27 June 2013

Sustainability - the missing word in language revitalisation?

Since the start of the century, a new watchword has been on the rise in the world of development: sustainability.

The word started its life associated with ecology, with ideas such as "sustainable forestry", meaning only logging as many trees as a forest can grow back and "sustainable fisheries" – only taking as many fish from the sea, lake or river as can be replaced at a natural rate.

Sustainability moved away from the idea of ecology, to an idea of economics – sustainable explotation of natural resources isn't just a matter of caring about nature for its own sake, but rather the basic common sense of not undermining future supplies in the quest for short-term profit.

But economic sustainability is about the availability of all resources, not merely natural ones.  An economically sustainable system requires no ongoing subsidy, even if it needs some initial investment.  You will rarely hear the word "sustainable" used to describe renewable energy, as while it may use natural resources in a sustainable way, it is not an economically self-sustaining system.

Charities the world over are taking on this idea of sustainability within economic development in poorer areas, and rather than providing indiscriminate aid, they are starting to target their aid on providing startup funding for economically and ecologically sustainable businesses, serving local needs and generating local employment while leaving the local environment intact and friendly to continued human habitation.

And here's where we get to language revitalisation, because language revitalisation is increasingly being recognised as being inextricably linked to community development, and yet sustainability is something of a missing element in a lot of decisions surrounding public funding of language development.

This is not to say that sustainability has been excluded – a few years ago Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Scottish Gaelic development agency, granted a large sum to a private company in order to fund the development of proprietary teaching method, and there was a large bonus written into the contract contingent on reaching a certain number of learners, and crucially completing the course.  But this was limited funding, and the company was expected to make its own profits directly through student fees and sales of supplementary products.  That is sustainable spending, but while it's there at that level, it's missing elsewhere.

The word that Bòrd na Gàidhlig and many other language development agencies worldwide seem to be missing isn't actually "sustainability", but rather "ecosystem", because every project is viewed in isolation, which is a particular problem when you're dealing with projects to produce learner materials.  If we look at many of the materials projects out there, it is very difficult to see how they can be plugged in to wider teaching, and most of this is down to the problems around rights of use arising from copyright.

As an example, I'd point to some of the resources available at learngaelic.net.

First of all, there's a database of excerpts from the daily news programme An Là, from BBC Alba.  The site has various news stories in video format with an interactive transcript, but they are expected to be viewed on the website only.  You are not expected to download the to watch offline and (maddeningly) there is nothing there to clarify to teachers what rights they have (if any) to use this as a classroom resource.  And heck, even if I was permitted to use it in class, I still couldn't, because my policy as a teacher is never ever use streaming in class.  It breaks far too often.  In this case, the problem is compounded by the fact that the video is encoded in high-quality, and the player doesn't maintain a large video cache, meaning that on a slow connection, you just cannot watch it... which is obviously also a problem for the self-teacher at home.

The other video series at learngaelic.net is entitled Look@LearnGaelic, and consists of specially commissioned videos including interviews and short documentary style videos spoken slowly and clearly, with accompanying transcripts and/or subtitling.  These are good quality resources, but they're hemmed into the site, and kept away from teachers.

I mean, the video player doesn't even have a full-screen button, so even if you put it up on a projector, you'd still have a horribly small image – not what you want in a classroom.  (From a technical perspective, it gets worse.  The BBC Alba videos are in standard TV definition, as you'd expect, as BBC Alba isn't an HD channel.  The media player on the website has SD dimensions.  The same player is used for the Look videos, but the ones I examined were in high def, thus meaning I was streaming almost 4x as much data as could be shown on the screen anyway.)

What a waste!  These are materials paid for almost entirely with public money, and they're of value to the public, but the public won't use them, because without a course or a teacher behind them, they're stumbling in the dark looking for something that's appropriate to them.

As I said, it's not only in Scottish Gaelic that this problem arises.  A month or two ago I learned of an Irish "phrase of the week" series free on the net, funded by the Irish language agency (whether fully or in part, I can't be sure).  But it was copyrighted to the people that made it, all rights reserved, so it was only available to the independent learner.  The thing that really irked me was that this was basic beginners' phrases – the sort of thing that everyone would be learning in their lessons or from their books anyway.  It added nothing to the "ecosystem".  When I started writing this post, I went searching for it... and I can't find it, because there are dozens of "beginners' phrases" video serieses on YouTube (not subsidised) so this series adds no value whatsoever.

