Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sticking in the here and now in Phase 1

Today we did Phase 1A session 8. It's getting more exciting! A common complaint people voice to us is that it isn't clear in the face pictures what emotion each represents. But by this point, those faces have taken on such a life as part of our shared story with our nurturer that I hate to think what we'd have lost if we had skipped them. They mean whatever you agree with your nurturer that they mean.

This session involved lots of here-and-now ("present progress" and "stative") descriptions of actions and situations, employing a visual barrier to create an information gap (see the Phase 1 guide for the details).

In Activity 3, it was "I'm cutting out the angry man," which the other side responded to with "You're cutting out the angry man". Now in Chinese this would go fast. In Potwari, person and number are more complicated, and it is a struggle. The interaction continues until the pictures are all cut out.

That prepared us for Activity 4, where we were putting pictures in places in the town scene. One GP would be picking up, say, the angry man, and putting him, say, on the dome of the mosque, while the nurturer told the second GP what the first was doing. What the nurture said, the GP could not have come close to saying (partly because the descriptions of the town scene are still weakly remembered). However, having heard the nurturer the first GP could agree, saying what "I" was doing. The second GP then confirmed with the first, by telling the first what "you" are doing, while doing the same. In fact, the GPs versions were rarely verbatim repetitions (with person changes) of what the nurturer said. That's is because the GPs are able to describe the person, action and place in a variety of ways, and what they said was original, though far better than it would have been without the nurturer's having talked first. As they struggled, the nurturer would provide "scaffolding" so that even though their utterance was original, it was well formed, relatively well pronounced, and true to the situation.

For this activity to work, the one doing the "doing" (say, putting the angry man on the dome of the mosque) needs to do it very slowly, or the activity quickly becomes past! There is a temptation to do just that. We mustn't. This is our chance to hear and produce a lot of here-and-now language, which we believe has a cognitive precedence anyway. We typically find that here-and-now language is much more complicated than "past" and "future" language, and GPs who skimp on it in Phase 1 when it comes most naturally, will often never really get it in the long run.

Let the here-and-now be here and now. According the the U.S. government level descriptions, we won't really be able to "narrate in the past tense" (thus really needing the "past tense" a lot) until Level 2 (Limited Working Proficiency), which in the Six-Phase Programme pretty much means some time in Phase 3. In fact, "past tense" forms do creep into Phase 1 often enough anyway, without our trying to emphasise them. The real challenge is to stay in the mode of here-and-now communication and get that foundation.