Archive for June, 2008

learning Japan instead of Japanese

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2008 by uchideshi

NOTE: This was supposed to be my theory about (individual) language learning, but I realized I’m still missing some info before I can define all of its aspects. I decided to spend a bit more time looking for some information from my past, trying to find as much English output as possible from when I was a kid. I think that what I’m looking for here is somewhere between what Khatzumoto is talking about in his blog and what I’ve been thinking about lately, but I can’t tell for sure. In any case, this post is not complete, but a lot of the thoughts which will go into the final theory are there.

What I’m beginning to believe more and more strongly in is the thought that possibly the biggest problem, the one that is the source of so many other problems, in language learning is the fact that we call the whole thing language learning.

But it is language learning, you say. You’re learning a language, or acquiring it, or getting used to it or whatever you wanna call it. What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is the fact that by choosing to learn a language, you run the risk of focusing on it in such a way that you might be extremely diminishing, and sometimes downright excluding, the context in which it is used. Some people who have gone beyond the grammar-worshiping idiocy that is today’s norm will tell you that if you want to learn a language, you should read as much as you can, listen to as much music as possible, watch movies etc. all in the target language. And while this is loads better than the usual method and can, when taken to extremes, bring amazing results, I think a lot of people will still be missing the following point – by looking at language as the goal of their learning, they are unable to see language as, well, a goal, a part of a whole and a means to achieve something else in it, all rolled into one.

Say wha’? Let me explain. When you’re using a language, you’re using it in a context. When shopping, when chatting, hanging out with friends, watching an action movie… The language is defined by the situation, or context, in which it is used. Context also defines, say, the “feel” of each and every word: is it a word which only kids use, is it slang, slangish but ok to use in certain not-so-formal situations, poetic… A lot of humour is based on words and phrases used out of context in which you’re expected to find them – think of deadpan, for example, or Monty Python.

But it goes beyond just words. For instance, to me and my friends the very idea of a fantasy (or any sort of really epic) movie in Serbian is weird, and even a bit silly. You see, the first one I know of was made some 2 years ago. Previously, the only fantasy stuff we’ve seen and listened to is dubbed, fantasy cartoons like He-Man, and since they’re dubbed cartoons like He-Man, they’re done in those corny, exaggerated for-kids voices. We’re simply not used to hearing serious, epic dialogue in Serbian, and even thinking about it inevitably reminds us of the corny He-Man dialogue.

Context is not just something which helps you learn a language. It is, in fact, the other way around –language is a part of context. Language is something which helps you learn, understand and feel the context. It is a big part, maybe a critical part even, but it is not the whole and primary thing. Taking this to the next level, context is a part of a culture, in its broadest definition – music, art, literature, news, stereotypes, values… everything that is defined in some way in a society and that defines the society itself.

Thus, what I think we should be doing is not learning a language but learning a culture.

My mind is slippery at this point, but I strongly feel that there is something in this idea. Think about it – can you really know a language, really feel a language and the nuisances of so many words and expressions, without also feeling at least a part of the culture it belongs to, without hearing it and using it in numerous different contexts? Just take an example of eating: Your imagination will conjure up very different scenes when you hear “Wanna get some grub?” or “Wanna grab something to eat?” and when you hear “Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?’’ or “Would Madam grant me the pleasure of dining with me this evening?”. All of these contexts are intertwined, influencing one another, defined by the differences between them, and together they form the big fuzzy cloud of associations in your head that is your English Reality.

Yet, someone somewhere decided that the way language should be taught in schools is through heavy focus on grammar and the occasional attempt at uttering a sentence or two. That is sort of like learning football by reading a manual on how the leg should kick the ball, then kicking the ball a few hundred times with kicks 15a and 13c and referring to the manual between every kick, all the while failing to get an actual feel for how the ball should be kicked depending on the circumstances, and, more importantly, forgetting that you’re not alone with the ball. There’s your team, there’s the opposing team, there’s the field and there’s a purpose to why you’re on that field.

