(An earlier version of this story appeared on the HICPR blog.)
The great Arthur Lessac, in what became known as the “Lessac method,” captured what I think is the quintessential notion in truly embodied language teaching: Train the body first! Haptic Pronunciation Teaching is based on that idea: First teach learners a gesture or set of gestures that in some “visceral” or metaphorical way mimic a set of sounds—THEN attach the sounds to the gestures. Here is an example of sorts.
I did a workshop at a Korean University a few years back for about 400 undergraduates. The objective was to improve the rhythm of their spoken English . . . overnight, using a haptic pronunciation teaching technique called the “Rhythm Fight Club.” All of them had regular conversation classes the next morning. (Important note here: Only one of the half dozen conversation teachers came to the workshop, although all were invited.) I trained the students to act and “feel” like they were boxing when they spoke, first with easy dialogues on the screen and then, before we finished, with simple roleplays, in pairs. It got a little chaotic, as you can imagine, but they loved it! And just before I concluded the workshop, I gave them a “secret mission” . . .
The next morning, in their speaking classes, they were to use the same feeling in their upper bodies–without punching the air as if boxing, targeting their imagined opponent on key stressed words as they were speaking in class, without letting on to their teachers that anything was different.
I heard some amazing stories back. In the classes that pulled it off; teachers were stunned initially by the difference in the rhythm and energy–and even playfulness–evident in the conversational rhythm and confident volume-level of the class.
Let me “suggest” you try it sometime . . .
Bill Acton is Director of the MATESOL at Trinity Western University. His research and publications have been in the area of the role of the body in language learning and haptic pronunciation. He was at Nagoya University of Commerce, and active in the Neurolinguistics network in Japan, from 1991 to 2003.