Welcome to Fool for Language

Welcome to Fool for Language, the site for people who are crazy about learning languages - like me! If you are new to this blog, I recommend you read the articles in order. The information will make better sense.

This is my first blog and writing each essay has been much more enjoyable than I expected. I have spent most of my life teaching and, more importantly, learning languages. I have “survived” a wide range of teaching techniques, materials and teachers. The result is that I have a pretty clear idea of what has and has NOT worked for me. Yes, I am opinionated, but even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will enjoy the stories and think about what gets you “wired” when you dive into the wonderful world of learning another language.

I want to thank some people who have helped me maintain momentum with this blog. To give you, the reader, a break, every 10th essay is written by a guest blogger, all close friends with their own special take on language learning. As for the uploading process, Kurt meticulously proofreads and makes insightful comments on each essay; while Yoh patiently provides technical support, including selection of the vibrant visuals. Thank you!


46. Saving Languages Online - Part 3/6: Virtual Nuts & Bolts

In Part 2 of this series, I discussed how the Internet could be exploited to serve restoration of a heritage language, specifically through an online gathering place, or e-Community Center. In this essay, I will discuss potential features of such an online venue.

The functional "zones" of an e-Community Center should fill specific needs, providing information, and maintaining user interest through an entertaining and possibly interactive format. Features can be as varied as the imagination of the minds planning the site and include such spaces as:

1. Bulletin Board
Obvious content for a "Bulletin Board" includes community notices, such as upcoming weddings, births and funerals, and events that particularly highlight the heritage culture. To ensure ongoing updates, regular contributors should be enlisted, while a place for spontaneous contributions will encourage others to become involved.

2. Arts Center
An "Arts Center" provides locals with a place to display their creative efforts online. It develops interest in local culture and can reach a wider audience via links. The Arts Center can be all-inclusive with modern, as well as traditional works in a range of mediums, such as painting, drawing, handicrafts, music, or even movies. In North America, endangered language artists and projects have achieved critical acclaim, including the Quebecois duo, Kashtin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashtin), who perform in their native language, Innu-aimun, and the newsworthy Mayan soap opera, Baktún (http://www.latina.com/entertainment/tv/world-first-mayan-telenovela-baktun#axzz2jouFck4d), which describes the trials of a young man returning to his roots while adapting to the realities of modern life. Talent knows no boundaries and can directly involve all generations in the ongoing development of their culture. Who knows? Anything is possible online and your artists could go viral!

3. Our Stories
Stories from the past serve as the foundation for collective identity helping us to recognize who we are, while modern narratives are a reference for interpreting our place in today's world. With technology becoming more compact and inexpensive, user-generated content in an "Our Stories" zone is within reach. Imagine using a smartphone to film grandparents recounting ancestral tales to their grandchildren, or younger family members talking about their contemporary interests over dinner. With an easy to use input system in place, podcasts can be uploaded and are valuable content in a kind of community video station. Levels of access can be decided by the individual who designates the upload as "personal", "community" or "general public".

Rather than privacy issues, some community members may feel more uncomfortable with the technical aspects of going online. For such individuals, a "collection point" at existing facilities with technical assistance could be the solution. The goal is to make it easy for every person to be able to add his or her stories, particularly older generations. Community elders are the keepers of traditional knowledge and ancestral beliefs. The sad reality is that with their passing, we lose the wealth of information each person possesses. Our Stories provides a venue for collecting this priceless resource and acknowledging its value to the community.

4. Language Trove
I believe a well-designed "Language Trove" feature can make a difference when preserving and/or restoring a community’s tongue, particularly if it includes a "Heritage Zone" for data collected from elders, as well as structured courses to develop a solid foundation in the language. If the latter courses are well-designed, they can also be integrated into classroom training with native speaking "para-teachers". I will talk more about this in my next blogpost about combining online features with real world training.

As for the Heritage Zone, language data recorded with elders then uploaded becomes accessible by the entire community. Projects could include creation of a comprehensive online glossary of words and phrases, or development of more advanced training materials. Data collection sessions can be as casual as recording over a coffee, or structured with discussion centered on a specific topic, such as traditional skills or ancestral beliefs. 

In fact, such data collection is a common research activity performed by academics; however, the results are too often hidden away in filing cabinets. Putting the data online increases the potential for ongoing applications in the e-Community Center.

With development of basic communication skills in the Language Trove, the need then arises for a place to practice them in the e-Community Center, for example, an online Chat Room. One-on-one encounters with possible visual contact (e.g. via Skype) could take place in this space, as well as formal sessions held at scheduled times with guests being interviewed about a specific topic of interest to the community. Ideally, this online venue would evolve into a vibrant congregating place for all levels of speakers to practice the heritage language.

Involving the community in all aspects of the above features is critical; however, perspectives may be drastically different. Youthful members will likely be into games and the sophisticated computer graphics (CGs) that come with them. Unless you are sitting on a well-stocked heritage fund, such CGs require teams of programmers and are prohibitively expensive.

Older community member needs are more fundamental. Computers are often not a part of the reality for someone over 50. The biggest hurdle for mature users visiting an e-Community Center will probably be navigating the User Interface (UI). When checking other websites for ideas don’t just browse the content, but investigate how you access it. For good examples of user-friendly UI's, check out websites that target seniors. If the UI is not obvious and intuitive, motivation to use the e-Community Center will quickly disappear. A good UI will encourage everyone to go online.

Can an online e-Community Center really prove instrumental to the recovery of a language and its culture heritage? Obviously grassroots, face-to-face efforts are critical; however, an easily accessible online venue can play a vital role provided it encourages the involvement of everyone in the community, contains content that appeals to all ages, and can be incorporated into on-the-ground, real world efforts. I will talk about such efforts in my next blogpost.

(If you are really a fool for language, check out my language learning website at http://en.sulantra.com/ with courses from and to English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese,Turkish, Bulgarian, Thai, German, KoreanPortuguese and Italian!)


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