So what is the sustainable solution?  How do we get the material into the hands of the teachers without disadvantaging the creators?

The way I see it, there are two sides to this, and a distinction has to be made between "individually sustainable" activity and "ecosystem" activity, with distinct models of ownership of intellectual property for each.

Individually sustainable activity

A full language course could and should be individually sustainable in that it makes enough money to fund itself.  In such a system, the ownership should remain with producer of the material, because it is only through control of the material that the course can generate revenue.

Ecosystem activity

When a production house creates an educational resource, they retain full rights to the material.  A great amount of this material is free of charge to the end user, and generates no profits, so is in no way sustainable.  So we should think of it as analogous to an environmental issue.

When an environmental group gets a grant to repair human damage to a local stream, this does not result in them gaining ownership of the stream.  The stream is not a business and cannot be seen as "individually sustainable" divorced from the wider ecosystem of natural and human use.  The end-goal of the environmental work is to the wider public benefit.  Crucially, though, you wouldn't pay for a river cleanup if you knew that the next day, some factory upstream was just going to pollute it all again.

So any activity that cannot be individually financially self-sustaining can only be sustainable if it feeds into and nourishes a wider productive ecosystem, and individual resources should not be under individual control.

Instead, development agencies should be commissioning the materials and taking ownership of them.  These materials can then be made available for exploitation within commercial activity.

In this model, the resources are an indirect subsidy, and crucially a shared subsidy – the agency pays once for something that is used in a dozen courses.  Not only is this cheaper for the development agency, but it would allow much more experimentation and innovation.

I could recut the videos, reorder the videos, recombine the videos; I could optimise their applicability to my students.  This is stuff I cannot afford to do as an individual teacher if I'm starting from zero.  As the material is freely available anyway, I can't pretend it's mine and "sell" it – the only "product" I would be selling is the teaching, and my teaching would be improved.  I would work just as hard, I would charge the same as I would otherwise, and in the end it would be the students that benefited most from it.

A final thought...

People who want to make their materials free often add a condition of "non-commercial" to their license.  But the major publishing houses are not the only commercial entities in language teaching.  Evening class teachers and private tutors are usually self-employed and therefore commercial actors, and in some parts of the world even schools and universities are private sector institutions.  Non-commercial licenses are rarely appropriate to education materials....

25 June 2013

Language, the independence referendum and the Scottish identity

It was always going to be controversial, but Scottish Gaelic didn't get the approval it needed to be included on the referendum paper for Scottish independence.

A bunch of people mobilised rather late in the day to campaign for it.  Right from the start, though, I argued that a campaign for Gaelic on the referendum paper was really just a hiding to nothing.  The question of legitimacy always hang over the referendum, and the best way to prevent any questions of legitimacy was to stick with the Westminster/Whitehall rules on elections, which is why I always felt that the appropriate course of action was to campaign for those rules to be changed, which would not only affect the current referendum, but all future elections whichever way the vote goes.

As far as I'm concerned, all the noise about the referendum question is just wasted energy, for two reasons:
  1. Even if they succeeded in changing the policy, it would be a one-off with no automatic effect; while for the same effort we could get the referendum and everything else.
  2. There was no way in hell the Yes campaign were going to go for it, because it doesn't help them achieve their goals, and gives the No campaign another stick to bash them unfairly with.
This morning I was directed thanks to Facebook post by a man born in the Basque Country (the part north of the Spanish/French border) to Galician and Asturian parents, via a blog that would appear to be Irish to a blog post from a Scotsman decrying the lack of Gaelic on the paper, entitled "Yes Scotland. No Gaelic. Feart Horses."

The post is (and I'm sorry if this seems harsh) just an exercise in bigotry.  Let's look at the author's opening line:
"It's the language that dare not speak its name. Partly because its name - Scots/ Scottish - has been hijacked by another - Inglis/ Anglo-Saxon."
Since when did the term "Scots/Scottish" belong to Gaelic? It never did.

Yes, there were times in history when some outside commentators called it "the Scottis tongue" or similar, but this was always an exonym -- a name chosen from outside the speech community to describe it. If you look at the endonym (the name from inside the community -- i.e. the name the Gaels themselves use) it has always been Gàidhlig or some variant thereof (and the same goes for Irish, incidentally).

His insistence that the Anglo-Saxon-derived Lowland Scots language is properly called Inglis or Anglo-Saxon isn't a standard to which any other language would be held. Consider that the ancestors of Modern French, Italian, Spanish etc all called themselves either "Latin" or "Roman" for many centuries after they ceased to be mutually comprehensible, and at some point the speakers started self-identifying differently, and changed the way they referred to their language.

