Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Imagine practicing dialogs with your iPad to learn a new language

Maurice has been very excited about the Kickstarter he launched last week. The vision of students of all ages, in every part of the world, having access to Maurice's visual QTalk Method using a REVOLUTIONARY new app called "Visually Speaking" - this is taking Maurice's QTalk Method to a whole new level.

Who hasn't wished for an easier way to learn and practice language skills? Until now the technology did not make it easy - remember the days when we needed to open the shrink-wrap, install the software, and peruse the user guide trying to figure out how to make all the cool bells and whistles actually work?

With that in mind, Maurice knows you will absolutely love this app. It is so easy to use - with a fun, engaging style.
Here's Maurice showing it off, in its current prototype state:

Here's the link to the press release:
Kickstarter for "Visually Speaking" App: Students Dialog with iPad to Learn Languages

Have you observed that people are walking around staring at their devices instead of looking at and interacting with the live people right next to them or in front of them? Love it or hate it, many of us live in a whole new relationship to our computers - our devices - and as a result the education industry is making a rapid shift - almost in a heartbeat - along with communications, marketing, shopping, project management - all kinds of stuff we used to do face to face, we're doing with these devices and screens.

So now with the tools to drive an app being literally in nearly everyone's pocket, Maurice sees that it's time, after 25 years, to bring this visual teaching method to the entire world, to millions, starting with iOS and the larger iPad screen, but next step is the SmartPhone - just need to complete one phase of this project at a time.

Now you know what Maurice wants each of us to do - please click on his Kickstarter project link, pledge $1 or $7 or whatever you can, and please - very important - please leave a positive comment - and then, well then share the link with your friends. Okay, this will take three minutes, maybe less, so do it right now, while you are thinking about it. The clock is ticking, and Maurice cannot do this without your help. Plus did we mention there are very cool rewards at each pledge level? For $107 you get a live lesson from Maurice himself - live if you're in New York City, elsewhere it will be via Skype (or why not make a trip to New York City for your language lesson and check out the clubs, museums, entertainment, parks, shopping - lots and lots of fun things to do, and don't forget Manhattan's hottest neighborhood for arts and fun - Tribeca!

Well, you may be hesitating because you are wondering: Why doesn't Maurice simply fund the development from the operating capital of QTalk Publishing and/or Tribeca Language, Maurice's two existing companies? Excellent, excellent question. Here's the scoop:
The main reason for doing a Kickstarter is when you want to create something new, and expose it to the world before it exists, so that the world has a chance to be involved in its creation. So when there is a new venture, such as this app, that has a different, more ambitious purpose than any existing business such as Maurice's well-established and steadily growing QTalk Publishing (K12 schools, homeschool families, private tutors) and Tribeca Language (group classes and private tutoring for Lower Manhattan language learners of all ages), you don't want to put the operating capital of those ongoing concerns at risk, or divert to a venture that is not aligned with their specific commitments and activities. So that's where this new venture comes in - it's of course an integral part of Maurice's vision that includes QTalk and Tribeca Language - and all those existing customers will get to pilot and use the new app - but the big picture is much, much bigger here.
So what will this new app, this "Visually Speaking" dialog partner on your iPad, do for your language learning experience? Will it eliminate the need for a language teacher? Not exactly. Because no computer can ever take the place of a live teacher, in any subject but especially language and most especially when we're talking about children. But technology can indeed play a key supportive role, and even more so with adult language learners.
This new app will be transformative - it will give every language learner the "on ramp" to become communicative immediately, in order to then have the capacity to engage in real conversations and connect with other speakers of the language immediately - this will erase the discussion about communicative skills versus grammar - a needless distinction, when your goal is for a student to become fluent, with a confident, natural mastery of the new language. Somehow as educators who love the mechanics of language, we've gotten too into showing the student all the gears and belts - and teaching them the names - rather than simply allowing the student to drive the car, with the needed supports (for QTalk it's called "visual scaffolding" and the whole experience is much more enjoyable, rapid, and successful. We education professionals will never cease being fascinated with details of the semantics of how to teach and learn languages - it's what we do - but what Maurice is saying to all of us is, "Hey guys, let's back up and take a look at this thing, let's focus on the student." So the new app will achieve exactly that purpose. Imagine a student who is speaking in complete, correct sentences from the first lesson, with complete understanding, no grammar lesson, no memorization, no translation. The results of Maurice's QTalk Method speak for themselves, literally. So that's why Maurice is doing this app as a new venture to get the word out, to get the QTalk Method into the hands of every language learner, and it's why the Kickstarter needs as much visibility as possible - Maurice would love to reach 10,000 $1 backers. In the reality of our noisy media Internet information firehose it's really difficult to hold and keep attention.
Since you've read this far, here is another cool video to learn some Chinese (Mandarin).This is the method you'll experience, live, when you enroll in a class or sign up for home tutoring at Tribeca Language.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

How teachers can use their "language engineer" skills to help students learn

As teachers we love language, we love the way it's put together, the mechanics of it.

We love to talk about grammar - it's just in our DNA - but research demonstrates, and our own common sense tells us, language learning and fluency requires a different approach.  When teachers learn Maurice Hazan's visual teaching method, earlier called Symtalk, now the most recent and expanded version called QTalk, the teacher is actually teaching grammar by breaking the language down into parts, but doing so in a way that accelerates learning. The students understand, speak and interact - and they acquire language skills - comprehension and oral production -  through those activities. Later these skills form the foundation for reading and writing, using the same sequence as that by which students acquired their first language.

Lucas rides a skateboard.
Lucas rides a skateboard.
This natural learning requires a deliberate process that actually uses the "language engineer" skills of the teacher, making immersion activities much easier to do successfully. Instead of simply asking any questions at all, or asking students to speak without any structure to the request, why not give them some structure that will deliver the language's mechanics in an intuitive way? Why not limit vocabulary to the most frequently used, and most useful and most usable for your students' specific age and interests?  Pointing to an image and letting the student associate sound and meaning without the "clutter" of a written vocabulary list (and being able to practice with computer-generated versions of this - as with the QTalk Online Games and with Maurice Hazan's new iPad app (his Kickstarter project). And why not then stop explaining, but instead respond to our students with positive encouragement and praise when they make attempts to speak  - we want them to speak in the target language so we must try to remain in the target language ourselves during all activities.

When it is time to describe a scene, the student can pick out the parts of it that they find the most interesting, or if you ask a question they can answer it, because the vocabulary was made comprehensible through visual scaffolding, and has been learned in the context of a meaningful sentence. There were no lists of written vocabulary words to memorize and then try to figure out how to assemble into sentences.

Lucas rides a skateboard.
Lucas rides a skateboard.

Some teachers designate a particular time of class - maybe five minutes - where they might switch to the students' first language to make brief clarifications or answer questions. This might at times be necessary in a Level 2 or 3 class, in case students do not understand instructions or are not interpreting the communicative input easily.

Regrettably, it may also be necessary if the school district where you teach, insists on assessment that is based on the ability to translate from the target language to the first language and/or being able to name grammar structures in the students' first language (being able to name them in the target language is actually pretty cool, but not the first conversational topic you'd want them to be prepared for.)