Monday, May 22, 2017

Metacognitive competence: Know thy L1, L1C and inner parts to better acquire L2 and L2C
As reported in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (and summarized by, Böckler of the Max Planck Institute and Maxmilians of the University of Würzburg seem to have established empirically yet again--or maybe for the first time--what the ancient Egyptians had observed: "Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods". Well, their study is a bit more modest. You should at least be capable of gaining a better understanding of the "mental state" of others.

In the 3-month study that focused on "perspective taking" skills, including their "superpersonalities" and (I like this) their "inner parts" subjects developed enhanced ability to understand the position of the Other--which should result in improved engagement and learning. Psychologically healthy empathy operationalized, not just the ability to "sync" with others but beginning from a realistic and grounded understanding of who we are.

Have been unable to find any recent research or even reports on current practice where learners first go through a systematic "pre-language learning" program, gaining formal metacognitive and experiential knowledge of their L1 and L1 culture before actually getting to the L2. (My only first hand experience with that was the 3-months or so of military basic training that I went through in the US Air Force prior to beginning a one-year ALM experience in Russian language. Near perfect preparation!)

There are, of course, hundreds of studies looking at learner readiness and aptitude. In addition, most of us would contend that we continually do things and set up conditions that work toward enhancing learning, in effect accomplishing the same thing, in some sense like the B&M study. Culture and pragmatics are now thoroughly integrated (in theory) in instruction; L1 usage and reference are now much more widely accepted as well.

Many programs and courses place importance on general cultural awareness; some use the structure and sound system of the L1 as a point of departure as well. In haptic pronunciation teaching (EHIEP), for example, it is recommended, whenever possible, to train learners in the basics of the L1 sound system before introducing them to English or at least early on in the process. 

In our MATESOL program we are now using for the first time a "know thyself" instrument, the Strength Deployment Inventory, that shows promise in developing some of the same kind of "metacognitive competence". Tell us how you get at the same target in your pronunciation (or any other kind of) teaching! That is if you are aware of it . . .

Anne Böckler of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science and Julius Maximilians University Würzburg in Germany

Read more at:
nne Böckler et al, Know Thy Selves: Learning to Understand Oneself Increases the Ability to Understand Others, Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0023-6

Read more at:
nne Böckler et al, Know Thy Selves: Learning to Understand Oneself Increases the Ability to Understand Others, Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s41465-017-0023-6

Read more at:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Empir(esists and Millenials) strike back: Micro-learning in pronunciation teaching and elsewhere!
Talk about a flash from the past . . . If there are any survivors from the Behaviorist/Audio-lingual teaching era still with us, this report may just make their day.

Micro training/teaching/learning is back, but in some ways new and improved, I think. We've known for sometime now that the optimal attention span length for today's "video-media-phytes" is shrinking, down to somewhere around 3 or 4 minutes. Our overall attention span as a culture has been shrinking rapidly in the last 3 decades, in fact. But if that is the case, what do we do with the other 47 minutes of the 50 minute class? Micro-learning, or the shift from courses to resources, to the rescue.

Here is a nice definition and suggestions for using micro-learning from Steve Penfield at

"Microlearning is sometimes defined as simply providing learners with tiny bites of learning material, rather than longer-form modules or courses. These tiny bites could be interactive videos, podcasts, quizzes, and more. But it’s their length that is key. We’re talking two to three minutes max. And learners should have some choice about what they use and when." 

 He then provides 5 tips to keep in mind when micro-ing it:
  • Start with challenges
  • Create a scale
  • Use sources and rules to personalize the learning curve
  • Reward learners for their progress
  • Include milestones to highlight progress
And 3 key questions:
  • How can we create pathways that are personalized for our learners?
  • In what ways can we work in spaced practice?
  • In what ways can we use live data to motivate and encourage learners, while making the learning experience more social for them?
Several important notions there, other than your basic behaviorist recipe: (a) milestones of progress, (b) spaced (systematic) practice, (c) more engaging social learning and practice experience, and (d) use of "live" data. Any of those will add substantially to the effectiveness of your teaching, in general, but they are especially relevant to pronunciation work. Please let us know how you utilize any of those effectively in your method. Subsequent blog posts will focus especially on (b) and (c).

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Killing pronunciation 6: Eliminating distraction (and episodic memory) with gesture!
Have wondered for years why at times even the most ingenious use of gesture itself may not enhance memory for a sound or word. I assumed that it had something to do with what the learner was paying attention to at the time but had never seen any study that seemed to unpack that problem all that well. We know, for example, that visual distraction can effectively all but cancel out the impact of a haptic (movement + gesture) stimulus or haptic-anchored gesture. But why doesn't gesture generally just reinforce whatever is the focus of instruction or repetition? Turns out that it may be our Achilles Heel. Here's a clue.

A fascinating study by Laurent, Ensslin and Mari-Beffa (2015) entitled, An action to an object does not improve its episodic encoding, but removes distraction, illustrates the potentially double-edged nature of gesture. Without getting into the somewhat complex but innovative research design, what they discovered is that gesture accompanying focus on an object did not enhance episodic memory for the object and the context or surroundings but did strongly curtail distraction. evident in the diminished memory for other elements of the event. (Think of episodic memory as basically potential recall of emotional setting plus the 5 "W"s: who, what, where, why and when of a happening.) 

In other words, gesture accompanying a phrase, for example, should at least cut back on distracting features of the moment or context . . . but, other than that, it may not be adding much to the mix. It may be actually working against you.

At first glance, that may appear to at least to some extent undermine use of gesture in teaching. It does, in fact. Haptic pronunciation teaching, which uses gesture anchored by touch on stressed elements, is based on the principle that gesture that is not carefully controlled and focused with touch is "a wash" . . . it may or may not work. Over enthusiastic gesture use, for example, may not only turn off many of the students, compounded by cultural differences, but, in effect, it can be so distracting in itself that the language focus is lost entirely. 

It took me a couple of decades of working with kinesthetic pronunciation teaching techniques to figure that out. That insight came basically in the form of wildly divergent reports and feedback on gesture effectiveness by classroom teachers. Pronunciation teachers are generally by nature more "gesticular", often highly energetic and "moving" speakers. Perhaps you have to be in many contexts just to motivate students and maintain their attention, but it can, indeed, be our Achilles Heel. Is it yours? 

If so, get in touch (either with us or your local yoga, Alexander Technique, Lessac practitioner or Tai Chi shop!)

Laurent, X.; Ensslin, A. and  Mari-Beffa, P. (2015) An action to an object does not improve its episodic encoding, but removes distraction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 44(1), 244.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Gaby Cordero, 1983-2017

We have lost a good friend and promising "Haptician" (an ESL or EFL instructor who is highly skilled and certified in haptic pronunciation teaching.) Earlier this week, Gaby (the one on the left in the picture) died tragically in a car accident near her home in Costa Rica.

She had reported on her MA Thesis research with us in a research colloquium on haptic pronunciation teaching recently at the TESOL Convention in Seattle. She and her two colleagues, also pictured, had done their combined MA research through the University of Costa Rica on the application of haptic pronunciation teaching to L1 and L2 literacy instruction with 4th and 5th graders. It was a wonderful, action-research study, done by classroom instructors, themselves, demonstrating the potential of "haptic" in surprising and highly effective ways.

Her commitment and enthusiasm were contagious, as was her joie de vivre. We had many recent conversations, exploring how we would bring more HaPT there.

Gaby touched many lives. She will be greatly missed.