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"Where Are Your Keys?" Language Game -- Thoughts?
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Author:  cartweel [ Mon May 24, 2010 2:09 am ]
Post subject:  "Where Are Your Keys?" Language Game -- Thoughts?


Recently I came upon http://whereareyourkeys.org/, which professes to be a "language fluency" game meant to facilitate the recovery of endangered languages. I think it looks pretty interesting.

Let me just say that I'm all for ANY group that is trying to save endangered languages, so I think this is EFFIN FANTASTIC. I haven't yet tried playing WAYK, but I intend on doing so soon. Since I don't speak a dying language, however, I'll probably have to get some nerd friends together and try to use the system to teach them Klingon or something!

I've got two gripes with the system/"game" at the moment: First, I'm not sure that I'm keen on seeing what the creators admit is a cobbled together short-hand constantly being referred to as "Sign Language".

Second, I don't think that the material on the site is presented in the most useful way possible. For example, there is no single video on the site that shows a whole first session in which the facilitators walk participants through the basic rules--the first video is a "recap". I also think that talking in terms of "technique: 'Set-Up'" and other "techniques" might be less useful than a simple, page-long description of how one goes about starting.

I'm curious what y'all think. Do you think the system is at all useful, or could be potentially? Would you consider teaching others a language with the system, or a conlang? Do you think the system could really help to alleviate the language crisis?

Author:  Trailsend [ Mon May 24, 2010 2:48 am ]
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I've been following WAYK for a bit--the podcasts are quite interesting, and it's cool to see language revitalization in action.

I've tried running a few basic games with friends of mine, so far only using the sign pigeon (how cobbled together is it, though? from my admittedly meager understanding of ASL, it seems fairly close to truth), though we're hoping to break in some Chinese here shortly. I also hope to play a few rounds in Feayran at a writers' conference this summer, which a lot of the folks in my learners community will be at.

I agree that the official website isn't organized very effectively. A more convenient compilation of material can be found here.

As for how effective the game truly is--I'm not qualified to say, but it certainly looks promising, and the application of TPR techniques is cool. I think the coolest part of the whole system, though, is the notion of "language hunting." Once I started listening to them describe what that process looks like, it occurred to me that it's what I've been trying to do with my language instructors for months. How cool would it be to have a teacher who would worry less about book-learning me, and just talk with me, letting me riddle my way through conversations!

But we'll see. I have a few plans this summer (in addition to the aforementioned writer's conference) to stress-test the WAYK game. I'll get back to you.

Author:  marconatrix [ Mon May 24, 2010 6:45 am ]
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Also check out "Total Immersion Plus" as the two systems seem to have independently hit on many of the same core ideas. I.e. *Leave reading/writing until later, it just distracts and slows you down. *Teach in a meaningful social context -- and therefore (re)build a community of speakers as you teach the language. I just have my doubts about whether you average Joe can pick up an 'alien' phonology by ear. Be great if it worked but I'm not yet convinced, it may be something that only works with a gifted and charismatic teacher. Dunno. But I agree with Zomp's article about how most folks waste lots of energy not learning languages. We here probably enjoy languages as abstract systems in themselves so will happily curl up with a grammar of Tibetian (or whatever), but for most people language is a social tool. Discuss??

Author:  Skomakar'n [ Mon May 24, 2010 7:18 am ]
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I looked at some of the videos and I read your messages, and I don't understand how this works or how one is expected to remember like fifteen "techniques" that get thrown at you in a few minutes. I don't even understand what techniques are for. I'm stupid.

Author:  Trailsend [ Mon May 24, 2010 11:21 am ]
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Skomakar'n wrote:
I'm stupid.


The trick is that those playing the game don't have to remember the techniques at all. Only the game leader needs to know them, and he doesn't even have to use them. He can use as many or as few as a particular game and group merit. They're all quite simple (technique "copycat"), and some don't actually require the player to do anything (technique "angel on your shoulder" -- positioning players in a circle so that everybody can see everybody else, enabling them to just copy someone else if they aren't sure what to do). So you don't have problems with players scrambling to keep track of fifteen techniques in the first few minutes of play.

