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Yay for Adult Learning: Bonds that Bind

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Yay for Adult Learning

Bonds that Bind

Article 16

How are Child Learning and Adult Learning Different –That is the question.

Child learning, especially visual learning and speaking a language, is more efficient in children than adults. Neuroimaging study found rapid neurotransmitter GABA boosting as a major potential explanation-component for that.  1, 2, 3. 4

A second reason for the faster learning is that children’s brains contain more “silent synapses”  which are inactive until required. This neuroplasticity allows for the flexibility in which the brain can acquire new learning  and memory as it is needed. 4.  Notably, plasticity or the ability to learn a motor skill by activating synapses is intensified during intense motor learning. 4

What about neuroplasticity in adults? Recent study of adult mice at MIT in 2022 uncovered that “silent synapses” are abundant in adult mice.  Silent synapses are groundwork for brain capacity and are recruited for new learning.  5, 6, 7

Critically, the human condition of adulthood is different than childhood or adolescence.   By the time a human is an adult, say 18 years old, an individual has considerable experience of being a part of social groups. Bonding is a characteristic shared by humans and other social animals.  (For the other eight characteristics shared by humans and other social animals, such as dolphins, whales, and especially big apes,  see blog article 15 http://www.cleartalkmastery.com/blog/2023/08/23/the-human-factor/)

Bonding theory maintains that most humans most of the time have behavioral patterns because they are bonded to the conventional wisdom of society through their being a member of various groups. 8, 9 and Footnote 1

( Stay with me. These behavioral patterns for most people most of the time positively affect adult learning – making for efficient and durable learning.  Yay for adult learning!)

Familial, education, workplace, religious/church act as drivers through which the bonding to the society’s group rules – behavior patterns encouraged by the groups –are maintained.   As long as ties to home or school or workplace or church remain strong, an individual is likely to maintain or keep doing the behavior patterns encouraged by the groups.

Hirschi (1979) and Johnson et al (1981) in expansion and refinement of  earlier work of Nye describe four processes through which behavior patterns are encouraged and maintained.  The first is commitment — the degree to which a person has interests (school, work, familial aspirations, belief system) that a path with particular behavioral patterns are encouraged and where nonconformity to those patterns would jeopardize that path.   With respect to this conforming or continuing of behavioral patterns, to paraphrase Hirschi, 1969, p 29, the human invests time, energy, the “self” in an activity path – say getting an education, building a business or a career, acquiring a reputation for virtue.  When ndividuals consider rebelling against the behaviors encouraged by the group or activity path, they must consider the costs or the risks they take in losing the investment or commitment they have made.  8, 9, 10. 11

No matter how strongly the groups an individual belongs to encourage specific behaviors and agreement with conventional wisdom, the message will be wasted unless persons have some inducement or reason to listen. The investment, or stake, is such an inducement.   It may include not only an immediate desirable position but a realistic promise of status in the near future.   For example, a student in college has the status of college student; in the workplace, the employee may have the position and status of assistant manager.  An example of the realistic promise of status in the near future could be for the student in college to become a college graduate with a degree (status by itself and enables entry into careers). An example of realistic promise of status in the future within a workplace could be for the assistant manager to see the career path of promotion to manager and above, which carries more status and salary.  Higher aspirations (for education/school such as BA, MA or PhD degrees, or workplace upward trajectory to management) promote the behavior patterns provided that the realistic promises are perceived as attainable over a relatively short time.

A second process of bonding is attachment to other people.  Here, to adhere to the behavior patterns is to act according to the wishes and expectations of others. A high level of attachment makes violation of those behavior patterns of going along with the wishes and expectations of others much less likely.

A third process of bonding is involvement, or engagement in conventional activities; it refers to an individual’s ongoing allocation of time and energy as opposed to one’s past investment of personal resources.  Only certain time and energy allocations that are bound up directly with conventional ties to one’s social group act to preserve or enlarge those behavioral patterns.  For instance, the amount of time watching television or streaming or gaming or reading magazines at home or work does not contribute to strengthening the ties to the family or workplace.  However, the amount of time sharing or preparing meals at home, engaging in family activities including celebrations or at school the amount of time attending class and doing homework, or at the workplace, cooperating with others on projects or engaging in training to increase workplace skill do contribute to involvement and thus strengthen the bonds to those social groups.

The fourth bonding process is belief in the validity or moral validity of social rules of groups or society (Hirschi, 1969, pp 16-26; Johnson et al, 1981).  Examples of belief for humans within the entities they have ties to include these:

1. Familial –Belief that wellbeing of the family is paramount – well-being such as health (all aspects), pursuit of happiness, productivity, safety and security.

