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Friday, August 08, 2008

Merhaba! Nasılsın?

In this morning's first class we were treated to the most extraordinary experience. It was absolutely captivating, and made me forget all about the scary half-naked man at the bus stop 30 minutes earlier who had thrown bricks at a carpet-delivery van containing three men, one of whom had briefly emerged with a long iron bar and said some rather rude words to the half-naked man.

We arrived in class, only to be greeted by a woman we'd never met before who immediately started to talk to us in a made-up language. It was complete nonsense, a few of us couldn't help but laugh.

Then someone remembered - we were time-tabled to have an 'unknown language lesson', to give us a sense of what it might be like if we go to teach English in a foreign country where the students have absolutely no prior knowledge of English.

And we had none whatsoever of this 'language'. During our interviews we had been asked to list all the languages that we spoke - even if it was just a tiny bit. Our course directors then found a teacher of a language that appeared on none of the resulting 16 lists.

Having gathered from her gestures that she wanted us to go into a different classroom, we moved next door and sat in the chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. She then started repeating strange-sounding phrases to us. We gathered that this was a drilling exercise, and so played along.

She'd say a sentence several times, we'd repeat several times. This went on for some time, gradually building up to about 7 phrases. Nothing was written on the board, and we were banned from writing anything down ourselves. It was all just these sounds in our ears that we copied, not knowing what they meant.

We were then shown a short video of two people saying these phrases. At certain points the people indicated towards a picture of a shop, then a house.

Slowly, the sounds started to mean something. "Merhaba!" must be 'Hello' in whatever this language was." Sen" appeared to mean "you". Ah... and "Nasılsın" must be "How are you?"

After thirty minutes of watching, listening and repeating (and nothing else), the meaning started to become clear.
How are you?
I'm fine, how are you?
Fine thank you. Where are you going?
I'm going to the shop (or was it an office?!) Where are you going?
I'm going home.
Good bye!
Good Bye!

We were paired off, and practised this new strange language.

(We later found out that it was Turkish that we were speaking).

This exercise struck me as being absolutely remarkable, and afterwards I felt positively elated.


It had given us the chance to do something we could never normally do. We were allowed to return to babyhood and experience the first year or two of language development within the space of one hour!

It really felt like that. We had no other 'language' that we could fall back on, all there was was these new strange sounds that we tried to emulate with no concrete idea of what we were saying. It was only through use over time that we figured out the meaning - although not all of us did, with some only finding out in the feedback session afterwards.

It was so exciting to be learning to communicate all over again, from scratch.

A brilliant exercise. Thank you ELTC.

We had our second teaching practice today. I really enjoyed it. After I'd finished my bit, one of the the students passed me a note "You're going to become a great teacher" - this was was very encouraging, and much appreciated. Still a long long way to go though.

Of course I'm absolutely shattered again. I've made my packed lunch for tomorrow and will go to bed shortly. I know I really should do my teaching plan for tomorrow's course - I'l start it, and see how far I get before falling alseep!

night night

p.s. coursemates really are bloomin wonderful.

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Blogger Orchid64 said...

The Rosetta Stone language learning software takes a similar approach to teaching. They don't translate things, but show you pictures and repeat phrases associated with the concept portrayed in the picture (a sleeping cat picture would carry the phrase "neko wa nette imasu", for instance). It simulates the way in which we learn our native language through association of visual experiences with particular words or phrases.

By the way, you mentioned in your Twitter comments that many of those taking the course swore they'd never become teachers. If you have time, could you provide some background into why you and others felt that way?

8/8/08 10:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting Mumble because you may recall, the Pimsleur language learning programme I mentioned a while back works in an identical way. It is purely based on listening and speaking, nothing is written down, no notes, no images...if you enjoyed this form of learning I would wholeheartedly recommend it. I found it to be very effective!

8/8/08 10:36  
Blogger Joseph said...

orchid64, thanks for your comment. I'd not heard of the Rosetta Stone software, but it sounds pretty logical in the way it follows our natural learning patterns.

The 'never becoming a teacher' thing is shared amongst those of us whose families have a history of teaching. Thus, it could be thought of as an attempt to resist a 'pre-determined future' - trying to assert ourselves as controllers of our own destinies!

Anon, thanks for that insight. I do recall your mention of the method (, although I had forgotten that when I took that class. I'd be intrigued to see how effective it was in the long term. Very, I suspect!

9/8/08 04:10  

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