Proprioceptive Language Learning Method

The proprioceptive language learning method (proprioceptive method) is a language learning technique which emphasizes simultaneous development of cognitive, motor, neurological, and auditory functions as all being part of a comprehensive language learning process. Therefore, lesson development in this method is as concerned with the training of the motor and neurological functions of speech as it is with cognitive (memory) functions. It further emphasizes that training of each part of the speech process must be simultaneous. The proprioceptive method, therefore, emphasizes spoken language training, and is primarily used by those wanting to perfect their speaking ability in a target language.

An introduction to the proprioceptive method.
Proprioception is a distinct sensory attribute that provides feedback solely on the internal status of the body. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving as a result of expended effort, as well as the spatial orientation of various parts of the body in relation to each other. Proprioceptivity as specifically used within speech therapy is the sense within the organism itself which detects or controls the movement and location of the muscles, tendons, and joints which are used to create speech. The mouth, vocal cords, diaphragm, and lungs incorporate thousands of nerve sensors which the brain uses to control the movement and position of these organs.

The proprioceptive method is modeled after speech pathology practice.
The proprioceptive method stands virtually alone as a second language acquisition (SLA) method in that it bases its methodology on a speech pathology model. By design, it attempts to simultaneously train motor, neurological, and hearing functions of human speech in conjunction with the cognitive functions of the mind. The proprioceptive method, therefore, is not merely a modified direct method which uses audio-lingual techniques. Rather, it is a spoken language education method which stresses the necessity of purposely training the neurological control and feedback of the mouth as an integral part of language instruction. (For the purpose of this discussion, the mouth includes the tongue, vocal cords, diaphragm, and lungs.) This language learning method recognizes the mind as being both the control center for the entire neurological process as well as the cognitive center for vocabulary and syntax memory. Nonetheless, Wilfried Decoo reminds us that it is unlikely that any language learning method can ever be identified as being entirely new. The proprioceptive method may be a new application in Second Language Acquisition, but these same techniques have been used for decades in speech pathology to correct problems encountered by first language (L1) speakers.

The proprioceptive method stresses that mere knowledge of vocabulary and grammar is not the sole requirement for spoken language fluency, but that the mind receives real-time feedback from both hearing and neurological receptors of the mouth and related organs in order to constantly regulate the store of vocabulary and grammar memory in the mind during speech. In regard to feedback during speech, Denes and Pinson say, “In the simple speaker-listener situation . . . there are really two listeners, not one, because the speaker not only speaks, he also listens to his own voice. In listening, he continuously compares the quality of the sounds he produces with the sound qualities he intended to produce and makes the adjustments necessary to match the results with his intentions.” In regard to the use of feedback to regulate speech, these same authors say, “But speech is much more than just a complex motor activity. It involves an acquired knowledge of the language code by which words are associated with objects and concepts. It involves a knowledge of syntax and grammar. It involves the continual interaction of stored information and voluntary conscious activity on the highest levels of the brain. In short, speech differs from most motor activities because it requires much greater efforts of the central nervous system. The final results of the speech process, so far as the central nervous system is concerned, are streams of nerve pulses sent to control the muscles of the organs used during speech.”

Speech is a closed-loop system.
As the name proprioceptive method indicates, this method views the relationship between the mind and the mouth and related organs during speech as a closed-loop control system. However, not all researchers share the view that speech is a closed-loop system. McNeil says, “Research aimed at determining how central nerve cells generate so-called motor programs was initiated. Two schools of motor control originated. The one emphasizes the importance of the central program and views afferent input as relatively unimportant (open-loop control), while the other school takes the position that afferent input is of great significance and that movements are under continuous control by feedback (closed-loop control).” The proprioceptive method does not appear to take sides on this debate. Rather, it merely says that in order to effectively learn a Second Language, all proprioceptive and auditory feedback must occur simultaneously with cognitive learning. Since the studies documenting both open- and closed-loop speech control is substantial, there is no difficulty in acknowledging that the human mind is capable of using both to produce speech.

A simple illustration of open-loop and closed-loop control in the human mind is in order. If you are watching a distant train moving along its tracks on the opposite side of a river, you are using closed-loop controls as you watch the engine. Your eye and head movements are sending signals to your brain which, in turn, allow you to continue following the train by moving your eyes and head. However, if the engine enters a tunnel, you then switch to an open-loop control where—with no feedback from your eye and head movement, you could make a close approximation as to when the engine would exit the tunnel. The closed-loop control is dependent on proprioceptive feedback from your eye and muscle movement. The open-loop control is done entirely within your mind with no external feedback.

Van Riper and Erickson say, “Respiration, phonation, resonation, and articulation—all these diverse processes that combine to produce speech are regulated by the nervous system. . . There are at least one hundred muscles that must work together with precise timing. . . and then the whole activity must be monitored as it occurs." Speech pathology professionals are always mindful of the proprioceptive sense of first language acquisition when correcting defective speech.

The proprioceptive method in use
Having postulated that spoken language requires the training of the neurological responses (including feedback) to an equal degree as memory, the proprioceptive method makes an important application to the development of spoken language instruction. For optimum effectiveness, it maintains that each of the components of second language acquisition must be experienced simultaneously. It therefore advocates that all memory functions, all motor functions and their neurological receptors, and all feedback from both the mouth and ears must occur at exactly the same moment in time of the instruction. Thus, according to the proprioceptive method, all student participation must be done at full speaking volume. Further, in order to train memory, after initial acquaintance with the sentences being repeated, all verbal language drills must be done as a response to the narrated sentences which the student must repeat (or answer) entirely apart from reading a text.

Other names for the proprioceptive method
The proprioceptive method has also been identified as the proprio-kinesthetic method, and more commonly, as the feedback training method.