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The Human Factor

The Human Factor – Article 15


We– Humans

According to Michael Shermer 2004, the following characteristics  are shared by humans and other social animals, such as primates, dolphins, whales, especially the great apes:

  1. attachment and bonding,
  2. cooperation and mutual aid,
  3. sympathy and empathy,
  4. direct and indirect reciprocity,
  5. altruism and reciprocal altruism,
  6. conflict resolution and peacemaking,
  7. deception and deception detection,
  8. community concern and caring about what others think about you,
  9. awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.  (1)

     Interesting, don’t you think?  I’m still pondering on this information weeks after reading this finding by ethologists, scientists who study animal behavior.

    Funny, the vanity of human beings.  We pretty much think those nine characteristics are unique to humans.  It took study, ethology, of other social animals to discover these characteristics in other animals.  Importantly, the scale for these characteristics in humans far outstrips anything found in other social animals.

Only Humans Send the Children to School

      In the United States, the law requires all children to go to school. In U.S. public schools, schooling usually begins between 4 and 6 and continues to around age 17 to 18. After the first year of kindergarten, there are 12 grades.  (2)

     In North American society, English speaking and written English skills are specifically taught to children for twelve years.  Such a lot of time and effort for acquiring English speech and written communication!   So the question is: Why bother?

     Likely because humans are social animals and have those same those nine characteristics listed before as other social animals.  But unlike other social animals, humans use oral communication or speech, and written language as primary vehicles to express and communicate those characteristics of social animals.

The Critical Reasons for those Nine Characteristics of Social Animals

     Why those nine characteristics?  Social science and ethology of social animals agree that to coexist in groups, those characteristics in individuals greatly contribute to survival and thriving of the group.

     How important is survival and thriving?   According to Dalrymple (2001), Earth is 4.5 billion years old (a billion is 100 million). (3)  Life (the Last Universal Ancestor, LUCA with the genes common to all life today) may be 3.5 billion years old  (Theobold et al, 2010’ Schopf, 2007).  (4) (5).

     Since the beginning of life on Earth, 99% of all species are extinct—that’s 5 billion species. Current visible species range from 10 million to 14 million of which about 1.9 million have been named and 1.6 million documented in a central data base to date, leaving 80% not yet described. (6)

     Heck, 10 to 14 million species sound like a lot of species’ survival.  But not so much when compared to the 99% extinction of visible species on Earth, those 5 billion species.

Next:   The Critical Role of Bonding for Humans– and What the Heck That Has to do with Acquiring Clear English Speech!


  • Shermer, Michael, 2004, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule  – a book on ethics and evolutionary psychology, Henry Holt and Company
  •  https://usahello.org/education/children/grade-levels/
  • Dalrymple, G. Brent (2001). “The age of the Earth in the twentieth century: a problem (mostly solved”. Special Publications, Geological Society of London. 190 (1): 205-221
  •  Theobald, D. L. (May 2010). “A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry”. Nature465 (7295): 219–222.
  • Schopf, J. William; Kurdryavtsev, Anatolliy B.; Czaja, Andrew D.; Tripathi, Abhishek B. (5 October 2007). “Evidence of Archean life: Stromatolites and microfossils”.   Precambrian Research.  158 (3-4): 141-155.
  • Stearns, Beverly Peterson; Sterns, S. C.: Stephen C. (200) Watching from the Edge of Extinction.  Yale University Press. p. preface x.

Copyright 2023 Clear Talk Mastery, Inc

B and Br for “Brother”- Press Firmly Lips Together and Loud Voice

This is Number 6 in our hierarchical arrangement of American English (AE) pronunciation 2 minute tutorials.  This systematic arrangement is the most efficient and makes accuracy easy in training your brain and mouth to get clear AE speech sounds and words. 

Now we show you the consonant b before the consonant r in the word “brother”.   The critical feature is pressing firmly the lips together and making a strong voice from the vocal folds in your throat for the consonant sound b.  Dr. Johnson also demonstrates the easy way to pronounce the American English consonant sound r.

 Consider doing massed practice.  Studies have shown that whole word memorization  requires an average of  35 repetitions or trials per word.  First imitate Dr. Johnson to get cognitive understanding of how to pronounce the consonants b and consonant blend br and the word.  Some people first imitate the video over and over.   Once they cognitively understand what to do, then they do deliberate practice on their own.  Typically a pause between repetitions happens automatically which gives the brain a moment to plan for the word and to determine if pronunciation was accurate.  Then do mass practice accurately to get to long lasting memory.  Do other practices on the word on upcoming days, distributed practice, which makes the brain muscle memory stronger.

Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain

Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain– Aarticle 12


It really is true, for mastering American English, you can “Buy one, get three free.”  Every time you push the blade and tip of the tongue forward in your mouth for the accurate TH no voice speech sound, you are also deliberately practicing the TH with a voice, the L, and the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”

That’s because of how the human brain controls speech.

                               What Part of the Brain Controls Speech?

Control of speech is part of a complex network in the brain.  The brain regions called lobes  which control speech include the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes which formulate  or put together what you want to say and are located usually in the left hemisphere (Cafasso, 2019).  —– More later about the importance of “usually”—which is actually critically important for human brains.

The motor cortex in your frontal lobe enables you to speak words. The brain’s language regions work together as a coordinated network with  some parts involved in multiple functions and redundancy in some processing pathways (Abbott, 2016).

To speak clearly, you must move the muscles of your mouth, tongue and throat. This is where the motor cortex participates.  Located in the frontal lobe, the motor cortex takes information from the Broca area, in the front part of the left hemisphere,  and tells the muscles of your face, mouth, tongue, lips, and throat how to move to form speech (Cafasso, 2019).

In particular, past studies have found that a part of the human brain called the ventral sensorimotor cortex, or vSMC, controls speech.  Using electrical stimulation, researchers found which general areas of the vSMC controlled which parts of the face and mouth.  But that kind of electrical stimulation couldn’t trigger meaningful utterances.  That finding reveals that speech sounds are not being stored in discrete brain areas, but rather arise from coordinated motor patterns involving multiple areas (Wein, 2013).

Electrical patterns in the brain transitioned within tens of milliseconds between distinct and different representations or patterns for different consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013)

Importantly, regions of brain activity during speech have a hierarchical, overlapping structure organized by phonetic feature.   Examples of phonetic features for American English include whether the speech sound has a voice or no voice (like P vs D, F vs V), or for instance whether there is prolonged audible friction of air  as in S, Sh, F, V or in contrast, the speech sound is quick ( such as J, CH, P, D).  Also, scientists found that consonants that require similar tongue locations have overlapping areas of activity (for instance American English T, D, J, Ch for tip of tongue, and NG, K, G for back of the tongue).  Notably, patterns of brain activity differ the most between consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013).

Wein also emphasized that although the researchers used English,  they found the key phonetic features observed were ones that linguists have observed in spoken languages around the world.

For acquisition of clear American English speech when it is a second or other language (ESL, English as a Second Language), a key skill to master is changing and making different the movement and positioning of the muscles,  and the tension of muscles in the tongue, lips, jaw, and the muscles in the throat for the vocal folds or chords.

To reiterate because it is so important: speech sounds and spoken words require coordinated motor patterns, which are hierarchical and overlapping.  An example of this coordinated motor or movement pattern is the coordinating of making a voice at the vocal folds in your throat with pushing out air from your lunghs and positioning of the top front teeth on the lower lip to make the American English speech sound V.

The research cited above gives physiological and brain insight for an important facet of learning or acquiring clear English pronunciation.  That is, researchers have discovered that the brain is organized for speech according to movements of the face and mouth which includes tongue, lips, jaw and for phonetic features which include voicing or no voice, and audible air friction such as in S, Z, SH, ZH which is SH with a voice.   You probably already know that positioning of muscles of the lips is a critical articulator difference which distinguishes the English speech sound of S from SH and Z from ZH.

Now to swing back to the “Buy one, get three free”  proclamation.  A practical application is that if you train your motor system in the brain for the accurate positioning of your tongue “forward” for TH with voice—such as “the”–  you are also training the positioning of the tongue  for TH with no voice – such as “think”–and also for the consonant L—as in “light” and “tall” and the tongue forward movement  for the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”  The same principle applies for the accurate pronunciation of  English speech sounds K, G, and NG  which uses the back of the tongue hitting the roof of the  back of the mouth.  Do one of those K, G, NG accurately and you are making stronger the neural connections in the motor cortex for two more speech sounds.

Do you want motivation or a reason for doing a lot of accurate speaking (including reading words and sentences)?   The “Buy one get two or three free”  motivation is powerful reason.

Recall that the same kind of bonus  to “Buy one get one free” motivates humans to buy products in grocery or other stores and online.