So, this is what I think you should do if you want to understand the French lang… No, you see, habits, they’re evil, they make you say and do and think things you don’t want to. Let’s try again.

There is the Reality – a physical area where you have people(s) who have their culture and language and everyday lives in which these things happen, influence one another etc.

There are the Parts – all the things which make up the Reality. They can be a word, a phrase, a verse, a song, a love scene from a movie, a good cop/bad cop interrogation scene from a movie, the whole movie, a genre of movies, a pub, a fancy restaurant… you can go as general (music) or as specific (a verse from Blowin’ in the Wind) as you want, you will always be looking at a Part of a Reality.

Now, language is a HUGE Part of a Reality. It is what helps us understand a lot of things and communicate a lot of our thoughts, feelings and desires. However, it is still a Part. There are numerous other ways to communicate ideas: signals, colours, non-verbal gestures, actions, grunts, noises… Otherwise, mimes would be out of business. All these things make up the humongous Part called communication in a certain Reality. However, by focusing too much on learning the language, on its written and oral form, as one normally does (remember, it’s called language learning) you are in a way saying that it is only language that you need to learn in order to understand another Reality, subconsciously stating that cultures are only differentiated by their languages. You are, in fact, wrenching language out of the Reality and saying that it can stand on its own. But it cannot.

Think for a moment why you want to study, say, Japanese. Isn’t one of the most common reasons to understand some aspect of the Japanese culture, like Japanese movies, cartoons or music? Or say you want to be able to talk with Japanese people, because they are just so cool. But what’s the reason why they are so cool? Because they are so mysterious and unusual and different from you? You mean they have different values and views from you? And how do you think you are going to learn about those values and views without learning about the culture, the Reality in which they are expressed and which has shaped them? Or let’s say your reason is “I just like the way Japanese sounds”, that’s not an uncommon one. Well then, isn’t it enough to learn random Japanese phrases or even Japanese gibberish and just enjoy saying them out loud, or just listening to Japanese without trying to understand it? No, I guess you want more than just that, you want to understand. Well, what do you want to understand?

I think it all sooner or later comes back to the desire to understand a Reality. Even if you were firmly set on just the Japanese language itself, you would have to read nothing less than an essay describing how to say I or You depending on who, how old or where you are. So, you really have no choice but to embrace the new Reality, and by truly embracing it the language will come with it. It was more or less like that for me and my English.

Ever since I’ve started thinking about languages more and how to learn them, I was somehow always coming back to the question of how I learned English. I want my other languages to be as good as my English, but for that I first need to know how I achieved this level of English. It was no good just trying to remember – ever since I was a small kid it has been a part of my life; I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know English. After talking with my parents and thinking it through I think a large part of it has finally made sense.

Based on what I’ve written so far, you could say that I know how to use English quite well, but I should tell you two things. First I did not reach fluency in English in the classroom. My parents did enroll me in an English class when I was 11 (at the same time the English classes in my primary school started), but I know that I was already speaking English at the time – the classes at the course were in English and I don’t remember ever having a problem with talking in English; they were simply two 90 minutes segments of my week which were completely in English. Besides, the purpose of the classes was preparation for the ESOL English exams, which meant you already had to know really good English.

Second, my longest stay in an English-speaking country was one month in America when I was 16, but having been to an international public speaking competition the previous year in London, you could conclude that I already knew English quite well.

And how did I learn English well enough to pass the CPE at 16 years old with a very good mark, which puts me at a level of “an educated native speaker of English”? Was I a whiz for languages? Not really, because I learned French in school for 2 years more than English and had good private French teachers (people tell me this is a sign of prestige in Western countries, but a private teacher is a normal thing here), but my French is so rudimentary, it has been visibly overshadowed by just 4 months of learning Spanish. Did I try really hard with English? Nope. The only time I remember not understanding English is when I was like 7 or so, trying to understand the Peanuts comics and asking my parents to translate the words I didn’t know. After that, I more or less stopped asking them, and until a few years ago I never once looked up a definition in a dictionary.

