Sunday 4 January 2015

So long and thanks for all the clicks

As of the beginning of December we have been back in Istanbul, and as you can imagine the past couple of months have been a whirlwind. I hope I will have the opportunity to put WAYK to good use in the future, but for now, thanks for reading and commenting, and I wish you every success in your linguistic efforts.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Turkish Session Diary 13: Thou Shalt Mumble

I'd got funny looks when I demonstrated the sign for TQ Mumble with another group, so with this group I had so far shied away from explicitly suggesting it, although I had hinted at it in principle. However, the wiki article about it is quite right when it says:
Perfection is the enemy of accelerated learning. “Close enough” must be good enough. A lack of mistakes or awkwardness indicates a lack of improvement. Where there is action, there is exploration (and thus the discovery of some dead ends). 
I experienced this personally before with an audio course called Say Something in Welsh. As is usual with such audio courses it tests you by giving you an English word then waiting a few seconds for you to attempt it in Welsh before providing the correct equivalent. The most effective part of it was that the narrator made you promise to try something, anything, even if you knew full well it was wrong, as part of the learning process.

Why it works

This all comes back to language as a reflex and not knowledge. When you think too hard to try to dredge up knowledge you're not building a language skill at all, and there's the added downside that you're so emotionally invested in your attempt that being corrected feels like being told you're a failure.

But when you test a reflex, you don't think at all, you just say the first thing that comes into your head. Then when you're corrected it's not the end of the world, and more to the point what happens is that you compare what just came out of your mouth (however that happened) with the correct form. Before long it's coming out right.

How it worked for us

Now that we've got into the flow of role-playing setups, it occurred to me to work on this on our last session. I knew my learners were "thinking" too much, not least because in past weeks their continued frustration with Turkish conjugations had led them to nickname our WAYK sessions "the bloody endings lesson".

So although I avoided actually using the Mumble sign (there's a fine line between fun/innovative and infantile) and instead just explained that they should say the first thing that comes into their heads.

The first thing I noticed was that each round of play started to go much, much faster. Instead of me asking a question followed by 3 seconds of harrowed silence, a stilted response and a frustrated sigh when I corrected them, I would ask a question, they would respond almost immediately, I would correct them, they would go "Oh right OK", and we would move on. And it worked a charm for acquisition. Each round got faster and faster of its own accord.

Thou Shalt

Sometimes I see people ask what are the most fundamental techniques of WAYK. I've been told that when the new website is up and running the sprawling techniques wiki will be whittled down to the essentials. Aside from the obvious TQ Setup, TQ Obvious and so on, I'm fairly confident that TQ Mumble will make the cut. It really is a vital piece of the puzzle.

Monday 22 September 2014

Turkish Session Diary 12: Full circle

All the way back in July I posted about my first epiphany with WAYK where I broke the mould of session patterns and started with genuine role-playing games. After that point I started to achieve some genuine acquisition instead of merely giving my students some glorified mnemonics.

I dubbed that post "Songs and games" by way of analogy to repetitious session patterns (songs) and goal-based interaction (games). However it just so happened that last week we spontaneously came up with a real song, which we tentatively named Ode to a Pen. It seemed like a good way to cement in the mind some rather complicated syntax and suffixes (original Turkish in bold, gloss in italic, English translation in regular):

You can even sing along if you like:

This is a pen.

This is my pen.

Give me my pen.

This is a pen.

This is his/her pen.

Give him/her his/her pen.

This is a pen.

This is your pen.


Take your pen!

Before a "performance" we would say "Person A is singing to Person B, and we're all singing with Person A", and then between each verse Person B would perform the action.

I think it did quite a bit of good because they tell me they were all practising at home, but it was still a song, a set repetition, a glorified mnemonic. So in the next session, after reviewing the song, we played a role-playing game. Once again we had come full circle: the real magic was in the role-play.

Goal-Oriented Setups

Ultimately I have concluded that a TQ Setup that only makes meaning (the "what") TQ Obvious is nowhere near as effective as one that has a defined purpose (the "why"). I see TQ Silly Conversation as a nod to this problem that only goes halfway to a solution. True, getting everybody used to having aimless conversations about the objects in front of them is a great stepping stone to hunting, but it's no substitute for an actual goal or purpose.

So in my opinion role-play, the "why", is fundamental to setups in their most effective form. Back in July I wrote about two role-playing setups, Liar and Boss/Employee/Shopkeeper, that really helped speed things up in terms of actual acquisition and actual fluency as opposed to familiarity with a script or a song. Most recently we've been playing Lost and Found: "I've just found a bunch of phones and wallets/purses and I want to return them to their rightful owners, but I'm a bit simple and I can't even recognise my own things!" etc.

But what about hunting?