2.  Education – Belief that persistence and dedication will yield learning and skill acquisition needed for academic coursework and attainment of graduation (diploma, certification, degree).  Belief that acquisition of skills in the education setting will generate life skills and employment with probable increased levels of status/pay.

3. Workplace – Belief that personal characteristics and behaviors regarding quality and quantity of work or productivity, increasing skills, accountability, focused effort, cooperation, and shared purpose will contribute to attainable desired outcomes for individuals.  These can include well-being on the job and foreseeable possible increase in responsibility, skill attainment, status, and enumeration or pay.

4. Religious entities, churches, or secular groups with codes of ethics:  Belief that the conventional wisdom of the entity for encouraged behaviors will bring enhanced well-being of the individual, of the group, of the society.  Code of ethics or encouraged behaviors could include character traits of honesty, accountability, altruism, sincerity, work ethic, etc.

To paraphrase Johnson et al (1981), to be effective the four processes of bonding – commitment, attachment, involvement and belief—must operate through affiliations with group and organizational representations of conventional wisdom and advice of society.  The stronger the ties, the greater the control or bonding.  The closeness of a tie or an affiliation in any one sector is likely to fluctuate or move up and down, but most adults have a multiplicity of important  conventional ties.  During periods when there is no stake worth protecting in the workplace, then family and other community memberships remain as sources of bonds and control.  For most adults it is an extremely rare occurrence when all important affiliations or ties to groups are in a disintegrated or failed state at once.

This is not true for children or youth/adolescents, who typically have their eggs in far fewer baskets than adults.  The only important conventional affiliations for most young persons are school and family.  When these ties deteriorate, there is nothing left because there are not affiliations with other groups. 

According to bonding theory, employment that creates an affiliation that the young or older adult worker does not want to jeopardize through misconduct is more likely to be effective in promoting the behavior patterns espoused or encouraged by the employment entity than employment that merely offers involvement in a conventional pursuit. For example,  an individual who feels motivated by the goals and mission of the workplace is more likely to devote more effort and focus than the individual whose work life is limited to just showing up at work, doing assigned tasks and taking home a paycheck. If the employment or school entity provides a commitment stake accompanied by valued attachments to other people, so much the stronger is the tie.

So, where is the advantage of adults compared to children learning a new skill?  Bonding theory maintains that the ties to various social groups give the adult the advantage of behavior patterns in the form of habits and desires which makes learning a new skill more efficient and enduring.   For example, acquiring a new skill, such as clear American English compared to an already present accented-English or hard-to-understand-English, requires heightened attention or focus/concentration,  deliberate (not mindless) practice, which is spaced in time or schedule (or distributed practice/perseverence in practice) to make for long lasting learning.  Adults have had extended school experience – 12 or more years of school learning is vastly different than 2 or 9 years.  The extended years of school learning for adults in the 21st century also means experience with video and auditory lessons, doing homework, and likely virtual meetings or learning.

Children may not have developed consolidated interests, ethics, interest in purpose and meaningful activities, knowledge about real world requirements and demands and priorities.   Contrarily, these mind frames are present for most adults, most of the time. Yay for adults!

Next, bonding and bootstrapping new skills onto old—the how for fast, durable adult learning.

FOOTNOTE 1This description of Bonding Theory is an expression of the Hirschi Social Bond Theory from 1969 which was based on his work in the 1960s and described and refined by Johnson et al, 1981. Bonding Theory as elucidated by Hirschi Johnson is a social control theory which describes the essential processes of why most people most of the time adhere to conventional behaviors rather than behaviors defined as criminal.  Notably, Bonding Theory here in this Article 16 is an expansion to include those same four processes  which form the basis for “why most people most of the time adhere to conventional patterns of behavior”.   While Hirschi limited his description to conventional behavior in contrast to behaviors defined by the society to be against the law, our description and examples extend more broadly.  Relatedly and notably, the four processes of Bonding Theory was and has been the well-spring from which qualitative assessment and program decisions were anchored from the start of this author’s work beginning 2000 for instruction to maximize efficiency and durability of nonnative-born adult acquisition of clear American English speech.


