Monday, 28 July 2014

Turkish Session Diary 5: Songs and games

Regular readers of this blog (assuming there are more than one) will remember that last time I had set an objective of having some sort of "free practice" to provide what I think the "session patterns" are missing. In this week's lesson I have implemented this to some effect, and I think it's perhaps the single most important innovation yet in my current course.

Learning vs. acquisition

Serendipitously, a day or two ago I happened upon the Wikipedia page on TPR Storytelling (TPRS). Insofar as it draws on TPR, you could say it is a sort of "cousin methodology" to WAYK, and it certainly seems to have the same sort of down-to-earth, common sense guiding principles. Specifically, I would point to the following observation in that page:
[Language acquisition theorist Stephen] Krashen asserts that there are two distinct ways of learning language: language "learning" and language "acquisition". Language "learning" is learning that takes conscious effort on the part of the learner. It is characterized by learning grammar rules, memorizing vocabulary lists, and performing speaking drills. Language "acquisition" is learning that is subconscious and takes little or no effort on the part of the learner. It is characterized by listening and understanding to (sic) messages, reading interesting books and articles, and other enjoyable activities that take place in the language being learned. According to Krashen's theory, the only thing that can lead to fluency in the language is language "acquisition". Language "learning" can only be used as a way to consciously edit speech or writing, and it is never the cause of spontaneous, unrehearsed speech or writing.
I contrast it with the following under Input Hypothesis (Comprehensible Input redirect):
Krashen's hypotheses have been influential in language education, particularly in the United States, but have received criticism from some academics. Two of the main criticisms are that the hypotheses are untestable, and that they assume a degree of separation between acquisition and learning that has not been proven to exist.
Assuming this is a fair assessment of their criticisms, one wonders if these particular academics with the second claim have ever actually learnt a foreign language to any level of fluency. If they had they would surely have shared the experience of first learning a word or construction by rote, then having to consciously access the memory of those drills the first time said word or construction is required, and then after a certain number of attempts feeling it "click" as conscious thought no longer becomes necessary.

My own interpretation is that language is essentially a set of reflexes, each triggered by a unique set of "stimuli", the circumstances in which any given word or construction is necessary. Therefore the process of acquisition is the process of establishing that reflex, consisting of trigger and response. I humbly beg to differ with Krashen's view as interpreted by Wikipedia that the process is predominantly passive; conscious effort is certainly required, but focused on the goal and not the process. In other words, acquisition happens when the subconscious is stimulated by immediate necessity to take language that has already been learnt and prime it for automatic recall.

Now, returning to my "session patterns", it had become clear to me that I had been using WAYK as a glorified mnemonic. Not that the glory is undeserved; as mnemonics go the unique combination of comprehensible input (TQ Obvious etc.) and sign language is extremely effective, and accurate. Still, mine had been a process of language learning, not actual acquisition. No reflexes, just crutches of conscious memory.

Fun and games

So this week instead of going through prescribed chunks of language, I set up role-playing scenarios where those reflexes stood a better chance of being created. Throughout, instead of thinking, "Now what was the next line?", they were thinking, "Now I need this" or "I need to do that", in other words the actual triggers for the fluency reflex.

We played two games specifically engineered to create situations in which the learners would "need" the words and constructions they had already learnt.

The first was a bluffing game we simply called Liar. There were three objects on the table (a coin, a phone and a pen) but four players, as well as me, the "host". Each of the players had a card. There were four cards in play, one for each of the objects plus one with "Liar" written on it. If a player had an object card they owned that object, but if they had the Liar card they were supposed to lie by claiming they owned someone else's object.

The conversation would go something like this:
P1: Bu kalem kimin? (Whose pen is this?)
P2: Bu kalem benim. (This pen is mine.)
P1: Bu para kimin? (Whose is this coin?)
P3: Bu para benim. (This coin is mine.)
P4: Hayır! Bu para benim! (No! This coin is mine.)
P1: Aha! Yalancı var! Sence kim yalancı? (Aha! There is a liar! Who do you think is the liar?)
P2: Bence o yalancı. (I think s/he is the liar.)
P1: Sence kim yalancı? (Who do you think is the liar?)
P5: Bence o yalancı. (I think s/he is the liar.)
P1: Bence o yalancı. Bakalım! (I think s/he is the liar. Let's see!)

Of course you have to explain the rules carefully in the source language, otherwise no end of hilarity ensues when, say, a player with an object card claims someone else's object. Then the group has to choose between two players neither of whom are the liar while the real liar just watches smugly...

