Friday, October 17, 2008

Grammar translation to holodecks: English Village

In the 60s and 70s, I moved through a number of approaches to TEFL -

learning lists of words
situationalilsed structures ('the context of situation ')
notions (How to express willingness, obligation,politeness, etc. )

I remember writing myself a note to investigate the idea of 'locationalised' teaching. I thought that just as film makers go on location to make films, teachers could (many did) go outside the classroom to various places - the market, the railway station, the hospital (locations) and teach the learners the language required in, encountered in, required in specific locations. The thrust of my argument was always to get away from the idea that learning a language should be grammar- or lexical-led but a matter of learning how to mean what you want to mean and create the appropriate effect on the listener from the way you uttered it which involves pronunciation, intonation and appropriateness. It seemed to me that "locational" teaching, apart from getting the learners and teachers around in the fresh air, would throw up much of the language they needed socially - and this would actually be optimally contextualised, very important for helping with the conveying of meaning.

Looking down on the village

These reminiscences were prompted by a recent, unscheduled guided tour around Second Life's English Village by its creator 'Centaur' - an American working and living in South Korea.

The reception area of English Village appears to be made of glass, or some such transparent substance. Way below, you can see the village, which also contains a beach. To get down there you "sit" (actually hang) from a trapeze bar and slide at a steep angle but a reasonable speed to a point in the village below opposite the entrance to a villa.

"Grab hold here, don't look down and stay calm."


"It's worse going up."

The villa is a well-equipped study centre. Near the main entrance is a sign asking you to listen to a recording. (This did not work for me, but that could be because I am not a signed-up student). Inside the villa are other electronic learning aids, including a large video screen.

Entrance to the villa.

Practice your English

But it was when we went outside that Centaur reminded me of "locational" learning/teaching. He demonstrated the use of a holodeks(I realise other sites make use of these devices, but this was is the first time I'd had them demonstrated to me. Holodeks are like electronic stage scenery that can be changed at the typing in of a short keyword. You are in a New York apartment, not a very smart one, and - clickety-clack, you are in the reception area of a smartish hotel. Clickety-clack, and you are in a conventional classroom, clickety-clack and you are somewhere else. But Centaur's piece de resistance, using the gestures of an African rainmaker, was to summon up a typhoon. If I'd managed to get my HUD on quickly enough (heads up device) I could have experienced and described to you what it feels like to be sucked up by a (virtual) typhoon. Next time, perhaps.

Holodeck 1

Holodeck 2

Holodeck 3



Here is a link to Melba's blog - recording what she does attending an intensive course at LanguageLab.

Melba's blog


Saturday, October 4, 2008

In praise of Second Life


I entered my flat through the front door and went upstairs, pausing to straighten the photo over the settee in the hall. I crossed to the main sitting room, gazed out of the window, and was amazed to see an unknown woman standing in the smaller sitting room staring straight ahead.

"Hi!", I called, suppressing questions like: "What the hell are you doing here? Who are you?".

But all was well. We were both in Second Life and Nellie had just come to check out the place before a meeting began there two hours later.

She and I are part of a small group of people, 70 registered on the wiki but on average about 6 turn up for the weekly meeting, called into being by Nergiz (Daffodil) Kern, along with Alicia and Maru, and we meet once a week in Second Life, on Friday evenings, to discuss aspects of teaching languages in Second Life. When we can, we demonstrate tools we have found and show the others how to use them. The group's activities are administered through a wiki

and there is a linked Google discussion group. (Note Google, not Yahoo.)

Anyone who is interested is welcome to join. The easiest way is probably to write to Nergiz.

nergizkern at (Reverse com and gmail)

tagging you message: slexperiments.

Last week we decided to meet at my place, and there were a number of potential topics for discussion. In the event we concentrated mainly on a demonstration by Nergiz on how to build an object that could pass out information when touched.

The simple pyramid I built under Negriz's tutelage. When clicked on, the pyramid provides you with a copy of a pre-written text.

This is often used to let members of the group know where we are when we move from an initial starting place and they arrive later. It could also be used, though, for automatising the passing out of texts or SLURLs (a SL URL) in a teaching context.

What struck me last night, though, sitting on chairs on my verandah, with the trees blowing in the breeze and the light turned to "midday", with a view of Serov's 'Girl with Peaches' visible through the windows was what an ideal learning situation we were in - this really was tasked-based learning and we needed language to ask for help, for confirmation, to request another demonstration or to get help when something had gone wrong. The fairly simple process we were attempting, did not have to be described with words alone, it could be demonstrated and a third party could look at one's own attempt and make suggestions if things were going wrong.

Of course lanugage learning is not about making objects, though building an object can be exploited for language learning purposes, but I remain convinced that a resourceful, creative language teacher who has mastered the way Second Life works could easily come up with exciting way of language learning. A few have already done so, Kip Yellowjacket and the folk at LanguageLab, to mention a few.

And although two people last night could not get their microphones working, three of us at least were using our own voices to communicate. (I'm very pro-voice in SL. It seems a pity to lapse into typing when voice is possible).

A newcomer exclaimed excitedly how real it all felt and what a warm, friendly atmosphere could be created.

Relaxing at the end of the evening with my feet through the table