So how did I do it? How did my English reach this level without any real conscious effort on my part (apart from when I was 6 or 7, but even then it never felt like work and you could almost say the same for my native language for that age)?

Easy. Ever since I was a kid I have been subconsciously making my English Reality.

Throughout my childhood I had an unhealthy obsession with Peanuts comics and I’ve looked at them, and eventually read them, literally hundreds of times (my parents had a collection of some 60 Peanuts books, the small soft-cover ones, all in English). I’ve spent countless hours watched Cartoon Network with two friends with whom I more or less grew up (who incidentally also speak English on my level). I’ve had a computer since I was 6 and I spent even more time playing games on it than I did watching TV. I’ve read and reread dozens, if not hundreds of books in English (e.g. over 30 of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, when I last counted, and most of them I’ve read at least 3 or 4 times), seen countless movies, commercials, cartoons, all in English. When the internet came, I couldn’t get enough of it, and guess in which language the surfing was done. Also, and I think this is very important, I talked with the two friends in English so often (I have no idea why – we loved to reproduce dialogue from the cartoons, but we also just talked in English a lot) that I distinctly remember my mom telling me, when I was 11 or 12, that I should speak in Serbian more often. Nobody corrected us, nobody told us how to speak English; we just did it. Today, our conversations regularly and effortlessly switch between English and Serbian, usually in mid-sentence, depending on what we want to say. Yes, we do get funny looks on the street sometimes when we talk like Pinky and the Brain, but it would feel strange not to do it. It’s the most normal thing for us. It is our Reality.

Incidentally, when my mom was telling me about what I read in English when I was a kid, she also remarked: “But you never touched the French comics. You loved Asterix in Serbian, so we got you some Asterix comics in French, but you never grew fond of them.” Well, I guess that explains my disastrous French.

But let’s leave memory lane before I go all mushy-mushy and see how we can use this theory in practice. I’ve sort of grouped my thoughts into several bold statements. They are also italicized. Har har.

Open yourself fully to your new Reality.

Whatever the reason for choosing your new Reality, you should broaden your interest in it as much as possible. That shouldn’t be that hard, because everything will be at least slightly different – the language, the values, the popular culture, the high culture, kitsch, music, clothes, stereotypes… Everything is up for contemplation, investigation, scrutiny and plain old enjoyment.

What this should mean is that nothing should be off-limits in your Reality building. Everything is interesting, everything is important, because every new Part makes your target Reality richer. While this means that you will also be exposed to some stuff considered trash by most of the population, you should nevertheless expose yourself to it without feeling bad about yourself. After all, you are coming from a different Reality, with different ideas of what is good, bad, tasteful or horrible, and you cannot still have a clear view of where that Part fits in the great scheme of Taste. Yes, watching cartoons might on one hand be considered childish, but you’re a child in your new Reality and you’re allowed to watch them! Aren’t cartoons, by the way, an excellent example of simple stories that present in a very clear way the values, ideas and often the basic sense of humour of a certain society? So, embrace them, and when you outgrow them, discard them as childish if you wish, or keep a soft spot for some of them, like some of us do (Saaabeeeer Riiideeeer!). Anyways, only with time, when you are exposed to enough Parts, will you slowly (and more and more subconsciously, I guess) start to form your own sense of taste, what you like and what you don’t, and this sense will always be growing, changing, evolving and expanding, as does your sense of taste in your base Reality.

– You are not studying. You are accustoming yourself.

You can have the best logical reasoning, the highest IQ ever, but is that what will make you the best sharpshooter, the fastest runner or the most agile aikido practitioner? Do you approach learning these things by studying about them? No. You do them. Over and over again. There might be a manual with the rules, but like with the football metaphor, that can be the starting point and/or the occasional point of reference, but not the destination or something to constantly cling to.

