1994 Kumaravadivelu sounded what has turned out to be something of the death knell for the usefulness of much research on English language teaching for the individual classroom entitled: The Postmethod Condition: (E)merging Strategies for Second and Foreign Language Teaching. At the time, it seemed liberating from many perspectives, but the intervening two decades have often proven otherwise. A recent, very revealing article in Education Week by Tucker goes a long way toward explaining why: Why Education Research Has So Little Impact on Practice: The System Effect.
    In essence, what Tucker argues, based on a piece by Kane in Education Next, is that a technique (or variable) generally cannot be judged in terms of effectiveness outside of the system in which it functions. And, most importantly, research that attempts to isolate one procedure and then generalize to multiple learner populations is epistemologically invalid (the wrong question!) For a range reasons which Tucker outlines, such as time, resources, tenure and culture, especially North American researchers do not (or cannot) evaluate a variable, such as ability in the context of the method or system in which it is embedded--or compare that system, with its isolated variable to another nearly identical system with only that variable affected. That is especially true when it comes to studying change over time.

    Kumaravadivelu identified the last "system" in language teaching, the last prevailing method where internal changes could be judged in terms of effectiveness: the structuralist "Audio-lingual" paradigm. It has (thankfully) nearly disappeared today. Its problems with generalizability were legend, but something also was lost: a common method where individual variables and techniques could be credibly assessed for effectiveness. Tucker's argument speaks clearly to our problem today.

    Problem? Well, maybe it is also an opportunity for individual instructors to maintain perspective when reading research studies focusing on one variable or technique before trying it out on students--and more importantly trying to figure out whether something worked or not. ("Research" has overwhelmingly established that it is always far more difficult to learn from our successes than our failures.)

    What is the solution? My guess is that a new paradigm, a more iconoclastic method--for teaching pronunciation in this case--will emerge from the chaos. What would that look like? Like ALM, it will at least initially show promise to provide a highly systematic model, a more comprehensive and complete set of tools for a wide range of learning populations and classrooms.

    At the moment I can (not surprisingly) only think of one . . .

    Saturday, June 11, 2016

    Gesticulate your way to better pronunciation teaching?

    If you have never seen Howard Keel do "Gesticulate" from the 1953 musical, Kismet--especially if you are an aspiring "Haptician"-- it is a must. I'm going to kick off an upcoming half-day Haptic Pronunciation Teaching workshop September 30 at the BC TEAL Interior Regional Conference at Thompson Rivers University, here in British Columbia with it!

    In haptic pronunciation teaching the focus is first on hand position and movement across the visual field, not on what the arm, head, voice and torso are doing. The idea is that the hand in some sense becomes the "conductor" of what the rest of  the body is doing. It is, of course, far more than just "gesticulating" but Keel's performance does certainly make the point!

    Enjoy! And if you are in the Kamloops area at the end of September, please join us!

    Sunday, June 5, 2016

    Are you an "upstanding" pronunciation teacher?

    If not, you should be, but take your time . . .  (We'll give you 4 weeks, in fact!) More evidence as to why, when doing pronunciation work, you should at least get your students on their feet as much as possible (or, of course, just switch to haptic pronunciation teaching (HPT) where almost all training is done standing, regardless!)

    I have reported on this topic and the work of the researchers at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health previously. Here is a quick summary of their latest study, summarized by Science Daily (full citation below).

    They looked at call center employees who either used a desk where they could stand while working or didn't. Not surprisingly, those who could stand up performed better. After about a month the effect kicked in, making them about 46% more productive! Earlier studies looked at cognitive function, gluteus maximus.
    attention, health benefits, etc., coming to pretty much the same conclusion: we are not design to work best parked too long on our

    What is interesting in that study for us is that it apparently took a while, about a month for the subjects to become "acclimated" to the new desk structure. Their evidence for that explanation is purely speculative, however. How the "full body" process of speaking and thinking and problem solving is enhanced just by standing is a fascinating question that is not really addressed. (I work on my feet for at least an hour every morning with coffee. Not sure it is always my best stuff, but in terms of organization and clarity, it often seems so.)

    We have seen something analogous in HPT. Assuming the typical pacing of a course, one 30-minute module plus about 90 minutes of homework per week, it is typically after Module 4 that it all "clicks", when generally everybody "gets it", and begins to see tangible progress. Look at the sequence:

    Week 1 - Introduction to haptic learning (50% done while standing)
    Week 2 - Short vowels and word stress (about 75% standing)
    Week 3 - Long vowels and word stress (about 75% standing)
    Week 4 - Rhythm and phrase stress (almost entirely done while standing)
    Week 5 - "Aha, I get it!"

