Open Source Education

Open Source Education is an idea that I came up with a few years ago as part of an English class at BYU.  It was a Shakespeare class and the professor was very into digital media and social media and new technologies in the classroom.  Instead of writing a research paper that would only ever get read by a peer-reviewer and the professor, we wrote research blogs instead. (Mine is still getting page views, years after the last post)

This was a fun project, it was great to progressively work towards a thesis, post by post, rather than developing a thesis up front and finding supporting material for that thesis.  With this research blog, I chose a theme that I was interested in, German and Shakespeare, and then started researching different aspects of that theme in different posts.  With posts building upon older posts, I eventually found that I had developed quite a focus and was able to write a thesis post, using previous posts as my supporting evidence of my thesis.

I titled that blog Open Source Education: Shakespeare, with the vision that I would eventually create several blogs, all with this Open Source Education moniker, each blog dealing with some aspect of Education, being a place where I could post not just my thoughts and ideas on Education, but lesson plans as well.  I see the internet as being a place where Education can also be open source, with everyone collaborating with everyone, sharing what knowledge they have so that others looking to learn only have to search and read and learn whatever they want.

With this vision, and as I am currently searching for a job where I can have opportunity to use my German language skills, I have started a new blog : Open Source Education: German.  I will post my thoughts and ideas about teaching German and I will post lessons teaching German language principles.  I want to use this as a showcase or portfolio of my knowledge of German and my teaching ability and method.  I have been posting for about a week already and have a few other posts scheduled through the next week and I am excited to use this to help me develop my teaching skills and explain German to others.

If you’ve got a minute and fancy learning a bit of German, please stop by and take a look.

Continue reading “Open Source Education”

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Bilingualism and the Republican primary process

Just when I thought the Republican primary process was becoming sensible a new ad surfaces from the Newt Gingrich campaign attacking Mitt Romney, and the best line of the ad? That would be, “And just like John Kerry — he speaks French, too.”

There is another ad that has been making the rounds, which encourages people to vote for Ron Paul, though the Ron Paul campaign denies making or running the ad.  In this ad Jon Huntsman is attacked for speaking Chinese, with the question, “American values? or Chinese?”  The worst part is when they attack him for his adopted daughters who are Chinese and Indian, but that’s not the point I want to make now.

What is wrong with bilingualism?  I personally believe that the fact that these men speak a foreign language makes them better candidates for President of the United States.  In a world that is growing ever smaller, with international relations being one of the primary functions of the President, how does it hurt at all to be able to speak a foreign language and communicate with diplomats and ambassadors and heads of state in their own language?  Why is this being portrayed as a negative thing, the fact that they are bilingual?

As one who has had a deep love of the German language and culture for longer than I can remember, this is appalling.  When did Americans decide that it was wrong to want to speak another language?  When did we decide that anyone who speaks an additional language must not be a ‘true’ American?  Probably around the same time that honest, native-born Americans who grew up speaking German in Texas or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania were suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, or their honest, native-born neighbors who grew up speaking Japanese or Chinese in California, Oregon, and Washington were sent to Relocation camps (because we did not call them internment camps) for fear they might be spies aiding their homelands.

America has always been a nation of immigrants and children of immigrants.  I don’t know the actual statistics, but I bet most Americans have an ancestor born outside of the United States within three or four generations.  And with these immigrants came their languages.  America was built on multiculturalism, so why do we see declining foreign language programs across the country?

I will say it again – though it is not a deal-breaker with me, I find that I am more inclined to vote for a presidential candidate who can speak another language.  I feel it makes him more suited to the job.  And not just because he can then converse with more people, but because as one studies a foreign language one must also learn a foreign culture.  And it is this learning to understand customs and idioms that are different from those you grew up with that makes a man better able to not only speak, but to communicate with those from other countries.

I am David Tertipes, and I approve this message.  Ich bin David Tertipes, und ich billige diese Botschaft.

NaNoWriMo: 2011

I very much enjoyed doing NaNoWriMo last year, it was a wonderful experience being able to write and organize a story and to accomplish something amazing in just a month.  NaNoWriMo taught me that if I take the time, and make the effort, I can accomplish great things.

I really wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo this year again, but, unfortunately I do not think I will be able to.  This semester is my last of my undergraduate career and I really need to focus on my classwork, including the capstone paper that I need to write.  I have already presented the research at the Utah Foreign Language Association Conference held on 3 November, but BYU’s German department requires a written paper.

