Brains and Hearing

I just got this Scientific American article link from the ACTFL Smart Brief about the role of feedback in learning to listen. That means that most of you have it too, but I’d love to discuss how we could use this information in a CI classroom. 


9 responses to “Brains and Hearing

  1. Jen schongalla

    I just read the article and have to say that while interesting, I think the researchers are missing the point of contextualized language. I’m not refuting their findings but I feel like this is yet another way too comparrntailized view. Isolating specific words ….hmmm? Again, interesting but not sure I would add a lot of this in my classroom other than to be aware of high frequency structures that sound similar and be sure to use them in multiple contexts. Implicit in their finding is the value of input… but we already know that. Maybe I am oversimplifying? Love to read this stuff though! Thanks for sharing Michele!


    • I agree about compartmentalizing. There are some sounds that kids get mixed up in Russian, and it would be fun to have a few minute-long practices with them, if I could figure out a way to do it…but then again, such preparation takes way longer than it might be worth. I thought Piedad’s ideas (below) were closer to what we might want to remember.


  2. Hola!
    Thank you for inviting us to think! I saw three different aspects in the article and find them all valid.
    1. Immediate feedback. How can we do that in the classroom without doing explicit correction and distracting the class rhythm? I do it when they students are reading aloud. When they finish the sentence I ask them to say again x word and make them aware of the sound that is confusing. (Every week we take turns reading something, sentence by sentence, frequently the homework story when checking for total understanding)
    2. A lot of input, not just a little. That is what we are all about in TPRS. We are talking all the time in regular normal native speed and accent.
    3. Variety of voices. This may be the tricky part. I have a collection of 45 to 50 audio books, children’s books, for my students to read along. They love it! They have said many times they do not understand completely what they are reading, but they are familiar with the stories and simply love it! They enjoy listening to the readers. My friend Tim in the middle school plays programs and news from radio stations, and has the same results and comments. At the beginning the students are puzzled, but if we are CONSISTENT in giving them frequently opportunities to listen without high expectations, just because, after some time they start understanding more and more.
    4. Learning non-consciously. That is what TPRS is all about, be it through games or through stories. The center of the attention is the game or the story, not the forced learning of vocabulary or conjugations. There are a lot of great sources of games with audio for Spanish. (I am redesigning my web site to make all those sources available.)
    5. Ear training tools. I started my collection of audio many years ago when I realized how demanding TPRS on the teacher if we do not share to be the source of input. It just takes time to find or create the complementary tools to our own voice.
    Final comment. The article supports our TPRS principles of natural acquisition, we listen to many different voices when we are learning our first language. We have to find ways to replicate it in the classroom.
    Enjoy the summer! (Monday June 23 is my last day)


  3. Piedad, you’ve answered this article exactly as needed, bringing to mind the ways that we can use this information in the classroom. I especially appreciate the reminders to find ways to play a variety of voices, as well as to take some of the burden of input off of ourselves. I don’t do that very well, and always mean to do so. MovieTalk has worked well to get voices in, even if I only play the spoken parts as preview and postview.


  4. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they compared the results of compartmentalized study of sounds with the results of loads of comprehensible input.

    I think some sound study might have sped up my acquisition of Mandarin at NTPRS last summer. The differences in tone faded so quickly from my ears, sometimes immediately. I used the transcriptions on the board to verify almost every word. Knowing the sounds would have lightened my cognitive load some.

    In Spanish, I teach the sounds of the vowels, because they are the least like English. What the study above describes sounds like a modified form of dictation. I might try doing some dictation at the word level on mini-whiteboards, with instant feedback and see what it does for the kids. 2-5 words per day featuring the vowels until the kids get confidence might help overcome years of training in L1. It might reduce cognitive load and increase confidence at the beginning of the year. That would make it worth it.


    • That’s funny…I usually do that in the beginning of the year too with Cyrillic, but hadn’t connected it to this study. They write syllables or short words that we’ve used as I dictate, and I either write them down quickly or I point to the correct ones. Probably writing them for feedback is more useful so that they can instantly correct is better. Thanks for reminding me!


  5. After reading this article and chasing the idea around the internet for a bit I stumbled across the following study. The researcher writes about a specific case study, but it is an approach to developing phenological awareness in language learners that she intended to adapt to second language classrooms. The introduction REALLY caught my attention as a TPRS teacher, so I have copied it below (with a link to the report):

    The goal of this study is to pilot test an instructional approach, Processing Instruction (PI), originally designed to teach second language grammar, in teaching second language pronunciation. This instructional approach is based on the Input Processing (IP) model (VanPatten, 1996) and consists of exposing learners to strategically controlled drills that require their active attention to the input in order to attach meaning to it. Production is delayed until later phases, in the hope that by the time learners are asked to produce the target language, they would have already processed its grammatical system, therefore becoming capable of accurately producing grammatically correct language. By adapting this instructional approach to the teaching of pronunciation in this study, the assumption is that if we expose learners to strategically controlled drills that require their active attention to aural input in order to attach meaning to it, learners will process and intake the target language phonological system, and therefore will become capable of producing phonologically accurate pronunciation.

    The link to the entire article is:


    • Oops, I wrote “phenological awareness” rather than “phonological awareness”… this is especially embarrassing because my wife is an oceanographer who specializes in phenology. She would scream if she knew I just confused those two terms!


      • Wow! I can see why the intro grabbed your interest! I haven’t read the study yet, but I have travel time coming up and can’t wait. Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks for the “oops.” That was a funny one! Your fingers are probably just used to typing or your ears have heard “phenology” more often, so that was default. I end up typing “heccrbq” when I mean “Russian,” because that is where the Cyrillic letters fall on the typewriter.


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