Friday, August 6, 2010

Explaining how the novela began. Learning German in Second Life.

Before Gwen created the present blog I had started one on Wordpress to record my personal record of the lessons I attended and my reflections on what I had experienced. Below I have copied that Wordpress blog (original now deleted) and integrated it with this one.

I’m thoroughly convinced that Second Language offers exciting possibilities for learning and teaching foreign languages, but although I spend a lot of time in SL discussing such matters, I have not observed or taught as many lessons inworld as I would like.

I was therefore quick to take up the chance to enroll for a course just started by Heike (SL: Gwen) which developed out of an EEC project. In this course Heike is trying out a new approach – learning German by collaborating in the writing of the script for a novella, an electronic soap opera. In other words the scripts, the texts will be produced by the learners.

I have gathered, from private conversations, that some of Gwen’s underlying convictions are (my formulation rather than hers):

– A mixed ability, mullti-national beginner’s group ranging from those with zero knowledge to a native speaker of German (!) is a rich resource to be exploited and experimented with and decidedly not a problem.

(The group at today’s meeting contained a native speaker of German, a foreigner who speaks quite fluent but very broken German and at least one person who joined in because he just happened to be around.)

Creating a novella together, in a mixture of German and English at first, can provide fun, motivation and a selection of appropriate bits of German to be learned for the sake of the story line.

The availabilty of speech as well as written chat means that while the language of talk, written chat :

– can be used to summarise in English what has been said in German
– is a polished-up form of what has been said inworld.

This use of speech and chat enables the learning to be:

- cooperative
- neatly separates the two languages into spoken German and written English – with some written German used to summarize.

Whatever the declared aims and objectives of this course were, what seemed to happen was:

- People , using German as the target language, but allowing any amount of supportive scaffolding in English, began – after the introductory question: “Kennen sie Berlin?” – Do you know Berlin? – to generate the draft beginning of a novella set in the Berlin of the 20s. This setting was chosen because there is an excellent new location available in Second Life – The Berlin 1920 project.

In my role as a participant who was a fake beginner and a teacher taking a busman’s holiday as a learner (My spoken German is very inaccurate, but it works fairly well communicatively) , I noted the following:

Characterising comment

1. This is a creative, open-ended, open-minded, non-dogmatic approach mixed with with elements of the Dogme pedogogical approach – with no place for a teacher-imposed introduction of an ordered sequence of new words (lexical items) and language structures to be learned. Creating a story in German is the overriding and focusing aim, and the human and technical resources at hand are exploited to this end , for example:

1.1 German is the target language, but both spoken and written English are used to aid understanding and check on comprehension. German is used to teach German, but English is used as the lingua franca language of explanation and motivating reassurance.

1.2 Full use is made of voice (speech) – learners can hear and most of them can use their microphones to speak.

1.3 Public chat – what I call “wrat” – because in SL “chat” does not mean something spoken, it means using the written language. These days in SL and on other platforms like Elluinate etc. “wrat” is used as a back channel where, amongst other functions, you can read.

1.3.1 Technical instructions – How to get your avatar upright from lying stretched out on the floor , what to do about the fact that your avatar is stark naked and is unsettlingly close to one of the participant’s face, how to stand up, how to turn the volume down and so on.

1.3.2 Simultaneous translations into English of what has been said for those who cannot yet follow in German. (It is worth noting that those who could started doing amateur instantaneous, unrehearsed translation/summarizing. This emerged, it was not pre- planned, and it provides a good example of the cooperative, social spirit of learning that was unleashed. It also echoed the sort of routine procedures used in the ‘State European Schools”, bilingual primary/middle/secondary schools in Berlin.for example. There are at least 8 of these – German English, German Italian, German Spanish, German Turkish, German Russian, German Polish, German Portuguese, German French. There are always a German native speaker and a target language native speaker in each class team teaching- the German native always speaks German only, and the target language speaker who always speaks only their mother tongue.)