To add important actionable information:  Evidence indicates that daily practice of 400 to 800 times leads to reorganization of the brain connections after a stroke, also called “brain attack” or CVA, Cerebrovascular Accident (Vearrier et al 2005; Flint Rehab 2023.  If my arithmetic is accurate, to speak 400 speech sounds consecutively, as in connected speech, reading aloud, takes about 30 minutes.  If you are using a recorded video lesson or recorded audio lesson to accurately imitate, then the practice time is longer because you must listen and perhaps watch before you imitate.   With our more than 800 different student/learners for more than 20 years, most frequently they do 30 minutes of  deliberate practice with their voice speaking Clear English (Careful Leveled-Up Mode or Work-Out Mode) and add minutes for the listening to  audio recorded spoken English with or without video.   For humans, listening and imitating accurately clear English words is quite efficient for learning and mastery for accurate American English pronunciation.

The take-home message is quite good! The good news is that accurate American English is not some random collection of phonetic or speech sound featuresunknowable because they are random.   Instead, systematic learning – which has been our mission for more than 20 years–which uses the scientific evidence of brain organization and function for English speaking can lead to excellent efficiency in learning.  The systematic learning is the crux of the exercises and tasks for learning from video recorded lessons, different audio recorded lessons, and customized textbook with additional tasks for independent speech practice without imitation for deeper learning..

Yay for efficient and long lasting learning based on brain research and evidence and experience with student-learners.  Yay today for “Buy one, get two or three free!”  Way to go, human brain!  Way to go for human being learning!

copyright 2023 Clear Talk Mastery Inc

The Endgame is Procedural Memory

Accent Reduction: The Endgame is Procedural Memory Article 11

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Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasures nor this thing nor that but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing.   William Butler Yeats.

The endgame is to type on a keyboard without looking at the keys.  Or to safely ride a bike, or safely drive a car, or accurate English speech!

All are procedural memory which end up as automatically retrieved.  When needed procedural memories are automatically retrieved and used for execution of the bringing together of procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills.  These skills also range from tying shoes, to reading, to acquiring grammatical rules according to Koziol et al, 2012,  Wikipedia, 2023, and Ullman et al, 2005.

Acquisition of clear and accurate English speech communication is  procedural learning.  Procedural memory is a type of long-term memory which aids the performance of particular types of tasks without ongoing conscious awareness of the previous experiences of learning.

Procedural memory is created through procedural learning, or repeating a complex activity over and over again, until all of the relevant neural systems work together  to automatically produce the activity.  Implicit procedural learning is essential for the development of any motor skill or cognitive activity.   Procedural learning and memory are implicit because the actual learning is inferred from an individual’s improvement in performing the task.

Repeating the task over and over is critical.  It is in the repetition that all the relevant and needed neural systems get connected to work together.

We’re lucky to be living in 2023.  Originally, Beaunieux and colleagues (2006) in empirical research  confirmed the existence of three separate phases of procedural learning.  They conceptualized the three phases as a combination of explicit and implicit contributions to the formation of procedural memory.

Specifically, during the repetition of the task, at the beginning of learning a task is where the effortful learning of the cognitive phase happens.  Repeating of a task over and over at the beginning of learning is marked by a steep learning curve.  Then with more repeating of a task, that is followed by gradual improvement and ends in high performance levels without further improvement.  The gradual increases to higher or better performances characterize emerging automatization of the associative phaseSustained highest performance characterizes autonomous procedures when procedural memory has formed (Hong et al, 2019).

Learning to drive is one of the most widely known examples of procedural learning among adults.   The more you drive, the better you get at it.  Just reading a manual on driving or observing your parents drive will not suffice, and hence you won’t be a good driver unless you put your foot to the pedals.

What does this have to do with acquisition of clear English speech communication?  Typically nonnative-born adults who find that others are having difficulty (and likely frustrated) with understanding their English speech seek fixing their English speech communication.  (Alternatively, their supervisors recommend instruction.)   Since these adults have spent 18 or more years of speech production in their first language,  the ground floor or core task is their learning how to produce the American English (AE) 25 consonants and 14 vowel sounds accurately so they are easily understood by native-born Americans and other internationally- born persons.   There is cause for rejoicing for the first language consonant and vowel sounds which are the same as American English.  Ground floor is thus focusing on acquiring the position  and speed of the articulators of tongue, lips, teeth and jaw and making a voice or no voice for American English consonants and vowels which are different from the first language.  This is the cognitive stage of learning for the procedural learning of accurate American English speech communication.

In order to go from the first phase of procedural learning which is the effortful phase and cognitive phase (steep curve of learning), through the associative phase (more gradual learning) and onto the final autonomous phase of learning for sustained high performance—all this takes practice over and over again for the speech articulators, vocal folds, and pushing of air from the lungs.  The repeated practice must be accurate!

