Sunday, December 30, 2012

The "test" at the end of the Silent Phase


Now we have finished Session 15—end of the Silent Phase. I think we've been increasingly ready to start two-way conversation in recent days. The timing still seems to make pretty good sense for us.

The activities of Session 15 are aimed at refreshing-and-strengthening (what we were still calling "reviewing" when the First 100 Hours was written). For the Session 15 activities, we put out all the toys, objects, pictures, etc. that we can, and involve them.

We often say that in Phase 1, separate "language tests" would be redundant, since the activities themselves are always a test, and labelling them them one doesn't add anything positive and does add something negative in the experience of many people. Were we to view it as a test, I think most people who have reached this point—if they have done what they were supposed to—would get a "high mark" (an "A" or "A-"grade, in American terms).

What is cool about it is the way Session 15 rewards credit, if you want to think of it as that, is that it counts what is in the ZPD, and not just in the "zone of actual development". That is, because during this "test," the nurturer is there interacting with the GP, scaffolding what he is saying visually, linguistically (breaking things down into more comprehensible phrases, for example) and in other ways, for example, by relying on the relatively restricted context of what is on the table. The result is that much beautiful learning is apparent that would be missed in an all-or-none iceberg-unaware kind of language test. And how wrong it would be to be lambasting oneself for what was still rising in the iceberg (as one tends to do in a normal "test") rather than rejoicing over its continued rise

During this "test," some words that have been low in our icebergs since early on suddenly shot way up. We also inaugurated a new "hinting" practice: If either of us couldn't even recognise some word the nurturer used, then the other GP, or the nurturer, could make a circular motion with her or his finger around a section of the table that included the target item and a reasonable amount of other items. When the physical context was narrowed in this way (to something much less than the whole table), we would suddenly realise that the word was familiar after all! The unconscious familiarity of the word became conscious once the context was smaller. I hope that makes sense. You go from thinking, "I don't believe I've ever heard that word," to, "Oh, yeah, I remember hearing that word, and I remember what it means, too."

Another interesting observation in these complex activities (both the utterances and the context were complex) was the shallowness of much of the lexical processing our brains seemed to be doing. This was evident when we misunderstood words by confusing them with others that we can, out of context, quite easily distinguish. For example, lemon is something like nimbuu and tree is something like buutaa. There is no way we would confuse those out of context, but in a long sentence, spoken over a full table, they were confused. Other examples were less dramatic. However, there are pairs of words we have trouble distinguishing (a few) and others that we don't. However, with the increased mental "processing demands" of the activities, we would miss the difference, not just between falling tone and level tone (a subtle difference), but between /i/ and /u/ (a normally clear difference).

Another observation was how that it turned out that Angela had learned better than me in areas that are more important to her than to me—especially noticeable in items of clothing. I wouldn't have thought she was doing anything different from me when we learned those words, but somehow she learned them a lot better, and this involves a notorious area of difference in our general life interests.