Consider the Franks.  They were a Germanic tribe who were conquered by Rome and taught Latin (badly), but they never ceased identifying themselves as "Franks", even though they spoke "Roman".  Eventually they decided this was stupid so now they're French people who speak French -- even those who aren't descended from the Franks (most of modern France isn't).

Which brings us neatly to "Scotland" and "Scottish".

"Scot" was never a term that "belonged to" the Scottish Gael. It originated as a Latin term for an Irishman, but there is no historical evidence of either Irish or Scottish Gaels self-identifying with the term.  It was an "exonym" (a name imposed from outside the speech community) rather than an "endonym" (one used from inside). It was the Scottish Lowlanders, not the Highlanders that continued the term when Gaelic died out, and it is entirely reasonable that a Scottish person would want to use the same term for his nationality and his language -- not to do so would be to effectively declare himself "less Scottish" than a Highlander.

Now, like France, modern Scotland is composed of the territory of multiple tribal/ethnic groups.In the northwest, the Highland Gaels; in the northeast, the Picts; in the southwest, the Galwegians (a Gaelic-speaking people) and the Strathclyde Britons; and in the southeast, the Anglo-Saxon/Danish people of northern Mercia.

Five peoples, one country.  It would be crazy to try to unwind a millenium of history and declare that the only true Scot pertains to the one of those five cultures and races that the name applied to then.

And yet that is what Mac an t-Srònnaich wants us to do.

He is particularly vocal about the fact that the Gaels tend to allow their self-identity to be subjugated by English:
"The fact that some Gaels think this way is neither here nor there - every indigenous and once-repressed people has it's own doubters. Centuries of repression and decades of having the language beat out of you in school will leave some people's self-respect at a low ebb."
And yet... notice the word "feart" in the title -- the original referent was "frighten the horses", so the author chose the word himself.  He also said "aye".
I do not know who Mac an t-Srònnaich is, but it seems to me most likely that he's a Lowlander, and a learner of Gaelic.  I strongly suspect that his childhood lect was somewhere on the spectrum between Scots and English.  I wouldn't be scared to suggest that at primary school he, like me, was told not to use words like "feart", "aye" and "cannae", but instead "afraid", "yes" and "cannot".
I would suggest that Mac an t-Srònnaich is suffering for the same affliction that he accuses the Gaels of: he has been so deeply shamed into devaluing his own language that he denigrates it himself, and like many of his ilk, he's found it easier to pick a new language to support than to challenge the negative attitudes towards his own.  If that's the case, he has no right to criticise anyone else for it.

20 June 2013

Pattern identification and language learning

A few weeks ago I read an article reporting on a scientific study which had found that students who are good at abstract pattern matching tasks perform better in Hebrew language lessons. (Unfortunately I don't have access to the original journal paper.)

Now, we have two ways of interpreting this outcome: the fatalistic and the optimistic.

The fatalistic interpretation

A fatalist will say that it is proof positive of the existence of talent, and that those who do not have this talent are doomed to failure at learning languages.

The optimistic interpretation

The optimistic interpretation is to say that the successful learners are succeeding despite the teaching, and that this study is, by shedding new light on what the successful learners actually do, showing what teachers should be doing if they want to be successful.

"Rules" are a bit out of fashion in language teaching.  I've always said that this is because people have been teaching incorrect rules, rather than that rules are inherently unsuited to language teaching.  A linguistic "rule" is (or should be, at least) nothing more than an observed pattern emerging from real usage.  If successful learners are those who can identify patterns, then we must assume that after identifying these patterns, they learn them.

So I would suggest that the logical conclusion is that we should be teaching these patterns to students, rather than relying on them identifying them.

An example pattern

When I was learning French (my first foreign language) at high school, I noticed the distinction between the "long conjugations" and the "short conjugations" of the present tense (the long conjugations are the nous and vous forms, and the short conjugations are the rest), and I noticed that in irregular verbs, these forms were almost always regular.  (Is there any verb other than être that has irregular long conjugations?)

So while my classmates were attempting to memorise the irregular verb tables by rote, I was saving myself time and effort by only memorising the conjugations that didn't arise out of bog standard, regular conjugation.

Now it could be that the advocates of the discovery method are right, and that part of my success was down to the fact that I worked this out for myself, but I doubt it.  And even if that's true, is it fair to trade off the success of the majority against the success of a lucky few?  It is obvious that being told this would have reduced the effort required by my classmates to learn their irregular verbs.