And so that is where I am at in November.  I think I will try to use the social pressure of writing every day to help me get motivated to write this paper, because that is what I am lacking right now: motivation.  I have already presented the paper, I have been doing this research for over a year now, and have used parts of this research in writing papers for three different classes already.  I am still excited by the concepts and the implications of my research, and it was wonderful being able to present it to a group of teachers at the UFLA conference.  It was very well received, and several came up to my professor and me afterwards asking if they could get more in-depth training on the concepts we covered.

So, I will continue writing this paper, which at this point is just putting on paper what information I have already gathered.  I will work on making it the best writing I can and hopefully I will be able to submit it to some academic journals, maybe Unterrichtspraxis? That would be nice.  We’ll see.

As for NaNoWriMo, I have some ideas that need fleshing out a bit, but I just don’t have time in November, and probably not in December.  I was thinking that I might make my own NaNoWriMo in January or February (It does have 29 days this next year).  We’ll see what happens in the new year.

Conference Presentation, take two: On German Linguistics

Last October I had an opportunity to present a paper at BYU’s conference on Literature and Belief.  That was my first experience in academia, presenting at a conference, being a real scholar.   Next week I have the chance to do it again.

The Utah Foreign Language Association (UFLA) conference is being held at Utah Valley University on 3 November, and they have asked me to present.  Really, they asked me.  Sort of.  They noticed that they did not have very many presentations about German and so they contacted one of my professors at BYU, who immediately turned to me and asked if I wanted to present the research that I have been working on.

And what is my presentation about?  Using Linguistic Principles to Improve the Teaching of German as a Foreign Language.

There is a lot of talk, among certain circles at least, about foreign language instruction in the American school system.  Many believe that it is unnecessary and many believe that it is ineffective.  This is mostly because people have experience with learning a foreign language for several years in high school, but never being able to say more than a few words or phrases.  And it’s a downward spiral from there — these people become parents and legislators and they don’t expect foreign language programs to be more effective than they have been for them.  Teachers should always be looking for new or different ways to approach teaching to help students learn better, not all students have the same learning style.  Explicit linguistic instruction has been used in many college level foreign language classes, but not in many high schools.  Linguistic principles like morphology, phonology, and phonetics can be helpful even in a high school language classroom.

 

Morphology

Morphology is the study of how words change to reflect slight changes in meaning.  the verb “to be”, for example, changes depending on the subject it is paired with (I am, you are, he/she/it is, etc.).  This is probably one of the most confusing parts of learning a foreign language for English speakers because English does not have much morphology, and we learn this language natively, naturally, so we don’t notice the complexities of our morphological system.  You learn the paradigm for “to be” and it becomes natural, so it sounds weird to hear some say “I is” (unless you live in one of the dialect regions of the US where that is acceptable).  But learning how to conjugate a foreign verb always seem so difficult.

As we look at the history of English and German, we can find connections that help make this process a little less foreign.   Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible, which are still classified as Modern English or Early Modern English, still have evidence of verbs changing depending on subject, and maybe this is why they are difficult for students to read.  We read “thou hast” or “he hath” which is reminiscent of German’s “du hast” or “er hat”.

 

Phonology

Phonology is the study of the sounds of a language, and often teachers refer to phonology when they talk about pronunciation, but phonology can also help with vocabulary, if we take a look at historical phonology and the sound changes that have taken place.

The High German Consonant Shift – which occurred about the 5th century AD, is a shift in stop consonants (p,t,k) to become fricatives or affricates (pf or ff, ts or ss, ch).  This shift occurred in High German languages and separated High German from Low German, from which English is derived.  So, words that in English have a p, t, or k we see pf or ff, ts or ss, or ch in German.  So the word ‘ship’ in English, we see the word ‘Schiff’ in German. (And what’s even more interesting is that there is a subsequent sound shift that shifted ‘sch’ to ‘sk’, so the word became ‘Skiff’, and was then borrowed back into English. Skiff and ship are related words!)

So a student who understands this sound shift could look at a German word and retrace the sound shift to find a related English word.  Say the student read the German word “hoffen”, recognize that the “ff” was probably originally a “p”, so the word may have been “hopen”, which they should recognize as the English word “hope”.  Knowing about this sound shift, and others, like the Great Vowel Shift that affected English in the 1400-1700s where many English vowels changed the way they were pronounced, can help students find and recognize related cognate words and boost their ability to understand what they read, without having to turn to a dictionary for every other word.

