Friday 15 August 2014

On the art of hunting language

Pondering our first forays into language "pulling" or "hunting", as opposed to me just "pushing" the language onto the learners, it appears that getting the person you're hunting language from to understand what word you're looking for is something of an art. At least it's something you have to have a knack for. Although last week didn't really go badly, it didn't go as well as I'd hoped and I'm not sure if that was because it was a new concept and they were nervous, or if it isn't actually so intuitive after all.

If my learners continue to stall, how am I going to help them get the knack of language hunting? Could I come up with an approach that I could replicate for any other group of learners in the future?

I thought it might be useful to try and dissect what's going on when you're in the position of pulling language from a native speaker without any other common language. I remember the Advanced WAYK: Spanish Push/Pull video showcased a process of "Getting Hungry, Setting the Trap, Springing the Trap, Cooking It Up, Serving It Up" which must relate to this somewhat. Unfortunately I have yet to see a proper write-up.

Still, I have tried to identify the techniques (with a small "t") that I tend to use and I see others using when pulling language from a fluent speaker:

First: The Hunt

1. Use a Question Phrase
Question phrases that help you ask about specific words and expressions are probably what anyone should learn first when embarking on learning a new language "in the field".
What is that? (nouns)
How is that? What kind of __ is that? (adjectives)
What is it doing? What does it do? (verbs)
The following are universal:
How do we/should I say that?
Is that right?

2. Mime
Of course one has to assume that one's fluent speaker is not conversant with sign language, and will only understand obvious, not abstract, signs. Obvious Setups are also very important. This technique can be used in combination with incomplete sentences and question phrases.
Hunter: I say "boo" [acts out somebody trying to take someone else by surprise and frighten them] and he says "Aaa!" [switches to the other role]. What did I do?
Speaker: You... scared him?
Hunter: Yes! I scared him!
3. Draw a Blank (TQ)/Attempt the Sentence
This also requires an Setup to make the intended meaning Obvious. This works best when the Hunter has the rest of the sentence down pat.
Hunter: I give this money to you and you give this pen to me. You are ... [Draws a Blank with his hands] -ing this to me.
Speaker: Selling this to you?
Hunter: Yes! Selling this to me.
4. Break the concept down into simpler parts
This is like explaining complex concepts to a small child. In both situations, the concept must first be conveyed and then the word for that concept is provided. The difference is that with a child, the adult both conveys the concept and provides the word; in language hunting the learner conveys the concept so the fluent speaker will provide the word.
Hunter: Every four, five years everybody chooses who they want to be President.
Speaker: You mean an election?
Hunter: Yes, an election. During the election everybody writes down who they want to be President and puts this piece of paper in a box.
Speaker: Yes.
Hunter: What is this piece of paper?
Speaker: A vote?
Hunter: Yes! A vote.
Any or all of the above methods may be used to help the fluent speaker understand what we're trying to say, and then say it for us, helping us to "spot" what we are trying to hunt.

Next: The Chase

When hunting, it’s not enough to just spot your quarry. Now the chase is on! It’s the same with hunting language. Hopefully a combination of techniques will prompt our fluent speaker to give us the word we are looking for. But it’s not ours yet! We have to chase it down, in other words make sure we understand it correctly and know how to use it.
Hunter: Where is your house?
Speaker: It's in the city.
Hunter: How should I say this, "Where is your house?"
Speaker: "Where do you live?"
Spotted! Now the chase is on!

1. Prove it!
Hunter: OK, where do you live?
Speaker: I live in the city.
Hunter: OK, so your house is in the city?
Speaker: Yes.
Hunter: You are always in the city?
Speaker: Yes, I am always in the city.
2. Practise it (circling).
Hunter: Where does he live?
Speaker: He also lives in the city.
Hunter: Does he live near to you?
Speaker: No, he lives on the other side of the city.
Hunter: Where do I live?
Speaker: You live in the country.
Hunter: How long are you living in the city?
Speaker: "Have you lived".
Hunter: Ah OK. How long have you lived in the city?
Speaker: About 4 years. ...
So that's where I'm at so far. I look forward to any observations, especially if there's anything I've missed.

Perhaps I won't need to go through all this with my group. I expect the best method is probably just to tell them to Start at the Beginning and keep going until they get to something they don't know, and then let them work it out. Still, these notes may be useful for coaching as and when we get stuck. The more I think about it, the more I anticipate that "free hunts" will be the best way to go in the beginning, so they work as much of this out by themselves as possible, before then moving on to planned hunts.

In planned hunts, like Tea with Grandma, we will first establish our role-playing scenario, then discuss what language they can hunt from me using it. I hope this will make for a nice balance between systematically covering a syllabus and adapting the sessions to the needs and preferences of the learners.

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