Teaching patterns vs teaching rules

The problem with most of the "rules" traditionally presented in grammar books is that they are more strictly ranked and regimented than they are in real life.  Real patterns in real language can't be so neatly packaged by tense.

Take one of the patterns in Spanish taught by Michel Thomas:
The third person plural conjugation of a verb is the third person singular conjugation plus N, except in the preterite.

Now that's not how he taught it, but that's the concise description.  When he taught it, he simply used it in the present, and then got the students to apply it in the other tenses.

One of the reasons some people don't like this pattern is that "except" bit, but this really isn't a problem, because the pattern also holds for the second person singular: third singular +S, except (again) in the preterite.

It's regular, it's predictable.  Even the "exception" is regular in that it's an exception for both 2S and 3P.

This is the sort of pattern that I suspect all those successful learners are finding, and this is the sort of pattern that made Thomas such an effective teacher.

So let's find those patterns, and let's teach them.

14 June 2013

The obligatory car analogy...

When you want to explain something complex to a non-expert, there's no tool more useful than a good analogy. Sadly, there's are few tool more open to abuse than the humble analogy, and in a great many cases, the subject of this abuse is the humble automobile. There is a rule of thumb on the internet that says you should never trust a car analogy.

The danger in analogy is that it comes to what appears to be a logical conclusion, even when the analogy is false, but thankfully we've had the conceptual tools to analyse logic since at least Ancient Greece. Heck, even the words “logic” and “analogy” come from the Ancient Greek language.
Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of the “learning/acquisition” distinction, or the school of thought that says that rules don't matter, and that the only way to “acquire” is through exposure.  Well, recently I was reminded of that particular school-of-thought's own pet car analogy, and I would like to dismantle it here.
Grammar, they tell us, is unimportant. Do we need to know how a language works in order to speak it? Well, they say, consider a car: do you need to know how the engine works in order to drive it?

The reasoning seems persuasive to those who are predisposed to listen, but as with all analogies, the problem lies in the equivalence of the analogised items.
Is “how a language works” analogous to “how the engine works”? Certainly not – it is analogous to “how the car works”. Some commentators would suggest that the engine is how the car works – I would like to argue against this.
To a driver, a car is not the engine. From the very beginning, the goal of the engineer has been to abstract away features that the driver shouldn't have to think about and turn the engine into something of a “black box” – you read the instrumentation, manipulate the controls, and then the car responds in a consistent and predictable way based on what you tell it to do. The driver does not need to know what “RPM” means to recognise when they're over-revving the engine – revolutions-per-minute, cylinder cycles... irrelevant – but the driver does have to be told that over-revving is a bad thing, and has to learn the “rules” of reading the needle and listening to engine noise to avoid doing it.
The acquisition crowd are not, I hope, suggesting that you could put someone in a car with no knowledge of the steering system, gearbox, speed controls and indicator and just let them get on with it. The end result of this would at best nothing, at worst a seriously damaged car. OK, so you're not going to destroy someone's brain by throwing them into a language at the deep end, but if they can't even start the language's “car”, they're never going to get any useful feedback at all.
So we have three elements in the target of our analogy:
  • The car as a whole
  • The car's control system
  • The car's engine
The question is, is the grammar the “control system” or the “engine”. Quite simply... urm... possibly maybe both....

Grammar as Control Sytem

Most of the grammar of a language is unambiguously “control system”, as the speaker must directly manipulate it in order to make himself understood.
Consider the spark-plugs in a diesel engine. Wait... a diesel engine doesn't have any spark-plugs. But this doesn't matter – this makes practically no difference to the driver. The accelerator works the same as the accelerator in a petrol engine with its spark plugs, and pressing it down harder makes the wheels spin faster. “The car”, as an entity, is operated identically – as far as the driver is concerned, it “works the same way”.
But let's look at a grammatical distinction, and for the sake of the argument I'll take the use of articles. English has them, Polish doesn't. If articles were like spark-plugs, that would mean that the article is entirely irrelevant to the manipulation of the language, but this is patently false. If you don't correctly manipulate the article, your sentence is wrong.
So a great many grammar rules are undeniably part of the control system.