 

Phonetics

In addition to historical phonology, the field of phonetics deals specifically with articulation and the perception and production of sounds.  Teachers do touch on this when they teach pronunciation, but a more explicit approach could be beneficial to some students.  By showing a vowel chart like the one below, teachers can talk about the characteristics that make up different vowel sounds, helping students understand which vowels are front or back in the mouth, high or low, and rounded or unrounded.  Students can also see the relationship between different vowels in this chart.  They can see that /i/ is slightly higher and more front than /e/, which can help them learn the difference between these sounds.

German Vowel Chart

 

Praat — is a free, open-source software for acoustic and speech analysis.  It has become the gold standard and is used in college level courses world-wide to discuss acoustics and linguistics.  It may seem overwhelmingly difficult at first use, but with a little training it can be used to help students see their own speech patterns and compare to a native speaker.  The formants (shown by the rows of red dots below) can be plotted on a Formant Chart, like the one below, which (not surprisingly) resembles our vowel chart.  This can show students if they are producing their vowels in the right position.

Praat screenshot
Formant Chart

 

What the future holds

J. Reuben Clark Law School
Image via Wikipedia

Monday evening, as part of BYU’s German Week, I listened to a Fireside / FHE from Elder Kopischke, who is currently serving as the Area President for the Church’s Europe Area.  As part of this fireside, he took questions, and someone asked him how he chose his career path ans what he had learned as a part of that.  He then told a very interesting story about his life, how he had always wanted to be a teacher, but did not have the money or ability to go to University in Germany, so he decided to join the military and use the military to get his college education.  He prayed about it and received no answer.  Believing that no answer was also an answer, he decided to go for it.  After just a week in the military he had the overwhelming feeling that this was the wrong career choice, so he left.  He ended up self-employed, selling insurance to support his family, and only twenty years later was he approached by the Church to be a Seminary teacher, finally having the opportunity to teach.

This was a fascinating story, and he emphasized the fact that despite his life not going according to the plan he had chosen, the Lord had been in charge and had given him the opportunities he had needed.

This story reminded me of a similar story that a professor I had once told.  He was teaching Family History at BYU, but had gotten his PhD from OSU in Germanics and Second Language Acquisition (just what I want to do).  But after graduating, he couldn’t find a job, so he moved to Salt Lake and started working in Family History as a researcher, especially of German lines.  He told this story in class to show that he had years of experience as a professional family history researcher, before becoming a professor.  But I took away a different lesson.

 

Both of these stories were floating around in my head as I have been working on getting my applications to Grad Schools set these last couple of days.  And the phrase that keeps coming to mind is “I’ll go where you want me to go.  I’ll do what you want me to do.”

I am a little worried that my life will not go exactly as I hope it will.  That I will not be able to teach Germanic linguistic classes at the college level.  But, at the same time I am reassured that my life will work out.  I will definitely find something to do that will allow me to support my family.  And I will probably find something that I enjoy doing.  I have enjoyed immensely my time that I have worked doing tech support these last four years, and that is a career where I could make good money, and do a lot of good.

And even my skills in tech support are attributable to the Lord guiding me to a job I didn’t think I would get, but a job where I learned many valuable skills.   I originally saw the job posting looking for a German speaker to help with computer support, and I applied because I wanted a job where I could speak German, even if I did not have much skill with computers or troubleshooting.

I went in for the interview, and the main question of the interview was a game of Yes and No.  The interviewer had chosen an object in the room and I was to determine what the object was by only asking yes or no questions.  I had the opportunity later to sit in on other interviews and watch other people respond to this activity, and apparently I answered in a the perfect way.  I immediately launched into binary troubleshooting, where you take the problem and ask a question that splits it in half – Is it in front of your desk?  Is it to your right? Is it above the level of your desk?  With these sorts of questions you can very quickly narrow it down to know the exact object or cause of the problem.  They didn’t really care that I had not experience with computer support, or much knowledge with computers, they could teach me that.  They were looking for the ability to ask the right questions, troubleshoot in the proper way, and narrow down to find the root cause.

A few months after I was hired, though, they told me that they were not actually going to be supporting German officially, so I never got to use my language skill much more than the occasional call that I happened to be lucky enough to get from a German.  But I learned a great deal about computers, about troubleshooting, about KCS, and I now have a valuable skill that will allow me to get a job pretty much anywhere I end up going.  There are always people who need IT guys.