1.3.3 References, notes, explanations, a written record of some of what has been said.

Note that SL has some of the following basic facilities to offer which are not often available in a non-SL environment:

- Video plus sound recordings of the whole lesson. (An excellent tool/resource for teacher training and professional development based on self-observation and reflection on ones practices as a teacher).

- A built-in, automatc note-taking facility a log of all that was written in public chat saved on your own machine, as long as you have configured your SL viewer correctly.

- Photos taken by anyone present which can be published anywhere in the internet and uploaded for display in SL, and which can be tagged and located and used from any appropriate program with internet access.

Tightening up the approach
(“How can we know what we are doing until we see what we have done?” anon “Emotion recalled in tranquillity ” ? William Wordsworth.

Comment Note the fact that the talk is one medium, speech – and the summaries, glosses, translation are in another mode, written chat

In- service teacher education


Teachers and learners can learn cooperatively how to:

- Help each other with technical SL matters like dressing, recovering lost hair, becoming decent again after an involuntary period of public nakeness etc..

Teachers can

- make comments
- write words in chat
- give instructions for SL manipulations

Learners can

- offer to do simultaneous, written translation
- summarize
- gloss items from one one or more languages

References can be made to:

Dictionaries. Examples can be looked up and written in chat and will be there for reference in the chat log.

General observation

- Fun as it is, there is actually no need to sit inside anywhere in SL. You can move around all the time, work in pairs in the air, discuss something underwater, fly somewhere, observe, take notes and come back and report, using speech.

- Matters of teaching technique that could be usefully discussed by those learners – by no means all – who are interested in the most effective way of teaching, supporting the learning of a foreign language.

The old chestnut

Do you want people (initially) to learn to speak or to learn to read?

Excellent example – How several people stumbled over saying/pronouncing: “verheiratet”.

I would have gone into 1960′s style (advanced for Berlin of the 1920s) of getting people to repeat after me, even back-chaining i.e.

tet, tet, tet
a’tet a’tet a’tet a’tet
HEIRatet (Overdo the stressed syllable. The learners have got to get it right to be ‘comfortably comprehensible’).
/f/ – that is a SOUND, not V – that is a LETTER which represents a sound.(It is the SOUND we are learning and practising, not how that sound is represented in LETTERS).


I reckon in a couple of minutes of that sort of treatment most people can be enabled to pronounce an awful lot of words – except those full of “foreign sounds” – like Köln or München or Einhörnschen or Gäensebluemchen.

Donaudampfschifffahrstsgesellschaftskapitän is not that difficult – it is just long.

In useful sentences like:

Ich drehte die Dräehte

English and many other non-Germanic lips and tongues are required to take up strange, difficult positions.

The underlying trouble is that the written word dominates and learners try to pronounce the words as they are written – whereas, infact, they need pronouncing as they are said. (Sermon over).

The technical side of SL

Not for the first time I am struck by the fact that language learners in SL really do need a pre-course in how to do basic things to in SL, not least to avoid frustration and to to enable them to get on with learning.

I can immodestly recommend as an example a tutorial I wrote a couple of years ago for the electronic list learningwithcomputers. It badly needs revising, but it might still be of some use to someone.

LWC Tutorial – Using SL

It is written as a wiki and uses a large number of screen shots to show how to do the basic actions:

- stand up
- sit down
- turn your avatar round so that you can see what it looks like instead of always staring at the default view, the back of its head.
- teleport yourself and others
- the functions of friendship. (In SL friendship is a communicative aid rather than an emotional state.)
- speak etc. etc.

