Nigel G. Ward: “Learning to Show You’re Listening: A Trainer for Back-Channeling in Arabic”

October 6, 2006 | University of Texas, El Paso

Speaker: Nigel G. Ward
Host: David Traum

Good listeners generally produce back-channel feedback, and do so in a
language-appropriate way. Second language learners often lack this
skill. We present a training sequence which enables learners to
acquire a basic Arabic back-channel skill, namely, that of producing
feedback immediately after the speaker produces a sharp pitch
downslope. This training sequence includes an explanation, audio
examples, the use of visual signals to highlight occurrences of the
pitch downslope, auditory and visual feedback on learners’ attempts to
produce the cue themselves, and feedback on the learners’ performance
as they play the role of an attentive listener in response to one side
of a pre-recorded dialog. Preliminary experiments suggest that this
allows some learners to acquire this behavior.

The talk will also touch on the role of back-channels in various types
of dialog, methods for the discovery and quantification of
dialog-relevant prosodic cues, potential cross-cultural
misunderstandings of prosodic signals, the interplay between
meta-communication and the communication of content, and ways to
quantify the value of good turn-taking relative to other dialog skills.