The same is true for when creating a Reality: You don’t want to simply study about it. You want to get “accustomed” to it. You want the Reality to become normal to you, familiar to you; you want to be able to understand it without overthinking it, but still be able to overthink it if necessary. You don’t have the time to always remind yourself about categorical data about what you’re seeing; you’re not Robocop. When you understand a joke from Simpsons, you understand it instantly, without having to write a treatise to yourself, analyzing why you actually understood it. You could write it if you wanted to, but it is not necessary to understand the joke. The same should be one day true for your target Reality.

– Relax. Be prepared not to understand.

Immersion in a new Reality can be overwhelming. “Everything is different, I don’t understand what’s going on, there’s just so much goddamn stuff out there!” Yes, and remember, as I said, in your new Reality you’re a child accustoming to its new surroundings. A smart one that will learn really fast, but that doesn’t change the fact that everything is different and new. So, relax and just let yourself float and sort of get lost in it. Look at things over and over again, see the connections between them, think about them but don’t overrationalize it. Remember, you are not studying, you are adapting yourself to a new Reality, getting good at getting it, so to say. Out of the chaos of all the new impressions, the ways people say the same word in different situations, how they react and laugh and cry, patterns will slowly but surely emerge.

Parts are like onions.

Layered like onions, before you give me the eyebrow-raising look. For example, when I heard the song Blame Canada, from the South Park movie, I distinctly remember not understanding why my parents were laughing at the “Blame Canada” verse or the “They’re not a real country anyway” one. I could understand the words themselves, but I didn’t understand the context. A couple of years later I saw it again, and I understood it and laughed, as I was then aware of how some Americans perceive Canada and “taking” responsibility. I was 13 when I saw the movie the first time, so it was normal that I couldn’t have understood the true meaning of the song, but, and here’s the important part, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie. Reading Pratchett is sort of like that – I am again and again rereading some of the Discworld novels and noticing lots of details I missed the previous time, but once when I found a website that has a list of references, I was thoroughly baffled by the amount references to literature, poetry and popular British culture that I’ve never read or heard of. This only makes every new reread all the more fun.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of rereading and repetition in general…

Be prepared to repeat. A lot.

This is directly connected to the studying/accustoming point. Again, can you learn basketball without practising? No. And if you wanna be a pro, you’re gonna have to shoot hoops till you can’t feel your arms. And don’t tell me about stuff like talent – without going in my personal view on the subject, let’s just say that I can’t think of one person who was a master of something and who achieved mastery without an enormous amount of time and effort invested in it. Accustoming yourself to a Reality is no different; it doesn’t take the muscle-straining type of effort, but it does take A LOT of time and, well, the effort to make that time happen.

– Find an obsession in your new Reality

I remember when I was looking for interesting Japanese music, and I found some pretty cool stuff. I enjoyed it, but not in that throwing-underwear-at-the-stage fanatical kind of way. I was consciously trying to remember the lyrics, and I did remember a few verses, but nothing much. Then I heard 僕ら (bokura) by 小田和正 (Oda Kazumasa), and I was completely mesmerized by the song. I didn’t care about remembering it, I just wanted to listen to it all goddamn day long. After like the 80th time, I realized I was singing along to most of the song, and I didn’t even try to remember the lyrics. I didn’t understand even half of them, but I didn’t care – the song was just that cool to me. I would listen to it over and over and over again and, of course, understanding slowly began to happen.

Now you can guess that I’m looking for more stuff by Oda, and you’d be right, but what I’m also looking for is awesome stuff in general. Remember, I was obsessed with Peanuts. My parents had serious problems keeping me away from the computer. I would happily watch Cartoon Network with my friends for countless hours, even if at one point we knew by heart practically every word of everything on air. Well, it’s time for you and me to reawaken that child-like fascination and obsession with things. If there’s a type of music in your target Reality that’s similar to what you love, then look for songs and bands which are awesome. Every Reality has its own unique and beautiful Parts. Search them out and open up to them; there’s a fine chance you’ll go mad about them.

