What is that? Is that a red pen? No, that's not a red pen. That's a rock.
July 16, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) is a language-learning game that starts with identifying a few simple objects and builds into a conversation dealing with abstract concepts — in the space of an hour or two, with minimal supplies.

Here's an 80-minute video with WAYK creator Evan Gardner, going over the rules and playing the game in English and American Sign Language.

WAYK doesn't require any setup beyond a teacher, a willing student and a few household objects. Because of this, many indigenous communities — who want to teach and learn their languages but are often strapped for cash — have adopted WAYK techniques to teach their endangered languages to young people.

This brief documentary highlights a joint effort by WAYK and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon to revitalize the Numu (Paiute) language with WAYK-style games.

This video shows WAYK games at work at the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival conference last October.

You can find podcast episodes and updates from recent and upcoming WAYK events (mostly on the US West coast) at the WAYK blog.
posted by The demon that lives in the air (7 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
When I was doing a lot of backpacking with friends from remote trailheads, long before cellphones, there was a game called "where are the keys?" Anyone could, at any time, ask that question. Only when the essential keys were produced could we continue.

When I read the title of this post, I immediately, frantically groped around until I located my keys. Only then did I go Oh, never mind. Sheesh.

Now that I'm calm again, this is an interesting post about human communication.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:32 AM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please tell us what languages are available.
posted by charlesminus at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, someone I met at an undergraduate linguistics conference I helped to organize is (I believe) working on the project featured in the middle video on that site.

In response to charlesminus, this isn't a compendium of set lessons with specific languages, but rather a tool for language teachers to use with their students, especially in language revitalization initiatives.
posted by kansakwens at 10:43 AM on July 16, 2012

this isn't a compendium of set lessons with specific languages, but rather a tool for language teachers to use with their students

Which is why it's so useful to indigenous languages, I think. You don't have to force every language into the "Where is the discotheque" tourist-oriented vocabulary that a lot of foreign language systems rely on — you can teach your language with concepts embedded in your own specific culture.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 10:46 AM on July 16, 2012

This seems to have some similarities to Total Physical Response, which was introduced to me by my 11th grade American History teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer with Saramaccan people in Suriname; TPR is a language learning method that involves giving and responding to commands, starting with things like "Stand," "Jump," "Sit down," and progressing to things like "Put the red hat on the person who just came in."

There's another method, called TPRS, which evolved from this to be able to handle narratives and more abstract concepts -- originally this was Total Physical Response Storytelling, but now the "official" title is Teaching Proficiency Through Reading And Storytelling. Like Where Are Your Keys?, this involves a lot of asking questions, but it's focused on collaboratively building a story ("story-asking.") (Viewable on Youtube here)

Language acquisition is a little bit of a hobby of mine and I'm definitely not an expert, but I'm heartened by the development of language teaching methods that are focused on natural communication more than on explicit memorization of grammatical patterns -- I think it's more consistent with what we know about how the brain processes language.

[Insert caveat about how this is pretty controversial and there's a lot of disagreement among linguists about how language acquisition works, how it works differently for 1st and 2nd language acquisition, etc.]

I think we broke the wiki.
posted by Jeanne at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Very interesting. I watched a part of the video and was getting into it until I got interrupted. The funniest part is, "Wo sind meine Schlüssel?" is one of the handful of German phrases I've taught my partner, because it's a natural thing to say.

As someone who has come to terms with knowing I have to learn Spanish (which I never formally took) I would love to have an option other than 'sit in Adult Ed and go through rote 'discotheque' memorization.' I did recently see a woman who does reviews for a certification exam that seems to be partial 'TPS' as Jeanne mentions and partial classroom style and that was so appealing to me that it was one of the few business cards I actually kept from the conference.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:30 AM on July 16, 2012

Author Harry Harrison showed a computer holographic program that did effectively the same thing in his novel, Planet of No Return in the early 80s (huh, I coulda sworn it was mid 70s given the language and attitudes he seeded it with). I believe it was the Heuristic Language Processor.
posted by tilde at 12:22 PM on July 16, 2012

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