Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Focused word lists

I ask my students to brainstorm from prior knowledge. I want to see which direction it takes.  Each group is different when I have worked with adult beginners in the community to five years olds in the first year of school to twelve years olds at the end of primary school. This activity allows the scope of learning to be opened up more than if I was to share new vocabulary at the beginning of a new unit of work or a new chapter from the textbook.  If I merely, sent around a photocopy of the vocab list and asked “Which words can you predict? Which words do you know? And which ones do you not have any idea about?”  I would not stimulate the same discussion in the group of learners.  And one or two at least would be nodding off in the corner.

I introduce pronouns as hand gestures.  There are six pronoun groups: I, you (singular), he/she/it, we, you (plural) and they. The first three are all singular.  The last three are all plural.  Within the singular groups, I is in the first person, you is second person and he, she, it and even formal you (for example, in Italian) are third person. 

First person refers back to the speaker.  First person in the plural is we (referring back to us). Second person it the listener or person you are speaking to.  Third person is a different person/group from the speaker and the listener.  These ‘others’ are being spoken about and not directly to.

Beginners in learning a language (be it foreign or improving their knowledge of their native language) often confuse these terms and labels.  Often initial knowledge up until a focused lesson on pronouns, is intuitive and is what sounds/feels/looks right to the speaker/writer.  When you start to learn a foreign language, you don’t have years of experience to lean on to determine what sounds/feels/looks right to you as the speaker/writer.  

I teach pronouns with hand gestures to simplify some of these of the beginning language learner. Most of these hand gestures are obvious, but help the learner to process the context of who is speaking, who is listening and/or who is being spoken about.

In the singular, point to the appropriate person. 
In the plural, circle in the air to indicate the group of 2 or more people.
For ‘I’, simply point to the speaker.
For ‘you singular’ point to the listener.
For ‘he/she/it/formal you’ point to who the speaker is telling the listener about.
For ‘we’ circle in the air to refer to the speaker and the listener.
For ‘you plural’ circle in the air to refer to both listeners.
For ‘they’, circle in the air to refer to two or more other people being spoken about by the speaker to the listener.

A basic list for learning any language.  Note: in Italian days and months, both DO NOT have capital letters.  In English, they always have capital letters. Just a convention to be aware of.

A surprising list for nationalities and languages. In Italian, countries and cities have capitals.  However, nationalities and languages DO NOT have capitals.

It’s always a good idea to occasionally take a break form the grammatical side of learning a new language to explore some idioms.  Here are some of my favourites: Italian olio di gomito (lit. oil of elbow) is elbow grease. French la grasse matinée (lit. the fat morning) is a sleep in.

I work with students to brainstorm and research some common festivals and holidays.  Start with festivities common to both cultures: birthdays, Christmas, Easter, even Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Then, challenge their knowledge / introduce some cultural holidays to the target language: national holidays, regional festivals like Carnevale.

I brainstorm from the news: It is always powerful to start with common knowledge like world news or famous people.  Recent natural disasters, known disasters even Pompeii in Italy, famous sports people, films stars, singers, tv personalities.  Most people surprise themselves with their own prior knowledge or even with how much they knew but didn’t realize was linked to Italy as a country or the Italians as a people.

This is one of my favourite topics – because you can take it anywhere to any place and time: list in three column famous people, famous places, historical events in time. Each group takes this in their own direction. Sometimes modern people, sometimes more historical.  Sometimes recent political events, or recent natural disasters that made the world news. Some people are more interested in Italy when it became a Republic or the influence of the Roman Empire.  There is something for everyone.  Children are often either more interested in the modern famous people or the gladiator era in to main groups.

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