Remember, you are acquiring a Reality and its Parts, not just a language

I’ve talked a lot about this one, but there’s another reason why I think learning Parts is better than learning just the language – you are constantly making progress, with lots of small, but visible successes, and thus additional motivation. Saying to yourself that you’re learning a language makes it sort of difficult to gauge your progress. However, learning how to understand these 3 books, those 30 songs and that one cool movie means that you can track your progress in each and every one of those Parts, both in your understanding of the language and of the cultural context of those Parts. You can even make a list of all the stuff you understand, which should also motivate you to want to add to it just that one more song.

And here I stopped writing. As I said, I realized I still have some thinking to do and I have to dig up some of my output from the past. I have yet to decide how early you can switch completely to building a Reality using only its own Parts (i.e. using only books, movies, music etc. in that language), what are the exact methods of learning to understand Parts, and some other details (like the role of grammar in the learning process 🙂 ). I am currently focused on the experimental workshop and some other stuff, so a revision of this theory will have to wait a few weeks, before I define it’s first version and do some intensive beta testing during the summer. You are, of course, encouraged to give your comments and suggestions.

A different kind of language learning classroom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2008 by uchideshi

I’ve mentioned several times how bad language education (in primary and high schools, but often the faculties too) in Serbia is, how after 10 years of second language study the vast majority of students, after finishing high-school, gets no further than a set of several basic sentences and a mediocre vocabulary which they can’t put to any real use.

I think one of the biggest reasons for this failure is in the method of teaching, which treats language as, say, physics:

You all sit at your desk. You get an explanation how some part of reality works and a formula how to find the right information which is missing in a certain situation. Then you open your workbook and get problems which you must solve. After repeating this a few dozen times, you move on to a new area with a new formula, which might or might not incorporate the previously learned formula. Repeat year after year, and forget after graduating.

This also says a lot about how physics are being taught (in Serbian schools at least), but that’s a story for another time. What is important here to notice is the complete absence of, well, common sense, when it comes to devising the right environment for learning a language.

There are places where common sense is used, though: sports. What the vast majority of people will tell you is that the best way to learn sports is to do them. Practice, and lots of it, is indispensible. At no point is a typical school-like class mentioned – you might sit at a desk and discuss a particular attack strategy with your coach, but you still have to test them out in the real world, or it’s all just empty talk. (I am not a sports expert, so correct me if I’m wrong).

Yet, when the topic is language, the answer on how language is taught is bound to be: “You learn it in a classroom”. Language, a tool which enables you to become a fully functioning member of a different society in all of its aspects, is learned in the classroom. Yeah right. Tell me, what would you say if I told you: “Basketball is best learned in the classroom”?

The language teacher will now jump and say “Yes well, what else can you do, if you can’t take the student to the country itself?”. Well, I would say, bring the country to the student.

Imagine a classroom, but with the chairs and desks thrown out. The background is a picture of a busy marketplace, courtesy of the projector. There are sounds of people laughing, shouting and bargaining, recorded at an actual marketplace. Several boxes with apples, bananas and other fruit surround a desk which represents a stall. One teacher is the seller, the other a buyer. They chat for a minute or two, going through the usual: “Hey neighbour, how’re the kids?” routine. The buyer would like to try the apples before buying them, to see if they’re fresh, and the seller cuts him a slice. After tasting it and complementing on the sweetness, he takes two kilos, and a kilo of bananas and oranges, pays, and they say their goodbyes. The students who are all standing around the teachers watch this whole scene repeated one or two times, and then they act as the buyer and/or seller.

The things which you practice in your target language in this small simulation are:

How to have a short everyday conversation, with the various essential Hellos and Goodbyes and typical “How’s life?” questions

How to buy things

How to count and do basic mathematics (you have to calculate the price of the fruit)

How to cut fruit 😉

And this is just one situation. Off the top of my head, you could do a simulation of shopping at a mall, hanging out in a bar, ordering food at a restaurant, passing through the airport customs, having an argument with your parents about not letting you stay out late, competing in a game show, flirting with a guy/girl in a club… The number of possible situations is huge.