Grammar as engine

Grammar as a whole has been a very expansive and extensive field of study – in fact, I'm led to believe that grammar originally meant the description of a whole language. Grammar today usually means “everything except vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling”, so a lot of stuff gets caught up in it which may be considered “engine”. Historical changes, derivational morphology (the etymology of the word presuppose is of very little use to the average learner of English) and distinctions like that between reflexive and impersonal/pronominal pronouns in the Romance languages.
But to use these few examples as a reason to throw out all conscious description of grammar is hugely short-sighted.

My car analogy

So that's their car analogy disproven, and I'd like to replace it with one of my own.

To ask someone to learn a language without grammar is like putting someone in the driving seat of a car without drumming the words “mirror, signal, manoeuvre” into their heads, and without telling them never to cross their hands at the wheel.
On the other hand, a lot of grammar-heavy teaching is like teaching someone to drive by carrying out the exact same manoeuvre 20 times in superficially different (but functionally identical) locations, then moving on and doing the same thing with a different manoeuvre.
This is not what any good driving teacher does.

A driving teacher takes the beginner to a safe, simple environment (eg an empty car park) and teaches the basic rules of operating the vehicle. The learner won't even be allowed to start the engine until they've started building the habit of checking all mirrors. Then they will learn to start and stop. A bit of controlled speed, then a bit of steering. The complexity increases steadily, and the instructor chooses increasingly complex environments so that the learner has to apply and combine the rules in ever more sophisticated ways. Rules are introduced gradually, as required, and then applied and manipulated as the situation demands. The teacher initially picks routes that don't require turning across traffic, then picks a route with a safe across-traffic turn, then adds in crossroads, traffic lights, roundabouts, filter lanes etc one by one. But these features are never treated as discrete items to learn individually – they are elements of one continuous whole that must be practised in the context of that whole.
This is what a good driving teacher does, and this is what a good language teacher does. Listen to one of Michel Thomas's courses1 and you'll see that's exactly what he does: an increasingly complicated linguistic environment, and no language point ever treated in isolation beyond its basic introduction.  That's proper teaching, and it's all built on grammar and rules.

1I mean a course that he himself planned and delivered, not one of the courses released after his death.

11 June 2013

Link drop: to myself!

A couple of weeks ago, I got invited to write an article for a multiauthor blog entitled MOOC News and Reviews, all about these newfangled online free course thingummijigs.  Well, it seemed like a good opportunity to continue writing about these things without constantly boring my language-orientated readers here with it.

My first article has just gone online, in which I discuss the benefits to the learner of having a good old-fashioned whinge once in a while, and the barriers that online discussion places to the student who feels confused or dissatisfied.

10 June 2013

Ivan MacDonald

I've said plenty of times in plenty of places that my interest in languages is about people, about the personal bond that comes from making the honest effort to speak to them in their own language, even if just sticking to English would be easier for both parties. It's something I've experienced in several languages, but none more so than Scottish Gaelic.

Scottish Gaelic is a language that comes with a real sense of community – although half the speakers now live in Scotland's major cities, they're all still only a step or two away from their extended families in one of the island or isolated mainland communities. Spend even a small amount of time in one of these communities and you can't fail to be impressed by the welcome and generosity you are shown, even if you don't speak Gaelic.
I've spent less than a month in Uist in total, yet there are people there who recognise me on sight and always greet me with a warm smile. A little over a year ago I walked into the local pub where I was living on Skye, and a guy came up and talked to me, addressing me by name. I didn't recognise him at first – we'd only met twice in our lives, two summers earlier and the one before that – but he was so happy to see me and catch up. I was blown away by it, I really was. I swore to myself that I'd never let myself forget his face, and he genuinely became someone I would recognise absolutely anywhere. When I caught up with him last summer, he was right at the heart of the community, sitting on the board of Ceòlas as they discussed some major changes to the organisation.
Mid-morning today, I switched on my computer to check my messages, and saw the following Facebook status a friend had posted last night:
    Well this is the end of a tragic day in uist! Many people in uist and beyond have been affected by today's news. We've lost a true gentleman character. Ivan you'll be sorely missed by everyone whose has the pleasure of being in your company. God rest your soul!! Xx


Even before I hovered over the name, I knew it was him, and not only because Ivan isn't a particularly common name there. In the islands, it's relatively rare for anyone to be commonly referred to by a single name, but Ivan was Ivan.
I met Ivan at a party during Ceòlas week where he turned up in a grubby boiler suit carrying a pipe case. Now this wasn't just any old session – we had more than a few of the “hot” young names on the Scottish traditional music scene, and they would be turning to Ivan for forgotten tunes and suggestions on what tunes to put together in a set.

