I was very much looking forward to Christophe Rico’s talk today on Living Sequential Expression. After all, the guy wrote Polis and now Forum, two active approaches to ancient Greek and Latin. The Polis book I had to purchase from Europe because it wasn’t available (at the time) here in the US and it cost me a lot of money, but it was worth it to see how Greek could be taught actively. At the time, it gave me an idea about doing the same with Latin (more like a “what if” or “wouldn’t that be great”). A few years later, and I am in the same room, up front of course, with the guy listening to him quickly explain what he described as a “new second language acquisition technique” inspired by Francois Gouin, who worked in the 19th century on the acquisition of German!
Some things are not so new after all.
That said, it was a refreshing insight into this Latin acquisition idea (extended to ancient Greek with his examples). Basically, Gouin was inspired by the way in which children acquire languages after being frustrated by his own epic efforts to acquire German. Rico built on this idea by introducing how Gouin regarded language acquisition – it asserted the importance of the ear over the eye in regards to how we pickup a language. Another main point was that we do this through reception, reflection, then conception. We receive information, we reflect on it, then we integrate it.
When doing so, Rico stressed the importance of the verb in a given statement and the means or instrument by which this is carried out. Our minds grasp things best in chunks and sequence – first I do this, then this, etc. We have a tendency to reduce our experience to sequentiality; i.e. we put things in a logical order.
Language then becomes an instrument for mapping human experience. The best way to conduct this would be to map our experiences into series and themes. This will help with vocabulary as well as these words would be interconnected, or clustered (incidentally, I learned the word nodus today in a session and I think that is a great word used to describe this phenomenon Latinē).
Four Main Enunciation Systems
Rico then introduced the nature of conveyance for language in a progressive system of genre:
- First up was the dialog, which uses I or you (1st and 2nd person) primarily as we tend to develop dramatic moments in this genre.
- Next was the tale, which uses I or he/she/it (1st and 3rd person) when discussing the events of a novel, or biography or tale in this genre.
- The speech conveys its message using I and you (1st and 2nd person) to share political or social ideas in a public format.
- Finally, there was the poem which is lyrical and expresses what I think or feel (1st person).
Five Main Elements in Second Language Acquisition
Up next, Rico related the five main elements of SLA:
- Grammatical skills
- Vocabulary skills
- Conversational Skills
- Storytelling Skills
- Speech-making Skills
Grammatical skills and vocabulary occupied the first two elements and also were reinforced by the four main enunciation systems – you need to have these key elements in order to understand those genres. You cannot access the message of a dialog, tale, speech, or poem without these first two elements. More importantly, these are already recorded and ready for analysis and are asynchronous.
The next three were conversation skills, storytelling skills, and speech skills. These are different as there is a real time component to them. Conversation is two way, using both input and output whereas storytelling and speech where essentially one-way communication. Conversation skills would be seen in any type of exchange, be it via texting/SMS, phone conversation, Skype/Facetime, or daily conversations. These are highly dynamic in nature and rely on interplay between the parties involved. Storytelling relies on retelling a specific experience like an event, or a recipe or a joke. This can also be dynamic, but much less so in that there is some feedback, but the message is not entirely dependent on it (someone may feel good about telling a good joke as opposed to a “dad” joke, for example, but the message is still delivered). Speech could be conveyed via a lecture or presentation, a letter, a prayer, a description, generally any delivery of content which does not require a response. There is a static nature to a speech as it is content specific and delivered wholly to the audience.
For the best way to develop these last three elements, given their interactive nature and dependency on an audience, Rico differentiates their means. For conversational skills, he says this is best done through situational mapping. Create a specific situation and a conversation can be had.
For speech, there are rhetorical skills that were (and are still) taught in order to effectively convince an audience about the intended message. Speech is used to force action, so it relies on proper rhetoric progymnasmata.
Finally, there is storytelling which is best enhanced through the series method – and this is the crux of Rico’s lecture today and seeing as we are trying to implement TPRS (teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling), this may be an important area of focus.
So, what is the series method? First, the shape of the problem is found in the fact that “half languages” offer limited access to words or phrases that are easily identified with the mother tongue of the speaker. Rico related that after 40 years of study of ancient Greek, he only recently learned how to say “mommy” in Greek.
The series method has three objectives:
- Fill lexical gaps
- Transforming human experience into one’s own language
- Sorting human experience through sequentiality
Rico then went on to describe the major factors of memory and how it works. This is a point of consideration in showing how sequentiality helps develop connections to new words in the second language and its acquisition. The four main factors of memory are:
Connection is key in that it is enhanced by sequentiality. Processing things in steps can help localize ideas in the mind or at least make them relative to an experience. For example, stand, walk, and run are all different ways in which we move through space. Our connections to these new words are best enhanced through sequencing them.
The senses are best enhanced through images. Experience through TPR (total physical response), and context is enhanced through CI (comprehensible input).
What Rico seems to be challenging is the notion that TPR is a one-stop solution for language acquisition. It does have its application, but it is one tool in a box that should be used only in specific situations.
Tasks and Events
In order to fully use TPR, the actions should be sequenced to build on that connective factor of memory while also being embedded in experience. What is interesting to note is that this is not a conscious process, but something that CI proponents will recognize, as being built by the unconscious. This also means it helps get around that affective filter.
Rico says to best achieve this, we should break human experience into tasks (repeated) and events (once). Each task or event should develop 4-7 actions consistently related to one another in order to practice a sequential TPR which could then be applied in different tenses.
Daily tasks could be:
- getting up
- getting dressed
- eating (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- going to school/work
- going to the park
- washing up
- watching TV
- going to bed
- talking on the phone
Some monthly tasks:
- going to the hairdresser
- buying clothes
- going to the doctor/dentist
- going to the movies
- going to a party
- taking a taxi
- going to the pharmacy
- raining or snowing
Yearly tasks could be:
- hanging a picture
- changing a tire
- road accident
- going to the hospital
- being robbed (!)
- yearly festivals
- walking in the desert
- going to the circus/zoo
- swimming/going to the beach
- going on a boat
- traveling by plane
Lifetime events could be:
- being born
- growing up
- graduating from school
- getting married
- having children
These tasks and events should help in mapping the human experience and then should be used to help illustrate the language. Rico suggested that a typical session sequence should be carried out in the following manner:
- Sequential TPR – establishes meaning through connection and experience
- Telling what I/you/he/she is doing/has done – using tenses
- Enhancing through images – can be used via a presentation to help cement meaning
- Enhancing through CI – helps build out context
Try using different tenses – start with an imperative then move to present tense and future tenses. Perhaps circle with perfect tense to restate what has been done. Verbs selected for the actions within each task should be sequential and related to each other. Expand the complexity by introducing here and there to the verbs. Extend it even further by using adverbs (lentē, celeriter/cito). By linking verbs to sequence you assist memory and underscore natural ability to put things in a logical sequence. The mind already has a tendency to do this, you should leverage it when creating your lessons. Rico demonstrated this using ancient Greek to deliver a recipe for crepes!
It seems that one of the tenets of CI is to shelter vocabulary but unshelter the grammar and in creating a series of tasks and events, we can find vocabulary that is related and use that to build sequential TPR from there. This helps our students more efficiently acquire a language by leveraging the natural processes within our minds and our memory.