At our second meeting, just Gwen, Deezul, Osna it became clearer to me what the emerging approach is. I would describe it thus, noting that implicitly it is for:

reasonably mature learners, i.e. potentially anyonyone from about age 7 – 95. It is:

1. An alternative to a step-by-step, direct, itemised foreign language learning approach i.e it does NOT have as its unspoken objetctive:

The mastery of the following list of lexical (vocabulary) items
The mastery of the follwing list of structures, grammatical items

2. WHATEVER your personal reasons for wanting to learn German – because you are interested in the language, because you just like learning languages, because you want to find a different, enjoyable way of learning a foreign language, because you are interested in trying out what it is like learning a language in Second Life

The novella approach – the soap opera approach

can actually easily and naturally accommodate:

Learners speaking a variety of mother tongues as long as one or two of them can, between them, enable understanding in a common language, English, French, Italian, Spanish etc. until such time as mutual understanding in German – the target language – is achieved

It can, as a matter of fact, accommodate native speakers of German and fluent but inaccurate speakers of German as foreign language all enagaged in a group, social effort to eventually communicate effectively together in German.

Frankly, this approach is not much concerned with ‘grammar’ – and reading and writing skills wil be employed to facilitate “talk” both free, unscripted talk, and role play or even scripted talk.

So. It goes like this.

Using the resources available i.e. both human reseources – the abilities, language competencies of the particpants and the considerable resources of SL to jointly, cooperatively author, write a novella, soap opera, bursting with human interest and relevance to daily lived life. And, from the

From the creativity of the group, spoken invention, using notes of what is created in German on group chat, on notecards, with the aid of necessary translations – as an aid NEVER as a method of language learning – the creation of a novella, soap opera, in German, which will eventually be role-played, acted and filmed as a Machima.

The learning will begin as a multi-lingual hotch-potch, using all and any tools that will help, towards an ever-increasingly greater use of GERMAN ONLY!

Work on pronunciation and stress and intonation has priority and will be taught and practised in a different thread, as it were, a necessary general tool – if no-one understands what you are saying have you really learned anything? This work will be separate from working on the script, but it is absolutely vital – so MUCH more fundamentally important in respect of effective interactive communication than “”"”"correct”"”"”" grammar, (What’s that?) use of articles etc. If you long to play a beautiful tune on a chosen instrument, you just cannot avoid practising the individual notes and getting from one to the other until you can make the sounds you want, when you want them, and making them so that they mean to listeners, activate their affective systems with what you intend them to mean.

The song all the learners on the German course in the Berlin of 1920 want to sing is German . And the notes they must learn to make are the easily intelligible and correctly signifying sounds of German – coupled to intended meaning and impact.

Teacher Gwen. Have I understood correctly?

Notes jotted down during the first two sessions attended

Gwen has already announced she intends to show us around the site Berlin of the 1920s. This is great. One of the marvels of SL is that you can move around. You do not need to sit in a reproduced classroom, however well it is done.You can move around. And you can fly. And you can go underwater without drowning. And much, much more -and it is not all immoral or illegal. SL is potentially a marvellous place for creatively and imaginatively exploring new ways of learning and teaching.

Chat log

(Gwen sent me this. I think it is based on the chat log, though I have not checked). Thanks, Gwen/Heike).

Darf ich Ihnen Herrn Nesterov vorstellen?

Herr Nesterov ist pensioniert und wohnt in Osnabrück.
Seine Frau ist Deutsche.
Sein Schwager (der Bruder von seiner Frau) wohnt in Berlin.
Er ist auch pensioniert aber er hat viel Rente, weil er Beamter war.
Der Schwager heißt Helmut Reinhard.

Herr Reinhard ist 65 (fünf und sechzig Jahre alt). Er ist nicht verheiratet.

Er hat nie geheiratet weil Maria, seine große Liebe, Helmut Kaufmann geheiratet hat. Klaus ist Helmuts bester Freund.

Herr Klaus Hoffmann ist der beste Freund von Hartmut Reinhart.

Herr Hoffmann hat Maria, die große Liebe von Herrn Reinhart geheiratet.

heiraten = marrying, to marry
er hat Maria geheiratet = he married Maria
Schwager = brother-in- law
pensioniert = retired
wohnen = to live
er wohnt = he lives
Schwager = brother-in-law
sein Bruder = his brother
ihr Bruder = her brother
er ist verheiratet = he is married
groß (=gross) = big, large
große Liebe = ‘true’ love

In today’s session (Thursday 15 July 2010 ) we moved a few steps closer to our aim – to produce a simple script in German of a soap opera set in the Berlin of the 1920s.