I'd never heard of this guy, and I still know nothing about his past musical career, but that's beside the point – Ivan didn't need a CV to get respect, he naturally commanded it. Calm and unassuming, his confidence and ability on his instruments was something that is rarely equalled, even among full time professionals.

He was 33 and his loss will be sorely felt far beyond his island.  My grief seems disproportionate given how little I actually knew him, but that says more about Ivan than anything else could.

07 June 2013

The filter of perception

I've been a bit preoccupied with exam season and have been putting off many things, including blogging.  But I'm going to try to get back into it, and I'm going to try to get this blog back on the language track, and I'll mostly be posting my thoughts on MOOCs elsewhere.

So here for your perusal is some recent thoughts on the filter of perception, and how it affects notions of learning by absorption.

During a recent break, while I was holed up at my parents' house due to a foot injury (a pratfall in a doorway), I started studying German with one of the free interactive web courses.  I'm relatively happy with the course itself, although there are (as with any course) some rather stupid things in it.

There are various types of questions in the course, including translation, multiple-choice and taking dictations.

So there I was, and I heard the computer say to me:
"Liest du Büchen?"
which I started typing.  But then I stopped, because I'd made a mistake with this before.  The form I should have been typing was "Bücher".  I knew this.  But I'm telling you, I heard Büchen.  Yes, the computer said Bücher, but I heard Büchen, clear as day.

The brain is a remarkable thing, and what we perceive is not always what hits our eyes or ears.

There are rules to the universe, and once our brain knows the rules, it filters what we receive to produce a perception that matches our expectation of the universe.  If we see a man standing half-hidden behind a wall, we don't perceive "half a man", we perceive "a man that we can see half of".  We make a rough guess at the hidden bits based on proportions relative to what we can see and the many hundreds of humans we've seen in our lives.  If you see a man with a hand over one (presumed) eye, you assume there's an eye underneath, and you would only be surprised when he moved his hand if there wasn't an eye there.

In language, this is particularly useful as it lets us understand dialectal variation without too much effort, and crucially without ever having to truly "learn" the dialect we're trying to listen to. 
If an Irishman said to me "ten times tree is tirty", I might well perceive "ten times three is thirty", and if the conversation was quick enough, I might not even be consciously aware that he had said T sounds instead of TH.  And if I said to him that "ten times three is thirty", he wouldn't have any problems understanding me, just because I used the "extra" TH sound that isn't in his inventory.

But while that's good for the fluent speaker, it's a potential pitfall for the language learner.  In the case of my German lesson, I had an unconscious rule in my head that said "-en is the German plural suffix" and that filtered the received "Bücher" and gave me the perceived "Büchen".  Now before anyone blames "rules" for my error, let me make it clear that this was an internalised, procedural rule rather than a conscious, declarative one.

Had I never been punished for perceiving it wrong, my ear would probably never have been learned to perceive the difference, because there would have been no impetus to do so.  (Say, for example, I was only asked to translate from German to English.)

And so it is for anyone living through a foreign language.  I recall one interesting experience when doing a listening lesson with two private students (I thought I'd mentioned this here before, but I can't find it in my posting archive).  There was a gist-listening exercise with comprehension questions, and then there was a series of close-listening tasks consisting of a sentence or two of audio and a fill-in-the-gaps version of the sentence on the worksheet.  As they whittled away the gaps word by word, they were left with two gaps, but that wasn't enough, because every time they listening to the recording, they heard three words: "prices of houses".  I replayed the file several times, watching them in fascination: "prices of houses", "prices of houses", "prices of houses".  How was it that even when they were listening very, very closely, they couldn't perceive the simple phrase "house prices"?

As far as I can see, it comes down to this:
that structure wasn't part of their language model, and continued exposure to the language only trained their ability to filter the input to adapt it to their structure, rather than adapting their structure to match the input.

If we comprehend input by mangling it to match our internal model, then accurate acquisition by comprehensible input alone must be an impossible dream.

06 June 2013

Mailmerge fail...

I received the following in an email this morning from the Open University:

June’s edition of OpenNews

You may have noticed that in your June edition of OpenNews the usual salutation was omitted. We’re sorry for this technical error but will ensure it is rectified before next month’s newsletter.

We hope this does not detract from your enjoyment of the newsletter.
Detract from my enjoyment?  Perish the thought!  There's few things better to alleviate newsletter fatigue than a simple little silly error.  The previous email had greeted me with the wonderful line Dear {salutation}.

I liked it that way....