And so, as I move forward with my academic career, I am hopeful that I will be able to do what I want, to be able to help students learn the German language.  But I am also aware that life can take interesting  turns and present you with opportunities that you had never imagined.

German Pirate Party

These are the newest politicians in the House of Representatives in the State of Berlin.

In the State of Berlin there were local elections this last week with some very surprising results.  The Free Democratic Party, which is one of the two parties in the national coalition, lost tremendously, only getting 2% of the vote and losing their seats in the House of Representatives in Berlin.  But, more surprising is the fact that a very new party, the Pirate Party, won 8.9% and gained 15 seats.

-A quick note about German politics, as far as I understand it.  In Germany, the party is almost more important than the candidate.  But, each party does have its candidates.  They have their Spitzenkandidat – top candidate, and they have their other official candidates.  If this party wins the most percentage of votes, then the Spitzenkandidat becomes the guy in charge.  For a national election, they become Chancellor, for a State election they become president, and since this was an election in Berlin (which is a city and a state) the Spitzenkandidat of the leading party becomes the Mayor of Berlin.  So, the people mostly choose the party that they vote for, but they also know who the candidates of each party are.

-The election results are listed as percentages of the vote each party received, and then that party receives that percentage of the seats in the House of Representatives or Parliament.  But, to avoid having a lot of parties in parliament so that nothing gets done, Germany has a 5% rule: In order to have a seat, the party must have at least 5% of the vote.  Any party who has less than 5% does not get a seat.  Since no party usually has a majority (more than 50%) of the vote, the leading party forms coalitions with one or more smaller parties until together they make up a majority.

So, back to the point at hand.  The Pirate Party is a new up-and-coming political force, in Berlin at least, with some very interesting ideas and policies.  One of their most important political goals is the protection of personal information on the internet from the government.  At the same time, they believe in more transparency in the government.  Government should not know every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but citizens should be able to know every aspect of the government.

I find this extremely fascinating, as I read what the Pirate Party has put on their website.  They make some great points, and more importantly, they are embracing modern technology in ways that other politicians have yet to do.  By so doing they have tapped the young vote.  These young people who spend so much of their time online now have a party that represents their interests relating to free information, open source technology, and privacy issues.  This is a political party that not only understand young people and their issue, it was created because of young people, and is represented by young people.  Look at that picture at the top — those are the politicians who now have a voice in the House of Representatives in the State of Berlin.  Crazy, isn’t it?  None of them look like politicians, and yet, there they are.  It proves to the rest of the world that it can be done, when enough people believe a thing and want to do something about it, they can even elect a new party to 8.9 % of the vote.

I am very excited to see what will happen in the next few years in Berlin and in all of Germany.  And I am kind of sad that it will more than likely never be possible for such a third party to ever gain any actual political power in the United States.

Mormons and Language Learning

I remember an experience I had in my High School German class.  There were some recruiters from the Army Language School that came and gave a presentation to the foreign language classes at my high school, trying to encourage us to learn a foreign language and show us the benefit and possible careers we could have if we continued our study of foreign language.  At one point in the presentation the officer mentioned that the Army language school is the second best language school in the country.  I couldn’t help myself, I let out a laugh.  He then looked at me and just said, “You’re Mormon, aren’t you?”

After the presentation he came and spoke with me, explaining that they had sent instructors and advisers to the MTC (Missionary Training Center) in Provo, UT but could not see why the MTC was more successful than the Army language school.  I wanted to tell him about the Holy Ghost and gifts of the spirit and the gift of tongues, but I didn’t think he wanted to hear that.

But even beyond that, missionaries learn a language better, and faster because they have a real reason to learn a language.  They feel a sense of urgency.  I studied German for 7 years before the MTC, but I learned more in two months, mostly because I knew that at the end of those two months I would be leaving for Germany, where I would live for two years, speaking with people everyday.  There was a real need to know German now, more than the mere linguistic curiosity that prompted me to learn in High School.

The Church has also been doing this for a long time, we have been sending missionaries to foreign countries almost from the very beginning.  In the early days they learned the language on the spot, but the Church has had a language training program since at least the 1920s.  And we have gotten good at teaching and learning languages.  The current missionary guidebook, Preach My Gospel is a manual for missionaries helping them know what and how to teach, and it also contains an entire chapter about learning the mission language.

