Sunday, March 14, 2010

Instructor Focused Teaching, Michel Thomas & Uzbek!

Last week, I noted that I was thinking about what a Michel Thomas Uzbek course would look like, and promised to post some thoughts. In the intervening time, I have got hold of Solity's The Learning Revolution, and have read through the section focused specifically on the Michel Thomas courses. This has caused me to re-think a few things, and to notice a few defects in what I had put together.

Before we start, it's important to note a key element of the Michel Thomas Method: The teacher is responsible for learning. What this means is that if at the end of a Michel Thomas course, you can't communicate in the language, it's not you who has failed; it's his method that has failed. There is a striking contrast between this approach and what you hear from educators about how it's not their fault that high school graduates can't read and write because of social, or income, or other factors.

Thomas saw the rise of the Nazis and the way that Hitler won over a people that, in his view, was ignorant. He came to believe that education, as protection against this, was not just the right of free people but a necessity for a free society. In his view, it was not enough that educators have a good reason why they couldn't teach, because if their students weren't learning then their students were on the path to subjugation. This meant that finding a workable teaching method, not excuses, was the first priority.

It's not 100% clear if Thomas knew exactly what he did, or how much his theory lined up with his practice. However, there are four general points that apply to instructor-focused teaching (responsibility for learning rests with the teacher).

1. Instruction must be useful. (For language education, this means students must be able to talk from the beginning.)
2. No more than one thing at a time should be introduced. (If you introduce two things at once, the student might confuse which concept is which.)
3. Easy should proceed difficult. (This should be obvious, but educators often do things like teaching the exceptions right after the rules instead of creating a foundation of core concepts to which exceptions can be learned.)
4. Similar skills should be taught separately, so that they don't become confused. (Don't teach metaphors and similes at the same time or your students will never know which is which.)

Having a look at the above and the notes I had put together on Uzbek, I did some revisions. I'm plainly still falling short on (1) and (4), something I'll have to sort out later. That said, if you held a gun to my head and told me I had an hour to show you a little bit about how Uzbek works, here are the first fifty things I would teach you, in order. Each time something new is introduced, it is in bold. If you're curious, have a look and see if, even without my proddings and explanations, you can't get a little bit of an idea about how the language works.

1. Kofe, Choy - Coffee, Tea
2. Bu kofe. - This is coffee.
3. Bu yaxshi. This is good.
4. Bu choy yaxshi. - This tea is good.
5. Bu kofe yaxhi emas. - This tea is not good.
6. Bu kofe yomon.
7. Yaxshi-man. - I am good.
8. Yomon emas-man. I am not bad.
9. Yaxshi-siz. - You are good.
10. Bu kofe-mi? Is this coffee?
11. Ha, bu kofe. - Yes, this is coffee.
12. Yo'q, bu kofe emas. - No, this is not coffee.
13. Yaxshi-mi-siz? Are you good?
14. Bu xona. - This is a room.
15. Bu choy-xona. - This is a tea room.
16. Bu xona-da-man. - I am in this room.
17. Bu xona-da-siz. - You are in this room.
18. Bu choy-xona-da-siz. - You are in the tea room.
19. Men bu xona-da-man. - I am in this room. (emphatic)
20. Men bu xona-da emas-man. - I am not in this room. (emphatic)
21. Siz bu xona-da-siz. - You are in the room. (emphatic)
22. Siz bu xona-da-mi-siz? - Are you in this room?
23. U yaxshi. - He/she is good.
24. U yaxshi emas. - He is not good.
25. U xona-da. - He is in the room.
26. U xona-da-mi? - Is he in the room?
27. U xona-da emas. - He is not in the room.
28. Xona-ga. - To a room.
29. Bu xona-ga. - To the room.
30. Bu choy-xona-ga. - To the tea room.
31. Bor-a- - go
32. Bu xona-ga bor-a-man. - I go to the room.
33. Bu choy-xona-ga bor-a-siz. - You go to the tea room.
34. U choy-xona-ga bor-a-di. - He goes to the tea room.
35. Ishla-y- - work
36. Ishla-y-man. - I work
37. Ishla-y-siz. - You work.
38. Bu choy-xona-ga ishla-y-man. - I work in this tea room.
39. Men bu choy-xona-ga ishla-y-man. - I work in this tea room. (emphatic)
40. Siz bu choy-xona-ga ishla-y-siz. - You work in this tea room. (emphatic)
41. Ich-a-siz. - You drink.
42. Siz ich-a-siz. - You drink. (emphatic)
43. Bu choy-ni ichasiz. - You drink the tea. (direct object)
44. Men bu kofe-ni ichasiz. - I drink the coffee. (emphatic)
45. Ishla-y-di. - He works.
46. U ishla-y-di. - He works. (emphatic)
47. U bu kofe-ni ich-a-di. - He drinks the coffee. (emphatic)
48. Ishla-ma-y-di. - He does not work.
49. Ishla-ma-y-man. - I do not work.
50. Ishla-y-siz-mi? - Do you work?

As I note, there are some issues here. As can be seen, there are a lot of places where I'm not introducing new material, so much as assuring that old material still makes sense. However, following this sequence, you can learn about predicate nouns, predicate adjectives, predicate adjectives of place, direct objects, movement toward or into a place, conjugation of vowel and consonant stem verbs in the present tense, and the negative and interrogative as applied to all of the above. I'm not sure whether looking at this will make Uzbek makes sense to you, but putting this together has made it make more sense to me. So, to take a comment I made some time ago at HTLAL, if you're really serious about learning a language, figure out how you would teach it.

4 Comments:

Anonymous lyzazel said...

Well, you could always extend (or remake) the Uzbek course that you made at:

http://labs.ikindalikelanguages.com/courses.php?id=22

I think you also missed questioning. It is a n essential teaching that should not be overlooked (otherwise how do you know that the students are learning / are attentive).

2:11 AM  
Blogger gbarto said...

lyzazel,
I probably wasn't clear enough that this post was more about what to teach than how to teach it. As I get into the next section of the book, I'm sure I'll address that.

I've been back to look at my first Uzbek course recently, with precisely the thought that either a revision or a follow-on was needed. I'm leaning toward the follow-on, with the fifty points in this post as part one, and a building out of the verbal system as part two (provided you don't mind hosting all that!). That way the introduction would remain what it first was - a chance to see what a Turkic language looked like in action - before the learner is forced to really drill down.

8:31 PM  
Blogger doviende said...

What I'm really interested in these days is the idea of things that can be easily figured out from examples (and verbally / physically from intonation and body language). Yes, the more words you know then the more you can say, but also the more you can figure out intuitively from context.

In the case of your teaching examples above, maybe not every word has to be mentioned previously with an explicit explanation. There just needs to be a way for the learners to hear some example sentences that are spoken in the right way, and have enough previously learned material to act as context. In that sense, the goal of the teacher is to strategically walk them down that road where the most context can be found, and the students will then enjoy more of the scenery.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love what you've done with this post; specifically the way you present a completely unknown language and teach one thing at a time. If there were an entire course that continued upon this method, I don't think I'd be able to put it down. It perfectly follows Stephen Krashen's methodology.

1:47 PM  

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