Here are some of the reasons why I believe this sort of language class would drastically improve the speed and quality of language learning:

It simulates true situations. You are practicing how to do things which are normal occurrences in the country whose language you’re learning and which you’ll need to do in order to be able to function in it. You go through these simulations so many times, you inevitably become very accustomed and comfortable with doing various things in another language.

It captivates all the senses, and both your creative and rational brain powers. You are moving around, acting, hearing sounds, smelling things, trying food – all of your senses are involved, and studies have repeatedly proven that when that is the case, we remember things a lot better.

It is done in a relaxed atmosphere. There will inevitably be smiles and, gasp, laughter when acting in these situations, and in general everyone will be a lot more relaxed than in a typical classroom. This doesn’t mean that learning is not happening – in fact it is even more efficient, as the nervousness, or as some call it the affective filter, is drastically reduced, if not outright removed.

You are acquiring new skills. Simulations of real-life situations are just one part of this classroom. There can be debates, where you learn how to state and defend your opinion, presentations where you learn how to communicate your idea effectively; cooking/origami/sewing/whatever classes, in which the primary objective is to acquire a skill – the language is a tool which you use to learn that skill, and in the process you also practice the language itself. Also, in every simulation, activity etc. you participate, you are also practising to perform in front of a group, and thus slowly breaking one of the most common fears out there.

People of different levels can all participate and improve. In every simulation the students will practice according to their own level. In the marketplace simulation, the beginners are practicing their Hellos and Goodbyes and how to buy a kilo of apples, and the advanced students are haggling over the prices of the fruit and complaining how everything is a lot more expensive these days. Also, when a teacher has decided that a student is advanced enough, he can give the student an opportunity to also be a teacher – to run another fruit stall, which instantly doubles the amount of practice for all the other students, and gives additional practice (and a sense of responsibility) to the student-teacher.

The costs are vastly outweighed by both the short and long-term benefits. I still haven’t planned out this workshop in details (did I mention I will do it from October at my faculty? I will do it from October at my faculty.), but this is my rationale: A lot of the things which you need for the simulations are one-time purchases and efforts – bar stools, fake money, backgrounds to be projected, sounds… Once you acquire them, you use them over and over again. Stuff like fruit and other things which have to be resupplied are cheap. In any case, I feel that the money will be well spent, as the progress of students will be much faster than in a typical classroom (and if not, hey, it was worth trying).

When it comes to the whole expense thing, some will probably say that having two teachers instead of just one is a double expense both in fees and human resources, but it is only so in the first year. As soon as the first year passes, several students who are now second year and can participate in the first year classes as teachers, thus giving even more opportunities for practice to the new first year students and they themselves are practicing the language and how to teach it. Everyone wins.

This aspect is oversimplified and improvised, as it is not my primary goal now to sketch out in detail how this system could be applied on a larger scale, as I haven’t tested it out yet. However, as mentioned previously, I will have the opportunity to test it on my faculty, from October. Until then, I have to plan this out. This is where you guys come in.

This whole idea was in the beginning just a vague picture in my head of what a language class would look like. Talking with a friend over a drink, I mentioned it, and his excitement over it and the ensuing discussion is what actually persuaded me to try to make it a reality ASAP. I talked with a few more friends that evening and got some more ideas and suggestions from them, bunched it up with my own thoughts, and the next day I excitedly presented it to the Dean’s advisor. She loved it and I got the room and the support to make it happen.

In the space of 18 hours my idea went from a vague wish to hard reality, and it wouldn’t have happened without my friends – certainly not so soon. The ideas and suggestions which they gave me are great, and it is clear to me that the more people speak their mind about this workshop, the better it will eventually be.