Yeah, about that. Although I am convinced that a skilled, motivated hunter will acquire language quickly, I'm not sure that it's the be-all and end-all. When you're out to revitalise a language by galvanising a group of youngsters to tap grandma's brain, sure, hunting is vital. But in a formal language teaching setting, it's a very difficult skill to impart quickly enough to count within the few fleeting hours you have before the end of the course.

What I am doing, though, is implementing the technique which I think isolates the "active ingredient", as it were, of hunting as respects language acquisition: TQ Just in Time. This derives from the observation that "Information and ability is acquired most deeply and rapidly at the moment of its greatest relevance."

So here's my current how-to for lesson planning:

  1. Decide what vocabulary/grammar you want to cover, while of course observing TQ Limit.
  2. Devise a role-playing setup/scenario where the learners are bound to need said vocabulary/grammar.
  3. Explain the game in the students' native language.
  4. Make them try to say what they want to say in the target language, then correct them when they get it wrong.

I used this last time to teach "to put in the bag" (çantaya koymak). The game was Where To Put It? (on the table, on the tissue, or in the bag?) and it was amazing to see how they never even asked what it meant in English. They just attempted "Put the pen in the bag", I supplied them with the correct sentence, we went round the table practising it, and all four of them were fluent in that bitesize piece in the space of 10 minutes.

The great thing about this setup is it gives students scope to hunt as much or as little as they want. If you've done it properly they should "need" the language you want them to learn today anyway, but if they want to get creative within the context of the role-play, they can. It's just up to you to keep an eye on the TQ Limit and especially TQ Full.

In summary, I think I can see a way to codifying an effective WAYK-based curriculum for formal language teaching, oriented around role-playing setups. In other words, I feel like I've reached the crest of the learning curve. But it's going to be a long way down the hill...

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Turkish Session Diary 11: Supercharge setups with role-play

This week the learners decided they wanted to work on possessives. I was game.

For obviousness, I wanted to use the learners' personal objects, so before long I had their phones and purses/wallets (fortunately the same word in Turkish) out on the table. For a third class of objects I got three sugar sachets and wrote our names on them. In hindsight I could have used their keys. Imagine that, a Where Are Your Keys? practitioner not thinking to use keys...

We worked through the "Is this my phone? Yes this is your phone. Is this your phone? Yes this is my phone. Is this her phone? Yes this is her phone" routine with all the possible permutations, but before long I started to sense a descent into aimless repetition, disconnected somewhat from the actual meaning.

So once we had enough material I explained, in English, that we were now going to have a role play. "I've got everybody's stuff, and so now you need to find out who they all belong to and return them to their rightful owners." It worked like a charm.
Player: What's this?
Hoarder: This is a phone.
Player: Whose phone is this?
Hoarder: This is her phone.
Player: [Indignantly] Well, give her her phone!
Hoarder: OK OK!
Player: Whose phone is this?
Hoarder: [Sheepishly] This is your phone...
Player: [Indignantly] Give me my phone!
So I think when you've got learners who aren't quite into hunting yet, role-playing is a vital element in any set-up.

Monday 1 September 2014

Turkish Session Diary 10: A hunting warm-up game

Ever since I had my first proper WAYK session with Arne I was convinced that its real power is unleashed in its "hunting" form. Its "pushing" form is very effective in itself, where the practitioner is the driving force. But it's when the learners are put in the driving seat and acquire the skill of "pulling" the language from the fluent speaker that it really becomes a supercharged engine of language acquisition.

In subsequent posts (Turkish Session Diaries 6, 7 and 8 and "On the art of hunting language") I pondered the question of how to help learners develop this skill. My attempts at explaining and demonstrating had only had limited success, but this week two things happened that gave me inspiration just in the nick of time.

The first was a Facebook post by Latin teacher Eric Mentges (private link) in which he explained how his "students worked in groups on forming an English set up based on a card they drew" after which "each group presented their set up and the others had to guess what they were going for" and they "then discussed which example ... was most obvious, what other possible interpretations there could be". This sort of thing sounded like just the ticket.

The second was last night when I played the Uno Pictionary card game with some friends. This is different from normal Pictionary in that there are no pens or paper involved, you have a selection of 20-odd small cards with different shapes, stick men, stick houses and so on. By using the cards in ingenious combinations together with a bit of miming you help your team mates to guess the word (see annoying ad). It occurred to me that exactly the same sort of ingenuity is required for language hunting, using limited vocabulary and a limited range of objects to help the fluent speaker provide the needed word.

Today we played a game in English with the following simple rules:

The hunter draws a card with a word on it. To enable the group to guess the word, he must use only the objects in the Set-up or others that are readily available. To begin with he can only use the words "What is this?", but he can reuse words used by the group as they guess. Miming is, of course, encouraged.