    I have always assumed that it, the "Aha! I get it!" point, was primarily because of the path of the syllabus or that the patterns and techniques had become more second nature. But there may be more going on there, perhaps much more.

    If you think that you got the answer . . . stand up!

    Full citation:
    Texas A&M University. (2016, May 25). Boosting productivity at work may be simple: Stand up: Research shows 46 percent increase in workplace productivity with use of standing desks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5, 2016 from

    Sunday, May 29, 2016

    Why does haptic pronunciation teaching work?

    Good question! Here is an excerpt from the new Haptic Pronunciation Teaching - English (HaPT-E) Instructor notes. (If you'd like to preview the first 2 modules of the course (no charge) and get a free a copy of the Instructor Notes, contact:

    Essential Haptic Integrated Pronunciation Teaching (EHIEP):
    • Provides a principled way to integrate body movement into pronunciation teaching, "embodying" a number of techniques commonly used, some consciously, some less so-- emphasizing the importance of the kinesthetic, “felt sense” of fluent body movement and speech. 
    • Is HAPTIC!, using touch to make use of gesture systematic, consistent, focused and (relatively) "safe" and nonthreatening.
    • Focuses on intelligibility and fluency, not just accuracy, but can be used for accent reduction, if desired.
    • Integrates in basic voice training and public speaking skills --especially vocal resonance training--so that some improvement in vocal production is noticed relatively quickly by learner.
    • Uses vowels as the conceptual center of the presentation and practice system, establishing a conceptual and sensory space matrix in which (1) sounds and processes can be learned and adjusted, and (2) production can be consciously regulated better.
    • Is structured so that almost anyone, regardless of native language or learning style can learn it or learn to teach using it.
    • Hooks learners on the process so that they do their homework! (If done right, it is stimulating and refreshing, especially when done for at least 30 minutes, every other day!) 
    • Involves a set of basic, easy to learn exercises and techniques (warm up, vowels, word stress, rhythm and intonation) that are then integrated into classwork as the need arises. Seems especially effective in doing impromptu, incidental correction and modeling of pronunciation in classroom instruction.
    • Balances conscious analysis and “noticing” with contextualized drill and controlled practice; balances energizing, motivating activities with controlled, focused procedures.
    • Is more output-based system, encouraging earlier “safe” speaking and oral production than does many contemporary methods.
    • Is based on research from several fields in addition to pronunciation teaching, including public speaking, drama, music, haptics, sports training, psychology and neuroscience. 
    • Has been classroom tested over the last decade by hundreds of teachers. (Several empirical studies are now underway to better establish the effectiveness of the EHIEP method on more empirical, "scientific" grounds!)  
    See also the YouTube summaries of the main modules from v3.0 (Not great video quality but reasonably informative.) 

    Saturday, May 28, 2016

    Invisible pronunciation: What you see is not necessarily what you get.

    Nice new study by Smotrova "Making Pronunciation Visible: Gesture In Teaching Pronunciation", in
    press, in TESOL Quarterly, examining in depth the pedagogical gestures used by a pronunciation teacher. She had devised an ingenious set of gestures to signal various aspects of pronunciation, such as stress placement, intonation contours, etc. Students (subjects) seemed to have engaged well with the process and there was evidence of both uptake and subsequent student-initiated use of the gestural system.

    In the literature review, Essential Haptic-integrated Pronunciation (EHIEP) is described in some detail, for the most part accurately. What is missing, however, is any reference to the critical role of touch in contributing to the effectiveness of haptic pronunciation (HPT). EHIEP is, instead, characterized as a "kinesthetic" approach, meaning: movement and gesture-based. That is, of course, correct at face value, as far as it goes, but the application of touch to the system has been fundamental for over a decade, since 2005.

    What we discovered very early on was that gesture used for such "signalling" by the instructor has valuable applications, such as pointing out problems or coordination of gross motor movements such as hand clapping or dancing. What was far more problematic, however, was attempting to use gesture systematically by conducting learner body movement to help them "embody" the new or corrected sounds. Only by using touch to anchor gesture, primarily by touch on the stressed syllable but also in many cases by assigning touch to the beginning and the terminus of the gestural movement, could we consistently work effectively with pedagogical gesture.

    That is particularly the case when you want learners to use gesture spontaneously or with homework assignments. If not carefully controlled and applied, gesture use is often at best only marginally effective; at worst, threatening, intimidating and highly invasive.