Author:  marconatrix [ Mon May 24, 2010 1:27 pm ]
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They need to consolidate their experience to date in a provisional handbook that lays out what they do that works, technique by technique etc. I can't view their video clips at present but I listened to a couple of their podcasts, and they don't really go anywhere. Two or three folks just ramble on for *hours* like a couple of old friends who've met up in a bar. Great bonding for them but to an outsider a total meaningless bore. Which is sad since they might have discovered something very useful.

Author:  Willem [ Mon May 24, 2010 1:52 pm ]
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Disclaimer #1: I'm the dude in the hat, in the intro WAYK videos.

Disclaimer #2: I'm a big conlang fan too, but I signed up on this board just to answer any WAYK questions. If this is problematic for anyone, just tell me.

If you'd like, I'd be happy to answer your questions, otherwise I'll just offer this: relatively few people have played WAYK, as the game really only became publicly accessible about a year ago - it has been in development in an endangered language program for several years.. The biggest challenge with endangered language programs is training (and keeping) teachers, and creating fluent speakers. We designed WAYK to address those two issues head on, and in the process discovered all the other cool results of that ("language hunting!"). We've designed it to be open to constant improvement, in an "open source"-ish fashion, so it will always be in "beta" in a sense, but it works pretty well as-is, IMHO.

For more feedback on people who have begun using the game, you can check out the google group:


And we're totally planning to take this to the KLI qep'a' in late July and apply it to some Klingon. Wish us luck. :)

Author:  cartweel [ Mon May 24, 2010 1:58 pm ]
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Trailsend wrote:
The trick is that those playing the game don't have to remember the techniques at all.

And the issue, I think, is that this makes it hard for someone to learn the system (in order to begin facilitating a new group) without access to someone who already knows it. And sure, I can "copycat" forever, but I don't think that that gives the facilitator a firm enough grounding in what is supposed to be happening ideally.

The link to the organized materials is extremely helpful, thank you! Time to brush up on my Arabic with Grandma!

Also (marconatrix), I'm not sure about the phonological issue, either: Given the look of the word "Sḵwxwú7mesh", I doubt that those are sounds that most speakers can just pick up accurately. On the other hand, I have to ask myself whether, in the case of this triage language preservation, the preservation of phonological accuracy matters. If intelligibility is not lost, do particular sounds matter? (My thought is yes, given that sounds are important for story-telling and song, which I see as two essential parts of language preservation; If we're not preserving the culture that is couched in the language, what are we up to, anyway?)

Thanks for your thoughts.

Author:  cartweel [ Mon May 24, 2010 2:15 pm ]
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Willem wrote:
The biggest challenge with endangered language programs is training (and keeping) teachers, and creating fluent speakers. We designed WAYK to address those two issues head on...

Hey Willem.

As I've said, I think the system looks really neat and plan on playing around with it. I really hope that it goes a long way toward revitalizing many endangered languages!

That said, my concern is that given the present configuration of all the material, I'm not so convinced that it will be possible for the system to go as "viral" as you intend. There is no resource for anyone who has no experience playing the game to learn how to facilitate the game (edit: That is, beyond simply "copycating" Evan, which I don't think is thorough enough of an introduction); therefore, how do new groups form after an individual has found the system on the internet?

Keep up the good work! I wish I could make it to the qep'a'!

(p.s. Tell Dustin Rivers that I am in love with him.)

Author:  faiuwle [ Mon May 24, 2010 2:33 pm ]
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So, basically, you teach the structure/grammar/etc. with the signed shorthand, and then add the actual vocabulary/pronunciation in later? Sounds interesting, but yeah, I would also like to see a video of an actual session happening too.

Author:  Willem [ Mon May 24, 2010 3:11 pm ]
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:) I am most definitely not telling Dustin that. He will get an even bigger ego than he has already. Haha.

The present configuration of the material is, in a word, terrible. And I am the webmaster responsible. :? I'm a blogger who said "I'll do the website until we get a professional involved".

We are woefully underfunded. Last Fall we tried some fundraising to pay for a "videohost"-style library web app, and pay for some actual competent videographers, editors, etc. We fell far short of the mark (though we used that money to fund our rambling podcasts).

So I guess this is me agreeing with you. Honestly, I think it's pretty darn cool (I might even go far as to say "frickin' amazing") that one can even virally learn the system in person. For helping the communities we want to help, that's critical, for it to pass from tribal member to tribal member.