My wife and I have been studying together out of Preach My Gospel as part of our daily scripture study, and so I flipped through chapter 7 – How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language.  This time, though, I am looking as an instructor of a foreign language, and I was looking for what it said about learning a language that I could use as I plan to teach German as a foreign language.  Here is what I found:

Be Dedicated and Diligent — This is the first heading and it is one of the most important.  As it states, learning a language takes time and effort.  It also says, “Do not stop improving your language skills once people begin to understand you” That is another very important point.  A learner of a language needs to be dedicated and diligent in the learning of that language.

Principles of Language Learning —

  • Take Responsibility – create and adjust your language learning goals.  Goals are important and regularly reviewing them helps to track progress and improve faster.
  • Make your study meaningful – I love the first sentence, “Ask yourself: Why am I studying this?”  You should have a reason for learning a language, remember that reason.  “Study those parts of the language that will help you say what you want to say.” Language has a purpose: communication, study language so that you can communicate.
  • Seek to communicate – As I just wrote, we learn languages so that we can communicate.  “There is no substitute for talking with native speakers” – watch TV, movies, internet programs, listen to the radio, etc.  Hear the language spoken by those who natively speak that language.
  • Learn new concepts thoroughly – Review regularly what you have already studied.  It would be terrible to learn new grammar concepts only to forget the basic ones you thought you had already learned.
Create a Language Study Plan — This is one of the most important sections, in my opinion.  Especially for missionaries, whose language learning is primarily self-directed.  But I think every student of a foreign language needs to be primarily self-directed to learn the language, and creating a language study plan keeps you on track to achieve your language learning goals.
  • Set Goals – I’ve covered this already, but goals are important.  This section mentions weekly and daily goals.
  • Select which tools to use – There are a lot of resources for learning a language: dictionaries, grammar books, podcasts, websites, other literature, your own note cards, etc.  Choose which tools work best for you, for your study style and make a plan on how you will use these tools.
  • Memorize vocabulary and phrases – When all is said and done, learning a language requires a certain amount of memorization.  Listen to others and pay attention as you read and find words that are unfamiliar. Look them up, write them down, carry them with you and try to use them correctly in conversation.  That is how you will improve your language – by using your language!
  • Learn Grammar – Grammar is important.  Like vocabulary, you can pay attention to grammatical constructs or sentence structure that is new or different to you.  If you hear or read something that is not the way you would express the same idea, look it u, study it, find out why a native speaker forms the phrase in just that way, and try to emulate it.
  • Actively listen – Listen to native speakers and emulate what you hear.  Listen for vocabulary or grammar principles that you have recently learned, see how others use them.  Listen for new words or phrases; this is often the best way to learn idioms.
  • Improve your ability to read and write – Read; read out loud; read again and again!  Reading is one of the best ways to learn a language, it exposes you to new sentence structures and vocabulary that you may not be familiar with. Also practice writing.  Write notes and letters and emails.  Use your language in any and every way that you can.
  • Ask others to help you. – Let native speakers know you are trying to learn their language, ask for their help.  Ask how to say certain things, ask how to pronounce certain words, ask them to correct your mistakes.  Take correction cheerfully, they are trying to help, not point out all of your flaws.
  • Evaluate and revise your study plan – Preach My Gospel says that you should review your plan each week.  It also mentions, “Do not be afraid of making mistakes”  We only learn a language as we use a language and receive correction when we say something wrong.  That is how we learn.
Learn with your Companion — Missionaries are always assigned a companion, they go forth two by two.  Learning together is a great benefit.  Find someone that you can learn with, teach them what you are learning, you learn a principle better as you explain it to someone else.  Talk with them and give feedback.   Accept feedback from them, they can help you notice errors that you may not be aware of.

Culture and Language Learning –“Culture and Language are closely related. Understanding the culture will help explain why language is used the way it is.”  To understand a language, you need to understand culture as well, but culture can also be used to better teach a language.  Language is used for communication, but you need something to communicate about.  As you learn culture, you have something you can discuss.  I can teach German by talking about Music (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.) or Philosophy (Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc.) or Literature (Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, etc.) or History.  You can discuss these topics in the language and develop vocabulary and practice grammar better than just memorizing phrases and using practice sentences.
Language learning is a very important skill, especially for those who travel to other countries and want to communicate.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has developed a very extensive and comprehensive language learning program with lots of great tips and methods for learning a foreign language.  Preach My Gospel, chapter 7 is an excellent resource for learning a foreign language, even for those who are doing if purely for secular reasons.