So, here are my brainstormed thoughts so far on how this workshop should look like. Feel free to contribute to any and all parts of it – every idea will be thoroughly examined.

The Simulated Reality English Workshop (working title)

Working language: English

Duration of workshop: one year, two 90 min classes per week.

Participants: around 30-40 first year students of any language except English (the reason for this, and for the two 90 min classes, is that I would like to compare their progress to that of students who are attending a normal class of English as a secondary language)

Number of teachers: two. Less than two, and you can’t do the simulations. More than two is at the moment a bit overkill.

Level of participants: mixed. The workshop work method is such that students participate mostly within their comfort zone, with small excursions out of it (see Stephen Krashen’s theory, especially the part on Input and i+1).

Simulations: Numerous. Anything from a post office, bar or marketplace to police station, customs, game-show and funeral. Anything which can be reasonably simulated in a medium-sized room and is in some way relevant to learning English.

Materials used: Numerous, depending on the current simulation. For example, for the marketplace, the essential equipment is fresh fruit, a couple of boxes, price tags and paper money, a picture and a sound recording of a marketplace. Everything additional is optional, but much appreciated if it adds to the overall effect. While brainstorming there is no money limit – dream big, and later on we’ll adjust it to reality.

Additional activities: A lot of them will probably be advanced, i.e. they will happen after, say, 3 or 4 months of simulations, and will require at least basic previous preparation from students. Things such as debates (from simple “fruit is better than chocolate because…” for beginners to “immigration in Britain should/shouldn’t be more regulated because…” for advanced students), acting out scenes from movies etc.

Also, activities where you learn to do something new, like origami (yes, I have a need to always mention it. No, I don’t know why.), drawing, knitting, making basic (British or other) meals… The language of instruction is always English, of course, so you’re practising it along the way.

Random notes:

FUN – Everything should be fun. There are enough complicated things in life, let’s at least try to make learning a pleasurable activity. Again, this doesn’t mean results aren’t being achieved. The motto of this whole endeavour should be along the lines of: “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take what we do very seriously”.

Writing – I’m still thinking of how, if at all, it should be included. Writing is a skill, you have to learn it in your own language, not to mention in another one. Apart from making the students take notes and write out presentation plans in English for certain simulations, at the moment I’m not sure how much we can and if at all we should incorporate it. As for spelling, well, one part would be integrated in the simulations (e.g. names of fruit written out on tags in the marketplace sim), another could be additional reading… In any case, this requires a lot of thought, and I think a significant part of the solution is integrating as many written words as possible into the simulations, while making it still interesting (e.g. imagine a scene in court, with lots of tags on everything/everybody, Judge, Attorney, Jury member, Defendant… and they have small cards with Objection and Sustained which they show when they are acting it out)

Reading – Students should read outside of class as much as possible, but that is simply common sense when learning a new language. As part of the classroom, apart from what was mentioned in the Writing part, I’m still thinking about what should be done.

Testing – I’m not still sure about this one. I think there shouldn’t at any point be a pressure on the students to learn language for a test, at least the traditional grammatical sort of test. Of course, feel free to disagree with me.

I do think an essential part of this whole thing is a test on the beginning of the workshop and a year later, at the very end. It will be a special test, its form will not be announced, and it will be done by both the students of this workshop and a number of students who are attending a regular English-as-second-language class in our faculty. This will be an excellent marker of progress of both groups of students after a year of learning English.

I’m also thinking of maybe making small forms for students to evaluate every step of the classroom, their own feelings on their progress etc. The more data we get, the better.

That’s it for now. Feel free to discuss every aspect of what I’ve mentioned so far, either in the comment section, or by email ( sagefromrage at gee-male dot com). Also, if you know of something similar already (being) done somewhere else, please tell me. If a lot of suggestions come in, I’ll make a mailing list or something, depending on what seems like the best solution to make the discussion as productive as possible. Please write as little or as much as you wish. As I said, the more ideas and suggestions you give, the better this whole thing will turn out in the end.