The Set-up was three glasses and a bottle of water. The words I started out with in the deck included "empty", "full", "drink", "thirsty", "pour", "spill", "taste" and "share". I first demonstrated and then the learners took turns, with some coaching from me. For the second round I got them to come up with some new words, and they came up with some imaginative options like "top", "tall", "round" and "drop".

Then I pretended not to speak any English, and got them to hunt the same words from me in Turkish. Pretty soon we ran up against some interesting quirks. For example, in Turkish if you describe someone as "big" or "small" you are referring to their age, and we describe tall people as "long" because there is no separate word. Ultimately it served to demonstrate the advantage of contextual, Set-up based learning instead of double-encoding meaning in both a first and a second language.

Of course the main thing was they were finally hunting!

Monday 25 August 2014

Turkish Session Diary 9: Limit

I'm starting to realise that with WAYK, lesson plans are never more than a blueprint. Once you've got that spark going things always turn out differently, but in a good way.

Last week we had decided that we would like to know how to call the emergency services. So I came up with a Target Conversation between a caller who's seen a burglar, and a police officer. It was a perfectly decent target conversation. I also had material ready for calling an ambulance after a fall, but that turned out not to be needed.

Instead of the stodgy four-line TQ Imaginary Friend routines followed by taking turns around the table, which had been my method until recently, I thought it might be better to just start with a Bitesize Piece, play with it, and go from there.

I had a playing card-sized clipart silhouette of a burglar, and put it in the centre of the table. "Hırsız var!" (There's a thief about!) I said, and then pinched one of my learners' bottle of water. It was great fun and we quickly recycled material we'd already used, "I'm a thief!" "You're a thief!" "Liar! I'm not a thief you're a thief!" "Catch the thief!" and so on.

Combined with the bag from last week, everything could have spiralled out of control if I hadn't been conscious of the need to rein everything back in to a Target Conversation that we would be able to practise.

The final Target Conversation was a role-play involving a Police Captain, Police Officer, Thief, and Witness(es). The Thief would start by "stealing" some of the objects from the middle of the table, and the Witnesses would alert the Police Captain. The Police Captain would order the Police Officer to catch the Thief, and then ask the Police Officer to check the contents of the bag to see what the Thief had stolen. Incidentally it turned out to be our first foray into past tenses ("What did the thief steal?", "The thief stole ...")

I am happy with how things went this week because:
  • Everybody spent most of their time speaking Turkish, with very little reversion to English
  • Everybody knew what they were saying and why they were saying it at all times,
  • At no point did I feel that anyone got bored with the repetition
My only gripe is that I didn't use TQ Limit enough. I had seriously maxed everyone out by the end, but we all had a good laugh and I think that made all the difference.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Turkish Session Diary 8: The hunting party sets off...

This Monday we had a second foray into hunting, which went quite well.

I'd had a very useful Google hangout with Susanna Ciotti and Caylie Gnyra, in which Susanna suggested I use the Setup as the starting point for teaching the art of hunting, tweaking one thing and then exploring the possibilities. This week, alongside my various objects I introduced... a bag! Not a plastic carrier bag, one of those rigid, foldable bags. This one was from an optician's and therefore a practical size for table-top play.

I asked what sort of words we could hunt now that we'd introduced a bag. Having a rectangular footprint, I had thought we would be talking about inside/outside, in front/behind/next to and so on. But no, they came up with "strong". Fair enough, I said. I then asked how one would hunt that word. We discussed how we might tug at the handles and the sides, and use the universal "strongman's bicep" gesture.

I got the player next to me to just start a conversation in the shopkeeper scenario, and then get to a point where she needed the word for strong and try to pull it from me.
Customer: Bende çok alışveriş var! Çanta var mı? (I've got lots of shopping! Do you have a bag?)
Shopkeeper: Evet, çanta var. Buyur. (Yes we have a bag. There you go.)
C: Bu çanta... [starts tugging at handles, flexes bicep] ...iyi mi? (Is this bag... good?)
S: Ha, "bu çanta güçlü mü?" (Ah, "Is this bag strong?")
C: Bu çanta güçlü mü? (Is this bag strong?)
S: Evet, bu çanta çok güçlü! (Yes this bag is very strong!)
And so on. The conversation would then wrap up with a haggle and a sale to keep it real, thus repeating elements we'd already worked on.

So this is how I envisage the process working from now on:

  1. Discuss what is to be hunted, and how.
  2. Have one player hunt the element from me in a freestyle conversation, which of course Starts at the Beginning.
  3. Repeat that conversation, distilling it down to a ride.
  4. Pass the ride around the table.
I hope this will be an effective strategy for both teaching the art of hunting and harnessing its power while also giving the process structure.