But that's not to say it doesn't kill me that I don't have a decent way to get it to go viral on-line too. We write grants, we scare up sponsors, but we haven't hit that big source of funding yet that we need.

If you check out the google group, there's a couple hardy souls who managed to wrench the ability to play the game from the videos somehow; I don't know how they did it.

Yeah, so, this is me sighing and agreeing. But thank you for supporting us!

Author:  vtardif [ Mon May 24, 2010 3:25 pm ]
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Well, it sounds intriguing. If someone here picks it up, or if Willem has the time, could they explain it to us?

Author:  marconatrix [ Mon May 24, 2010 7:24 pm ]
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Welcome Willem. No offense intended on my part. I was going to post some comments on your site when I'd had time to suss the whole thing out a bit more. There are a lot of issues, and right now its way too late at night this side of the pond :wink:

Author:  Kai_DaiGoji [ Mon May 24, 2010 11:15 pm ]
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The main idea as far as I can tell, once you strip away the jargon, is that it's easier to learn a new language in a small immersive group, focused on practicing a limited vocabulary, rather than in a large classroom, rote memorizing lists of words and trying to pick up the written language simultaneously. Stop the presses.

I can't really speak to the system - I'd love to try it out personally, but it seems more gimmicky than strictly necessary. I'd guess that most of the surface could be stripped away, and you could learn a new language just as effectively playing crazy eights, speaking only the new language, and gradually building sentence complexity. I'm not saying it's bad, and if its novelity hooks people in, great.

Personally, I've never found learning the written language a great hurdle in language acquisition - learning the Cyrillic alphabet helped me when I dabbled in Russian. On the other hand, I only dabbled in Russian, so I'm not sure that I'm the best judge.


Author:  Přemysl [ Mon May 24, 2010 11:20 pm ]
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The cantonese video was very interesting, but maybe it only made sense to me because I had been watching the other videos and figured out the signs for:
"what" "that" "yes" "no" "not" "black" "red" "one" "pen" "rock" "stick" and "dollar"
Still seriously that hour of conversation (half of it in cantonese) based on twelve signs is impressive to me. I like how the information is reinforced by pattern, by sign, by repetition, by the people on the outside playing along, and the person across from you.

Author:  Willem [ Wed May 26, 2010 2:13 pm ]
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Thanks Prmsyl. Nice eye - that's exactly what's going on.

And no problem marconatrix - I'm working on developing a thicker skin about this. I know it honestly comes off as oddball to most people, I understand that.

A couple folks here have made the comment that it seems gimmicky, or perhaps seems like a lot of effort just to learn a language. I've heard this a lot. In a sense this is true. We expend a huge amount of obsessive-compulsive effort to design the game/learning environment.

Keep in mind, that though you can certainly use this to learn any language, it was designed for languages on the edge of extinction. Where you've got even just one speaker left: a 95 year old, hard-of-hearing grandma.

In those situations, you literally don't have a second to waste. Every moment you spend with grandma matters. If you prefer kicking back with a dictionary, or a linguistic study of the language, that's great; but in the meanwhile the language may die. You have to count your road to fluency in the language in seconds, minutes, weeks, and months.

I find this system is mostly compelling only for folks with a passion for the revitalization of endangered languages - some really challenging work, with almost no good news to be had. Honestly, it's really heart-breaking work.

Italian, English, Spanish, Chinese; all these languages probably aren't going anywhere. They're fine. You can learn them leisurely at your own pace.

Squamish? Chinuk Wawa? Lakota? Cherokee? Ojibwe? Holy crap folks. It may already be too late for some of them.

The irony of WAYK's OCD approach to language learning, is that it really paves the way to learning a lot of languages really fast. This wasn't intentional per se, on our part, and WAYK instructors spend most of our time building new speakers of the endangered languages we're helping. I don't personally speak 20 languages fluently. But it wouldn't surprise me at all to meet a skilled "language hunter" who could. This is the kind of ability formerly reserved for language savants. We're just cracking the code on "language savantism", is all. We need to. We don't have a choice; every two weeks, on average, another language dies. Every second matters.