The second game was a Boss, Employee, Shopkeeper scenario. Something like this:

Emp.: Merhaba patron! (Hello boss!)
Boss: Merhaba. (Hello.)
Emp.: Ne istiyorsun? (What do you want?)
Boss: Kalem istiyorum. (I want a pen.)
Emp.: Tamam... Merhaba! (OK... Hello!)
S.K.: Merhaba. Patron ne istiyor? (Hello. What does the boss want?)
Emp.: Patron kalem istiyor. (The boss wants a pen.)
S.K.: Kalem var. Nasıl bir kalem istiyor? Siyah mı, kırmızı mı? (There are pens. What kind of pen does he want? Red or black?)
Emp.: Bir saniye... Merhaba patron! (One second... Hello boss!)
Boss: Merhaba. (Hello.)
Emp.: Hangi kalemi istiyorsun, siyah kalemi mi, kırmızı kalemi mi istiyorsun? (Which pen do you want, the red pen or the black pen?)...

And so on.

Everybody had a great time, which was reason enough in itself to do it, but the point was that there were no pre-set lines. Just situations in which everybody had a goal. Because they had already learnt the language to achieve their goal, they managed to recall it as they need it. After a few rounds the trigger-reflex was established and the language was now acquired.

The missing link

Essentially this approach reflects the the learning/acquisition observation inherent in TPRS and indeed in WAYK. The session patterns I have been using up until now, rather like teaching a song, have been extremely successful in the learning stage. Now with the role-playing games they are truly acquiring the language.

One of the group invited a veteran EFL teacher to sit in on one of our sessions a few weeks ago. She was impressed with WAYK and remarked that she had never seen Turkish taught using the kinds of methods she had used in the past to teach English, with lots of involvement and repetition, and "obviousness". Because she's a newcomer I'm starting her from the beginning, and she's steaming through because she knows what I am trying to do even before I do it. In a way she is acquiring what I give her on-the-fly because she automatically starts freestyling with whatever I give her.

For some like her, the line between learning and acquisition is a non-issue, because they automatically start making the language their own. But with crowds who expect all the creativity to come from the teacher and lack the self-confidence to let their hair down and make mistakes, I think the games will be an important element in bridging the gap between learning and acquiring the language.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Suffixes and sign language revisited

Since my last post on the subject I have studiously avoided signing any suffixes at all, both on the basis of advice from other WAYK'ers and invaluable training at the school of hard knocks. So far so good, although I have been getting a bit of dissent in the ranks insisting that istiyorsun (you want) should be signed WANT YOU and not just WANT, because -sun is the second person. Still, no biggie.

Nevertheless, a robust system for signing grammar is an attractive idea, and it just so happens that one Anna Andresian has come up with such a system for signing Latin cases and tenses. It's certainly very elegant, and wouldn't need much tweaking for Turkish.

Mind you I'd want to see a demonstration of how it's used in practice before putting it to extensive use, but if nothing else it's another tool to go in the box for when it'll come in handy. Thanks Anna!

Turkish Session Diary 4: Time flies...

So, here we are 11 weeks in and they're still coming back for more.

While no session ever goes exactly the way I planned it, I have been able to cover some key grammatical concepts that some foreigners take years to master, if they ever do, such as the definite accusative (thinking of it as "the" as some do creates more problems than it solves) and descriptive adjectives ("Is your money existent?" instead of "Have you got any money?").

An innovation that seems to be working well so far is clock cards. At the moment I'm using 12 cards, one for each hour on the clock. So far I've only really used it to teach "How many hours later?" and so on, but it's going to be my springboard into tenses, "When will you...", "When did you..." and so on. Only problem is, if I forget to put something on them when I'm not using them they're liable to blow away! Time flies, as they say...

My session pattern is working well, providing a structure for me to introduce new information at a balanced rate. What I want to work on now is freer and more personalised practice sections. I'll look for the TQ's that describe what I'm talking about more eloquently, but there are two ideas I'm working on: Firstly having a "free practice" bit just before a break or the end of the session where I start them off with a combination of material we've already worked on and tell them to play with it (I've already done this with some success), and secondly use some constructions from the session to talk about things in day-to-day life.

As always, a work in progress. Enjoy this clip from today:

Admittedly, this is not the best video I could have gotten but it gives you an idea of what's going on. They had a bit of trouble with "In 3 hours" (üç saat sonra) and "At 3 o'clock" (saat üçte), but that was because we had been working on üç saat sonra in previous sessions. Still, it wasn't long before they were back into the groove. You can also see the clock cards in action here.