1. We started with D. reading aloud in English a longish short story he had written as homework about a gun fight in Berlin in which he was involved. (We are talking abut the “he” of SL Berlin 1920, OK?)

2. As a help to Osnacantab Nesterov, who was given the task of delivering a simplified, spoken version of that text in German, Gwen dropped a notecard containing the text on to our avatar’s . We did not see this, but that was almost certainly how she did it – and the texts immediately appeared in our inventories, our complete collection of files, and by clicking on the file we could make it visible on screen for us to work with.

3. Losing sight of that intimidating task – the short story was over 1000 words long – and to the great relief of Osnacantab Nesterov – we inched away from the short story towards the generation of a script by reviewing what we know of two characters so far.

4. We focused first on….. which had him realising what hard work it is learning a foreign language from scratch. He was encouraged and coaxed to retrieve the German version of utterances about his character in SL first made in English. (It must be emphasised that this was definitely not, and was not intended to be, an exercise in translation. The original text was used just as a prompt and starting point. D. eventually produced sentences like:

Ich wohne in Berlin. I live in Berlin.
Meiner Eltern wohnen nicht in Berlin. My parents don’t live in Berlin.

D. tried the following procedure – “The notecard prompt approach”:

a He read the German text from a notecard on screen.
b He tried to repeat the sentence without looking at the notecard.
c He repeated the sentences using the notecard.
d He tried for a second time to repeat the sentences by heart.

Notecards displayed

Pedagogical statement on behalf of Osnacantab Nesterov’s spirit, creator and sole payer of all First World bills incurred by activities in SL.

1. I doubt if a learner hears the sentences enough (s)he is attempting to learn this way – so the “learning” is thrown back on the memorization of a WRITTEN text – where the well-known “power of print” is likely to mislead the struggling learner with regard to correct pronunciation.

2. As an experiment, backchaining the sentences was tried:

Ich wohne in Berlin.
Meiner Eltern wohnen nicht in Berlin.

Berlin…. in Berlin…..wohne in Berlin….Ich wohne in Berlin….Ich, ich – not ik…..

Berlin….in Berlin….. nicht in Berlin…. etc.etc.

It seemed that in couple of minutes the learner was able to utter those sentences in an understandable fashion.

3. The text written by….. was issued as a notecard, and that was worked on in the same way to produce more scripts and ideas for the eventual soap opera script we are attempting to write. There was a suggestion that words and sentences might be easier to remember if they were sung. This led to the further suggestion that perhaps we should try to produce a musical and not just a soap opera.

At this juncture Osnacantab Nesterov was called out of the room by an urgent Video Skype call fro Douala in West Africa and having only fair skills in multi-tasking he exited SL t focus on Skype.

[ The minutes break off  here, buthis final remark was forwarded to me to be published here.]

Comment after 3 or 4 meetings

1. It seems that this approach generates good motivation and a lot of enjoyment. A lot of free (not lexis or structure controlled) German is spoken by the teacher, and some by the learners. And it is early days yet.

2. Could there perhaps be a tightening up on how much practice the learners actually get per session in speaking German? On the other hand, it has to be pointed out that the amount of German spoken is likely to increase steadily as listening to the language kicks in and learners begin to contribute more. It is still very early days.

22 July 2010

You have to love it…..

One of the participants today had unsolvable problems with sound despite persevering for an hour to get things working.

A HOPE That SL in its back-to-basic initiative recently annnounced by Philip Linden has “Sound” at the top of their agenda.

A SOUND SUGGESTION Several years ago it was a trend in FL/TEFL to run preparatory courses on language learning techniques and skills before learners began on the language course itself. It strikes me as absolutely essential in SL, both for teachers and learners, to do a basic SL skills course before beginning to try to use SL for a particular learning purpose. And learning to troubleshoot sound problems, I suggest, has top priority.

Email Subscription
Click to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


No comments:

Post a Comment