Muffins for Granny— Residential School Legacy in Canada

I just watched Muffins for Granny, an extremely powerful documentary film consisting of interviews with seven elders who were survivors of residential schools in Canada.  (available at Edmonton Public Library).  Every time I learn more about this part of Canadian history, I feel an ever-deepening sense of sadness and disbelief that our government deliberately set out in this direction for so long.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued their final report earlier this summer; watching this documentary, it strikes me that “Truth” definitely does need to come before “Reconciliation”—as a non-indigenous person, I’m probably not alone in feeling a need to learn so much more about the history of my own country, and how much of it continues to repeat and evolve into more phenomena that should horrify every citizen.

“Residential schools also known as industrial or boarding schools refer to a variety of institutions which have existed in Canada. The schools were established to assimilate Aboriginal children into white society. Aboriginal children were discouraged from speaking their own language and practicing their native traditions or else suffer punishment. Beyond the emotional abuse of being taken from their families, many children experienced physical and/or sexual abuse. Estimates show that 24 to 42 per cent of children in some schools died of tuberculosis infection. By learning English and adopting Christianity and Canadian customs, the government hoped that the children would pass their adopted lifestyle on to the next generation and native traditions would be abolished in a few generations. “(original link is now broken, there is another reference here and here— or you can spend an afternoon exploring titles at the Edmonton Public Library)

CBC Radio Interview:

French audiobooks at your local library

A while back, I shared a link to a funny Stéphane Guillon video—when I was actively preparing for DELF, I really enjoyed his style of delivery (even if I didn’t understand everything he said).  At the time, watching him read his ‘episodes’ for the radio made me wish it were possible to have a copy of his speaking notes.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago—–while searching my local library for audiobooks for my son, I was playing around with the search filters and ended up looking at children’s audiobooks in different languages.   Through that process, I was pleased to discover that they had a copy of a children’s audiobook read by Stéphane Guillon (honestly, I can’t say enough about the fantastic Edmonton Public Library).

The name of the book is L’atroce monsieur Terroce”, by Nicolas de Hirsching.  As a bonus, they have a copy of the printed version of the book as well. This book appears to have been put out as part of the J’aime Lire series.

For me, being able to have both the audio/visual and a copy of the script/text is ideal— if you want to read along, you can do that; if you want to listen once, and then practice reading aloud on your own, you can do that; if you want to try and transcribe a couple of sentences, and then check how well you did against the original, you can do that too.

All that to say—If you live in a decent-sized city, don’t forget about your local library as a resource!  In the spirit of things you don’t have to spend money on, remember that your local library may well have excellent language learning resources— everything from Pimsleur cd sets to lessons by “language teacher to the stars” Michel Thomas, and even audiobook versions of classics like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.

As for my son, he ended up asking if we could borrow the “Magic School Bus with the CD” again:)

epl l'atroce monsieur terroce stephan guillon

French Gestures (A.I.M.) and Li Yang’s Crazy English: building confidence for beginners

At the outset, I need to say that I am a *huge* fan of the Edmonton Public Library.  For the most part, my EPL use is limited to requesting holds online and picking them up at the branch near my office.  A couple of days ago, however, I tried something different and attended a free event at the Capilano EPL Branch.  The name of the session was “Learning French with Gestures”—as a card-carrying language geek, how could I possibly resist?

The session was basically an introduction to a way of teaching French to beginners called the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM).  The core of the program concentrates on using a system of pared-down language, accompanied by specific gestures for about 700 key words.   Our introductory session was facilitated by an Edmonton Public School FSL teacher and one of the EPL’s community librarians.

The participants were a mix of adults, children and a few school teachers.  After the session, we were given a sample DVD that shared the background of the AIM/gesture method, as well as a few testimonials.  Most of the video material appears to be available online (start with the video below and work from there…)

I really enjoyed the session– it’s not hard to see why this method would work for engaging beginning students.  As much as I loved my high school French teacher’s classes, I think this would have been right up my alley when I was originally starting to learn French.  The facilitator mentioned that a similar system of gestures is being developed for ESL and Spanish as a second language as well.

As we progressed through the session, one thought that came to mind was how gestures are also a part of how Li Yang teaches English in China.  For the uninitiated, “Crazy English” is a phenomenon that most young people in China have at least heard of— Li Yang encourages learners to read out loud (very loudly) as much as possible, and the pronunciation gestures are a way to aid students in mastering English vowel sounds not commonly found in Chinese.

Confidence as a critical base to early success

Overall, however, one of the key aspirations of Li Yang’s Crazy English is *very* similar to the AIM method, and that is to instill confidence in beginners.   If you listen to the kinds of things that Li Yang says in his public lectures, it’s fascinating how he blends the virtues of being a so-called “internationalist” with a strong sense of Chinese patriotism. In the video below, a good chunk of his Chinese ‘banter’ between English phrases is aimed at encouraging learners and playing down the anxiety that some learners might feel when speaking with native speakers of English.

Regardless of how you spin it, I think that there’s an argument to be made that the biggest challenge in beginning any new language is not memorizing all the new rules, but that the exercise puts us completely out of our zones of comfort, and it becomes easy to shut down and mentally ‘check out’ of class time.  Any tool that can keep the energy level up, and keep people communicating with smiles on their faces is a good one in my books— much more valuable than ‘clear grammar explanations’ is the caring, encouraging and inspiring teacher that can help create a safe environment where  students can step out of their shells.

I would even go so far as to argue that the key difference between a beginner and a low-intermediate speaker of a second language has less to do with comprehension and production, than it does with the person’s comfort level in the ‘skin’ of their new language.  Once that is done, then most folks are well on their way to entering the long-haul of self-directed language learning through the intermediate to advanced stages….