    In other words, the key is not just what you can see someone else doing,  but how well that gesture connects up in the body, or is "embodied" with the sound element or structure being taught, corrected or practiced. And that happens most consistently when the learner does the pedagogical movement pattern (gesture) with precision, the focus of EHIEP. Touch makes that process consistent and systematic, and generally quite acceptable and emotionally "safe" for learners as well. 

    The general visual/cognitive bias in pronunciation teaching today is very problematic. Although it is understandable, given the often rigid and noncognitive nature of traditional drill and articulatory training models, it is simply too easy for learners and instructors to avoid the physical/kinesthetic side of the process which can be both inordinately time consuming and individualized.

    At the basic instructional level, HPT is (simply) the answer.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    Haptic Pronunciation Teaching and Applied Phonology Course, August 1st~26th in Vancouver, BC!

    If you are in the Vancouver area in August, join us at Trinity Western University for the Ling 611 Applied Phonology course (3 graduate credits), part of the MATESOL or just the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching component of that course. (Housing available.)

    Ling 611 meets on campus 9~12:00, Tuesday through Friday. August 2nd ~ 18th. Monday's are "reading days". Fridays, students in teams submit a brief research report on the week's work. During the 4th week of the course, students do an individual research paper in consultation with the instructors and take final certification test in haptic pronunciation teaching. 

    HaPT-E Certification Course
    General syllabus:
    • Week 1 - Learning and teaching pronunciation
    • Week 2 - Teaching listening and pronunciation
    • Week 3 - Teaching speaking and pronunciation
    The  topics of the 3 hours of each morning are roughly as follows:
    • Hour 1 - Haptic pronunciation teaching
    • Hour 2 - Phonetic analysis of learner data
    • Hour 3 - Theory and methodology
    Options: (If interested, contact me at TWU:
    • Take the graduate course for credit (about $2400) or as an auditor (less than half price). You have to apply for that and have some prerequisite background in either case. 
    • Do just the Haptic Pronunciation part. That means 12 hours of class, plus about 12 hours of  homework, which includes 2 tests. If you pass the tests, you get a certificate in HPT. (Cost of that will be about $500, which includes materials and certificate. You'll also be free to sit in on the other two hours of Ling 611 if you have time.) Limited number of places available for that option. 
    Keep in touch!


    Saturday, April 23, 2016

    New (haptic) Rhythm Fight Club at BCTEAL 2016: Why haptic works better . . .

    Photo credit:
    Next Saturday, at Simon Fraser University, at 11:45 at the BCTEAL conference, Shine Hong and I will be doing a 45 minute mini-workshop on the new version of the Haptic Rhythm Fight Club. The HRFC, introduced in 2013, has "evolved" considerably since.

    Murphy (2013;38) describes the typical use of "boxing-like" gestures in pronunciation teaching as follows: ". . . while using nonthreatening boxing moves, gently sparring with partners to coordinate simulated jabs with stressed syllables of prominent words."

    On the face of it, the HRFC looks like that. In its early development, before 2013 it was in many respects. The current version is substantially different, however, for at least three reasons.
    • First, the boxing gestures are intended primarily for personal use, not in sparring with a partner--although we still do that occasionally in demonstrations just for fun, as we will next week. 
    • Second, The HRFC gestural patterns are highly controlled, moving within narrow "channels" in the air in front of the learners, such that the energy of the "punches" is focused, never out of control. 
    • Third, something must be held in the hand that creates the tactile anchoring very distinctly, that can be squeezed on the stressed syllable word or words spoken during the boxing gesture. That can be a ball of some kind, a wadded up piece of paper, a glove, etc. 
    As noted in any number of previous posts here, in general, the indiscriminate use of gesture in pronunciation or language teaching is pretty much a wash (can have both strong positive and negative affects). Although it can be quite motivating and "fun", for learners, in many cultures it is at best a turn off, at worst personally very invasive. In addition, research in kinesic and haptic learning has long established the fact that just because a gesture or movement accompanies a spoken phrase or visual focus does not mean that the location of the stressed element will automatically be recalled later. In fact, a "wild" gesture may do more to disguise the location of that key focus by drawing attention instead to anything else that is happening simultaneously. More is required.

    Controlled gestures, on the other hand, with discrete touch on the focal syllable do much to deal with such "distraction" and make the classroom and personal practice of gesture use more acceptable to a wider range of personality styles and preferences. That has certainly been our experience in the last 4 years.

    If you are in town, join us Saturday, either in the workshop or at the TWU MATESOL table in the exhibition area.

