My name is Juan Uribe and I have run Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, a language school for children, since 1994 with my sister Sosô in São Paulo, Brazil. The idea of this blog is to share what we have learned during these years and also to open space for discussion with language teachers who teach children around the world.
I start by sharing an article in which I present a bilingual storytelling technique we use here at school during the first stages of language acquisition
By Juan Uribe, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Want to learn Portuguese? Listen to this story!
I was alone, sozinho, with no friends on this trem going to Macchu Picchu in the Andes in Peru. It was not day, era noite, midnight. Noite fria (mimic for cold), muito fria. Zero Degrees. E muito frio nos Andes no Peru.
In my compartment, ninguem, not even a mosquito, I was completely sozinho. I was cansado (mimic for tired), muito cansado. I had walked for three hours naquela noite. I hate to caminhar (mimic for walk) de noite, specially sozinho. It might be perigoso caminhar sozinho de noite no Peru.
Eu escutei (mimic for listen) something strange, esquisito, muito esquisito. I tried to dormir (mimic for sleep), mas eu nao consegui. Fazia muito frio e o trem ia rapido (mimic for fast), muito rapido. The noise, o barulho, grew stronger and closer, mais perto. Cada vez mais perto.
Fiquei con medo (mimic for scared). Muito medo. What could I do? I needed uma ideia (mimic for idea), bem rapido. Chorar (mimic for cry) como um baby? Esconder (mimic for hide) and then hope that nobody would find me? Pular (mimic for jump) do trem, nao, it was going rapido and I could die. Tinha medo, fazia frio e o trem ia rapido.
De repente, eu escutei another, outro barulho. This time it was …. My despertador, trimmm trimmm. It was six in the manha. It had been a pesadelo. Que alivio! (mimic for what a relief!)
How was the experience? I hope you liked it.
This is a technique I have been developing during the past six years. It was an answer to the needs of my very young students who were acquiring English through play. Having read Krashen I knew that:
* Input had to be relevant. Why would I work with a coursebook teaching very young students words? They wanted to play. Besides, the process had to be fun for both of us.
* I+1 had to be respected. I could not start speaking only in English because students would be puzzled and their affective filter would rise and hinder the whole process.
* I should concentrate more on content and less on the order in which grammar is introduced in textbooks. If the child is going to Disney soon I feel working/playing with this situation is more important than presenting the present tense.
* I had to deliver input in quantity, besides respecting the silent period, in order to foster a strong base for future production.
It was only last year in July that I discovered that this very technique was being researched and that Mario Rinvolucri was studying it! I was elated to know that what I was doing was "right" and that it was not something that only my team and I were using, specially in times where native languages have been excluded from the classroom.
The main advantages of this exercise are:
* Students decode meaning individually, acquisition comes from within and students are not spoonfed.
* Spontaneity is maintained because both animator and participant are speaking at the same rate as they do in the Native Language. Also children's right of expression is preserved, once they are free to convey meaning, building their self-esteem and respecting them as individuals.
* Language is transmitted through the bond which is established between animator and participants.
* Comprehensible input is always achieved.
* Children are intrinsically motivated and eager to have the next class.
* The teacher's role is to be a facilitator who presents language connected to students' reality.
Below are the ways in which language was made accessible to participants:
* Use of context: "It was not day, era noite, midnight." It is important that there's only one answer to it. If I say I ate one abacaxi, it doesn't help much. By the way abacaxi is pineapple.
* Rephrasing: "I was alone, sozinho." Here the animator introduces the new word in the L2 right after it is said in the native language.
* Cognates: "on this trem going to Macchu Picchu." Words that are similar can be passed straight into the target language as long as contextualized with other words in the native language or with TL words the participant can easily decode.
* Knowledge of the world: "It might be perigoso caminhar sozinho de noite no Peru." Context only does not help, but when connected to personal experience decoding is easily done. Someone who lives in a very peaceful village and knows nothing of theft might have trouble here. Nowadays it is dangerous to walk anywhere alone at night.
* Gestures: "Eu escutei something strange". Do the gesture while saying the word. It will be invaluable during the elicitation phase.
* Spiralling/Knitting: "Tinha medo, fazia frio e o trem ia rapido". Here we again present all together in one sentence the previously individually decoded phrases or words.
Below are two phases that you have to be aware of before trying this technique out with your groups.
Phase 1: Tips for when you prepare your task
1. Choose an interesting and relevant story for you and your students, which you could be telling them even in their native language and write it out.
2. Decide which key words or phrases you will rephrase; which L1 cognates you will use in the L2; where you will use gesture and insert knowledge of the world to clarify meaning. Finally where you can repeat words in a spiral, joining new ones with previously decoded ones creating new novel sentences. Students are overwhelmed when they notice that they understand.
3. After you have completed the story check to see if each of the new concepts you have introduced can be figured out in less than 3 seconds. In order to verify this tell your story to a peer, do not read it. The sheet of paper becomes a barrier. One does not retell own experiences reading.
Phase 2: Tips for delivering it:
1. Speech should be delivered at normal rate and the target language words stressed.
2. Start gradually by first involving students in the story and by providing clues that lead to easy guesses. It's the warm-up phase.
3. Words that are presented and "picked up" immediately should not be repeated again in the native language nor clarified with clues. (By doing this we help students develop autonomy and tacitly lead them to focus on new language.)
4. Be ready to improvise, go back, rephrase, incorporate students' questions. Pay special attention to students' facial expressions, which clearly indicate lack of comprehension. Go with their rhythm.
5. Use emotion. Pause, look in their eyes, swallow, whisper, shout, build suspense, pace them emotionally and take them to a grand finale!
In a nutshell, we go back to ancient Confucius, who wisely said: Show me and I'll look, tell me and I'll forget, involve me and I'll ….learn.
Here you can see Sosô Uribe, using this technique while telling "The Gingerbread Man".