Author:  abaddamn [ Thu May 27, 2010 4:17 am ]
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it's easier to learn a new language in a small immersive group, focused on practicing a limited vocabulary, rather than in a large classroom, rote memorizing lists of words and trying to pick up the written language simultaneously. Stop the presses.
Hear hear! That system is so overused but it is a pretty good method to teach people a new language and get the most profits out of it. The other method, such as mini group lessons and the like are much more beneficial but there are less students per teacher. You have to keep in mind the original system was built with a very outdated system, not unlike lessons and lectures found in universities.

After watching a couple videos let me be (one of many) to congratulate you on your hard efforts to create a short-hand system of sign language, which will definitely help people communicate more clearly their own languages to others who have little or no knowledge about their languages. This system is very similar to those teaching lessons preschool kids go through when the teacher teaches them new words. Like stand up (the kids stand up), run around (the kids run around) etc. Or 'Simon Says'.

Though I have to say it is interesting, using sign language (sort of) to assist communication between people. I am hearing impaired myself but have always relied on speaking to communicate with many people, not once have I ever used sign language to talk to others because it's not needed. However, I have had the experience of being involved with the Auslan community for quite a while and yes, while sign language is pretty easy to pick up, talking fluently to others takes a while to get it down. Just about as much as your WAYK method of introducing a new language to those interested.

Using sound and signing in combination with an endangered language (or any) to help people learn a new language, quickly and effectively, is a pretty damn novel way to structure the lessons.

Good idea posting in a conlang forum - most people here are pretty open to more novel ways of language creation and communication. Mind you, I've had the pleasure of trying out a different language learning tool which is pretty effective at remembering new vocabulary, provided you can read: http://www.unforgettablelanguages.com/languages.html
I hope it might help assist you with your WAYK method.

Author:  marconatrix [ Tue Jun 29, 2010 8:24 pm ]
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Perhaps a bit late now to wake up this thread, but I am really interested in the various methods being put forward to get people fluent in an L2, whether as beginners or as people who already have a theoretical knowledge of the written language. One factor that is new in a way, is the possibility now of making and accessing videos and recordings of 'rare' languages. How can this power be most effectively utilised?

When, quite a while ago now, I studied psychology, I remember that the conventional idea that learning was a gradual building up of something or other had been challenged. It was suggested that connections were in fact made more or less instantly by individuals, and that the steadly climbing learning curves of the researchers were simply the statistical sum of many small binary steps.

This came to mind when someone worked out the rate at which a child needs to build the vocabulary of its native language. So many words to be learned within so few years. And I think one writer concluded that oftentimes the child must latch on to an item after hearing it a very few times, probably only once. That is, an item may not be grasped first time, it would depend on the relevance of the context I would guess, but when it is grasped, it's locked in once and for all. Has anyone looked into this?

If something like this is possible for a child, it might be possible to set up situations where it has a good chance of happening in L2 learning situations. That would be better than sitting up late bashing away at disembodied vocab lists. I can think of cases where this kind of one-shot learning seems to have happened to me. When I come across a particular word, I sometimes recall exactly the situation where I first heard or used it, who was there, what was going on, the atmosphere, the whole thing.

For instance I recall when I was beginning to learn Cornish, I was with a group of Cornish speakers in a relaxed social setting, and someone said something like "pass the matches", and someone else passed a matchbox over. I remember that. I remember the room, the lighting, the sound of the matches rattling in their box, and I remember the Cornish word tanbrennyer 'matches' which afaik I'd never heard before, and which I've never forgotten since.

There were some bonuses here two. It's a compound of tan 'fire', prenn 'stick, piece of wood' etc. and a most unusual plural, -yer. So this one interaction fixed in my mind tan, prenn, prennyer 'sticks', tanbrenn 'matchstick' and it's plural tanbrennyer, the word I actually heard used in context. Not a bad trawl. Does a child perhpas rely on this kind of compound learning to master the native language so completely in the time available?

In this and a few other cases I personally recall, the situation/event was accidental. But if we could somehow plan for such vivid permanent connections to be made, then we'd put all the snake-oil 'system' people out of business very quickly. And like the WAYK people, and the TIP people etc. it ought to be a lot more fun than most classes now are.

Your thoughts and experiences please?

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