    Keep in touch!

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    20 Ideas for TESOL 2017 haptic pronunciation teaching proposals!

    Time for doing proposals for TESOL 2017! The deadline is June 1st. If you are interested in being on a team that does a workshop, poster session, demonstration or paper, please let us know. We almost always work with teams of 2 or more and invite those who are not trained hapticians but want to be to sign on to a proposal. With the new v4.0 Haptic pronunciation teacher training program (out soon) you can be quite up to speed by next March!

    Hopefully, we'll also have a booth this coming year for the first time to promote v4.0. (With that comes a couple of Exhibitor's sessions on the program as well.) Here are some of the proposal ideas we have been discussing of have presented or published on earlier. A formal proposal could, of course, be a combination of topics with a haptic "core"!
    HaPT-E v4.0 -Serious Fun!
    1. Pre-convention institute or workshop on haptic pronunciation teaching
    2. Spontaneous and incidental correction (using haptic techniques)
    3. Haptic teacher training certification course
    4. Haptic phonetics (working on that one already)
    5. Haptic techniques for vocabulary development
    6. Haptic homework (working on that one already)
    7. (Ch)oral reading (haptic-anchored) 
    8. Changing fossilized pronunciation (haptically)
    9. Haptic consonant workshop (working on that one already)
    10. Contrastive (haptic) analyses (e.g., Chinese, Korean or major dialects)
    11. Fluency training (Rhythm Fight club)
    12. Haptic accent reduction techniques
    13. Haptic-anchored attending skills
    14. Haptic techniques for basic literacy training
    15. Haptic discourse strategies/markers
    16. Haptic phonics
    17. Brain Research on haptic learning
    18. Expressive (haptic) pronunciation teaching
    19. Haptic linking techniques
    20. Haptic techniques for vowel reduction, unstressed and secondary stressed vowels 
    21. Haptic-anchoring of online pronunciation instruction

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016

    Gesture the cause of pronunciation problems?

    That's right! You should try it! Here's why . . .

     Referring to ways in which learners' L1s differs from their L2s is generally not a priority in pronunciation teaching--or in general language instruction. In some contexts, however, especially EFL-like courses where phonetics or translation serve as the point of departure, the structure of the L1 may be among the early topics addressed. For a number of reasons, nonetheless, many contemporary methodologists avoid it. A quick, informal poll among colleagues recently came up with a nice range of opinion:

    "Why confuse things?"
    "Best avoided."
    "Not that confident, myself."
    "May cause even more interference."     

    That last comment is interesting. Clearly, if not done carefully or well, that could be the case. So, how might you "do that well?" (If you have some suggestions in that regard, in addition to the one I am about to recommend, please post a comment w/it!)

    In haptic pronunciation teaching, we often and very effectively lead learners across "gestural bridges" between L1 and L2 phonological elements, such as individual sounds (vowels and consonants), rhythm patterns and tone movement (intonation). We do that by having learners mirror us or a video  as they perform "pedagogical movement patterns" (PMPs),  gestures synchronized speaking, that represent both the L1 and L2 sounds or sound patterns--and often the relative distance between them--in the visual space in front of the learner. 

    Recently published research by Carlson, Jacobs, Perry and Church in Gesture, The effect of gestured instruction on the learning of physical causality problems, suggests why the "contrastive haptic PMP approach" may work. (Now granted, the analogy between video instruction on how gears work and the relationship between how an L1 sound is physically articulated and that of its L2 near-equivalent--that may cause serious interference or negative transfer--may be something of a stretch! But stick with me here!)

    In the study, subjects either viewed a video where the instructor (a) explained the process without gesturing or (b) the "speech plus gesture" protocol.  Their conclusion: 

    "Results showed that . . .  instruction was . . .  significantly more effective when gesture was added. These findings shed light on the role of gesture input in adult learning and carry implications for how gesture may be utilized in asynchronous instruction with adults."

    What the conclusion misses, but is unpacked in the article, is the potential importance of the nature of the concept being taught in the first place, as it says in the title: physical causality, meaning that the contact and motion of one  gear as it affected the state and movement of the other gear. In other words, the impact of the gestural protocol was so pronounced, in part, because it was portraying and embodying a physical process.

    Studies of the connection of gesture to more abstract, far less embodied concepts such as interpretation of emotion or intent are much less consistent, understandably. Pronunciation of a language is, on the other hand, an essentially physical, somatic process. Hence, using gesture (and touch) to anchor it makes perfect sense. 

    Just thought I'd point that out . .