Again, good thing we live in the 21st century.  Procedural memory is created by repetition of complex tasks until all the requisite neural systems work together to produce automatically the activity.  We actually know a great deal about those required neural systems.  More about those neural systems  later.

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery

How Many Words for English Proficiency

English Speaking Skills: How Many Words for English Fluency?


       Here are some rough word counts according to Jakob Gibbon, 2023:

      Advanced: With 4,000-10,000 words your communication goes beyond everyday conversation  and into specialized vocabulary for talking about your professional field, current geo-political and local events and news, opinions and vocabulary for more complex abstract verbal vocabulary.  This is also the C2 level in the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR).

      Fluent: 10,000+ words.   At around 10,000 words is considered near-native level of vocabulary, with the requisite words for talking about a wide range of topics in detail.   Most importantly, you recognize enough words in every utterance or sentence so that  most frequently you understand the unfamiliar ones from context.  That means you can easily add words to your vocabulary if you read English a lot.

    And just so you know: Estimates of words known by the average native American English speaker vary from 10,000 to 65,000 words.   

     Don’t stop now deliberately adding to your vocabulary!  It’s no wonder that  proficiency in American English speech communication continues for native-born Americans throughout their life.  They are adding vocabulary, along with accurate pronunciation for professional words, scientific words, geo-political words, necessary words (like pandemic, corona virus), and skill for persuasive and information giving speaking communication, and skill for stimulating social conversation and presentations.

     Research suggests that the average American hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words during the course of a 24-hour period according to Rebecca Lake, 2014.  That’s a major source of  “continuing education” for English speech communication, a source for increasing vocabulary and honing or making better the skills for communicating information, emotion, doing presentations, even refining body language to emphasize ideas.

      Relatedly, many (most?) professions in the education world, tech, medical, lawyers, etc. require continuing education.  Got to keep up with the profession and improve communication within the organization.  Such is lifelong learning.

      In the human development of proficiency for English speech communication throughout the lifespan (that’s what native-born speakers of AE do), just remember that the best kind of practice for English speech communication skills is deliberate practice where the purpose is to get better.

      Along with expanding their spoken vocabulary, nonnative-born persons can experience “pronunciation drift.”  Pronunciation drift is real and happens when AE pronunciation has gotten sloppy or inaccurate or the speaker has forgotten how to do American English speech sounds accurately or has forgotten the pronunciation rules.   Most likely is drift to  accented- English (Chinglish, Spanglish,  Indian English, Arabic English, etc.)  Most likely is also drift or movement of articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) to go lax and not tense, with decreased force or range of movement, and into difficult to understand consonants and slurring of words.

      Fact is, the kind of work environment makes a difference for vocabulary development, pronunciation  (and other English speech communication skills such a voice inflection or presentation skills). 

     Do you work in an organization where verbal English communication takes between 30 minutes and two hours or more?  If so, then you can do deliberate practice of clear English speech daily.

       Or does your profession call for less than 30 minutes or even less than 15 minutes of oral communication in English speech?    A good number of professions call for  extensive  computer work (or other forms of solo-work)  where hearing and speaking  English may be very limited.   Especially for the second circumstance, it’s not surprising that persons with English as a second language forget skills and may have very limited opportunity to deliberately practice American English speech skills in work and daily life. Deliberate practice of clear American English is the remedy. Take every opportunity to practice accurate and clear English speech by reading aloud anything from books to your children, online newspapers, several pages from a fiction book, or abstract or portions of a research article.

      For English speech communication, deliberate practice strengthens the accurate motor or muscle memory—including adding to vocabulary.  Deliberate practicc can be done no matter what stage in the lifecycle.  Ack, you could be 99 years old and benefit from doing deliberate practice to improve your deficits or make your strengths even stronger.   In other words, producing  strong, vibrant, accurate English speaking for a vocabulary of 10,000 words to 65,000  benefits with deliberate practice, no matter the life circumstances or age.

     Do native-born speakers deliberately practice pronouncing new vocabulary for work and social life? Absolutely!  One strategy is to pronounce words after a news broadcaster or entertaining program while streaming or while viewing YouTube.  Another strategy for native-borns is to enter vocabulary words to their smart phone, on the computer, or a notebook, and deliberately practice the pronunciation over and over until it is fluently and easily accurate.

     Funny thing is, deliberate practice for the motor and muscle activity of English speech takes about the same amount of time as “mindless” practice.  But the results are accuracy, proficiency, and long lasting… and deeper learning.   More on  “deeper learning” later.

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery, Inc.