  1. Sebastian M.; Becker, Markus; Qi, Andrea; Geiger, Patrician’ Frank, Utrika Il; Rosendahl, Luke A.; Malloni, Wilhelm M.; Sasaki, Yuka; Greenlee, Mark W.; Watanabe, Takeo (5 December 2022)  “Efficient learning in children with rapid GABA boosting during and after training”. Current Biology. 32(23) 5022-5030)
  2. “Brain scans shed light on how kids learn faster than adults”. UPI
  3. Buxton, Alex (10 February 2016).  “What Happens in the Brain When Children Learn?” Neuroscience News
  4. Ismail, Fatima Yousif; Tatemi, Ali; Johnston, Michael V. (1 January 2017).  “Cerebral plasticity: Windows of Opportunity in the developing  brain”. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology. 21 (2); 23-48.
  5.  University press release: Trafton, Anne.  “Silent synapses are abundant in the adult brain”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology via medicalexpress.com.  Retrieved Dec. 2022.
  6. Vardalaki, Dimitra; Chung, Kwanghun; Harnett, Mark T. (December 2022). Filopodia are a structural substrate for silent synapses in adult neocortex”. Nature 612 (7939): 323-327.
  7.  Lioreda, Claudia Lopez (16 December 2022)  “Adult mouse brains are teeming with silent synapses”.  Science News..
  8. Johnson, Grant; Bird, Tom; Warren-Little, Judith; Beville, Sylvia L. (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Second Edition, Center for Action Research publ. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: 2.1-2.71.
  9. Hirschi, Travis, “Causes of Delinquency”. Berkeley: University of California Press, cited in Johnson, G. et al (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Center for Action Research. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  10. Nye, F.   Ivan (1958).  “Family Relationships and Delinquent Behavior”. New York:  John Wiley and Sons, Inc cited in Johnson, G. et al (1981). Delinquency Prevention: Theories and Strategies, Center for Action Research. U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  11. Costello, Barbara J., (2012). Theories of Crime, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Oxford Handbooks, p 131-142

Copyright 2023 by Clear Talk Mastery Inc and Antonia L. Johnson

Amazing Effect of Vocal Reading on Pronunciation


Did You Know?

      Writing is only about 5,500 years old, unlike human speech estimated to be from 50,000 years to 2 million years old.  In contrast to speech, the human brain did not naturally evolve to read.  Thus, the brain adapts to the challenge of reading.

       The Amazing Effect of Accurate Vocal Reading on Accurate English Pronunciation Article 13

     English speech intelligibility increases sharply for North American children when they learn to read.  For adult nonnative-born individuals who want acquisition of clear English, reading words, phrases and sentences is an ideal vehicle for helping to learn accurate English pronunciation.

      It is in reading words that the speakers learns that there are different meanings for “hit” and “hid,” or “hot” and “hat,” “bottle” and “battle,”  “kin” and kind,”  “beach” and “b*tch” which rhymes with “witch”.

       And in oral reading or reading with your voice, the human being learns that the spelling of the English word most frequently corresponds to the accurate pronunciation.

       The process of reading involves most of the brain, especially an interconnection between visual areas and language areas.  And importantly reading also involves neural systems related to action, emotion, decision making and memory.

        Big alert!  The sensorimotor cortex of the brain is the most active region of the brain during reading.  A seminal MRI study in 2014 involving adults and children, where bodily movement was restricted, demonstrated strong evidence revealing that this region may be correlated with automatic word processing and decoding.  Specifically, this area of the brain was highly active in persons new to the English language, as well as those children learning to read, and those children struggling to read (dyslexia). 

                                            Brain Regions Used for Reading?

      Here is the description from Wikipedia (Reading):

      The occipital and parietal lobes are involved for orthographic processing of visual words

       The two major regions of the brain associated with phonological skills (speech sounds) are the temporal-parietal region and the Perisylvian Region (in  MRI study, 2001).

     The Perisylvian Region, which is the region of the brain believed to connect Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, is another region highly active during phonological activities when participants are asked to verbalize known and unknown words.

     The inferior frontal region is active in several reading related activities associated with comprehension and processing skills such as spelling and working memory.

     In addition to regions on the cortex considered gray matter on MRIs, several white matter fasciculus are active during different reading activities.  These three white matter regions connect the three respected cortex regions as the brain reads thus these regions are responsible for the brain’s cross-model integration involved in reading.  These are the left arcuate faciculus, the left inferior longitudinal faciculus, and the superior longitudinal fasciculus.

      The cerebellum, which is not part of the cerebral cortex, is also believed to play an important role in reading.  The role of  automatization, word accuracy, and reading speed is associated with the cerebellum.

        Have you wondered why learning to speak clear English feels so hard?   A principal reason is that your brain is working hard to access and coordinate a good number of separate brain regions!

Article 13, Blog, copyright 2023 Clear Talk Mastery, Inc

Accent reduction: Key Skill- Get the Vowels

Accent reduction: Key Skill – Get the Vowels


Have you noticed that people are most likely to say to you “What?”  “What did you say?” after you have said a multiple syllable word?

Critical information for multiple syllable words– each syllable has a meaning and there are 14 vowel sounds (some people say 17) for North American English and 5 letters –a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.

Pronunciation Alert: Say each vowel in a multiple syllable word clearly.

When ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) people speak multiple syllable words in English, they often shorten or reduce unstressed syllables to a very short vowel sound. They do this because it is easier not to move the tongue very much.  In fact, sometimes the speaker moves his tongue so little that  the vowel is so short in time that the listener is actually unable to determine which vowel letter it represents in the word– (a, e, i, o, u– short vowel pronunciation or long vowel pronunciation. The academic term for that is “schwa vowel.”

However, studies show that when speakers are aiming to talk more clearly, they will say the vowels more clearly. When they say the vowels more clearly, listeners say, “It is easy to understand you.”  This is true for clear speech in English and in other languages.

For our training for clear American English, we train speakers to make all vowels in a word more accurately to match the written vowel.  For example,   the “ment” in “appointment” would be pronounced as “ment” with a short vowel “e” and not “mint” with a short “I”  or a schwa, which is an indistinguishable vowel.  By aiming for accurate pronunciation to match the written vowel letter, the speaker makes it easier for the listener to process accurately “ment.” This is a suffix which often changes verbs into nouns.

Also, by paying attention to the vowels and saying them more accurately, the speakers are anchoring better in their brain the accurate spelling. One important reason to master accurate spelling is that the meaning of the syllable is in the spelling.  For example, “ment” is a suffix which takes a verb and makes it a noun.  “Mint” is a flavor  such as in “peppermint” or “spearmint.”

The prefix syllable “ex” is another example.   Saying the short American vowel “e” in “ex” clearly makes it easy for listeners to process the prefix “ex” and understand the meaning of the prefix with the rest of the word.  For instance, “exit,”  “extreme,” “extend.”   If the speaker made the vowel sound like a short “i” as in “ix”  or an indistinguishable vowel  as in a schwa  and closer to “uh,” then the listener would not know he was hearing the very common prefix, “ex.”  Being able to easily and quickly process the “ex,” means that the listener can identify the word right away and combine it with the other words in the sentence to easily understand the information of the entire sentence.

Here is a second  important practical reason to master spelling. In the last 10 years, more and more employers are asking us if we can help our students-learners (and their employees)  get spelling more accurate because it is embarrassing to them when emails go out with inaccurate spelling.

Yay, yay.  The extra effort to speak the vowels very clearly has big time benefit  — to the speaker, the listener, and also to the employer and the individual’s career advancement.

Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercise.

Check out our  “ever better!” coached courses by clicking “Services” on our website www.ClearTalkMastery.com. For first time English Clear Talk pronunciation learns and to efficiently renew your coached course learning, check out the subscription program called ClearTalk Weekly, www.subscription.cleartalkmastery.com

PS- It really is true that we have made exceptional strides in our teaching for mastery and long-term learning in these pandemic years with gains previous thought impossible (even by us!).

English Speaking Training- Opening a Conversation— Top Tip!


English Speaking Training– How to Start a Conversation– The Top Tip!

Approximately 2010, I read a newspaper article that changed overnight my typical greeting to everyone.

The article’s topic was how to talk to a person who has recently suffered the death of a loved one—- spouse, partner, parent, child, relative, friend or for many, pet.

The article pointed out that the typical greeting is “How are you?” For a person suffering the loss of a loved one, the truthful answer would be “bad” for a considerable amount of time. The author reminded the readers that in North America, the expected answer is “Fine.” But that answer for people in grief is “a lie” and not at all accurate.

So the article suggested “How are things going?”. Then respondenta can answer the typical “Fine,” or “OK,” because for the “things” in their life — daily activities– those are “OK.” Emotions not fine but activites are OK. Noteably, the respondent has not been forced to lie or be untruthful.

Body language and tone of voice will reveal a great deal about the current well-being of people. Be alert to those.

For communication interactions where the other person is not grieving for a loved one, the question of “How are things going?” makes it easier for the respondent to immediately describe a recent significant happening in their life. For example, “I just got word from the programmer who developed the coding for my research for my PhD that there is an error in the code.” Or, “I had to let go the nanny for my child.” Those are real life examples.

The specific words of a question go a long way in determining the depth and quality of the answer.

Why would you want to know the current state of well-being of the other person? So you can determine how to proceed with the upcoming communication or task. If the other person had a car accident the previous day, then your proceeding forward with discussion of complex tasks could be modified to take account of less than optimal well-being.. Also, you could do follow-up questions to determine the current physical and emotional status of the other person. Follow-up questions show that you care. For relationahip and rapport, caring is the foundation.

For improving your pronunciation and diction for clear American English, practice with our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos.

Check out our subscription called ClearTalk Weekly,– weekly English intelligibility and pronunciation tutorials — video audio, and extra reading aloud exercises. Use the subscription as a first time learner with Clear Talk Mastery or as a refresh for your learning in the coached course. Just so you know, people’s pronunciation can drift from the great accuracy achieved during the coached courses. Click here for information about the subsripiton www.subscription.cleartalkmastery.com