Category Archives: Language

Create Your Own Language for College Credit

What do you say to embarrass a polar bear? How might an underwater society write? Can a creature without teeth say “tooth”? How many verbs for “to pray” does an angel need? These are some of the questions students have pondered in ‘Invented Languages’  at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Tex., as they create languages of their own.” A. Winchester NewYork Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Photo credit-Credit Ron Barrett

Photo credit-Credit Ron Barrett

Excerpt: Create Your Own Language, for Credit by Ashley Winchester NewYork Times

“The tongue spoken by the nomadic Dothraki warriors of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones has entered the pop-culture lexicon, and so sparked new interest in constructed languages, or conlangs.

Inventor of Game of Thrones' Dothraki has released a book on how to create your own language. telegraph

Inventor of Game of Thrones’ Dothraki has released a book on how to create your own language. telegraph

Avatar language based on Maori.

Avatar language based on Maori.

Thanks to the popularity of G.O.T., Avatar, etc., more people the world over know what language creation is, says David J. Peterson, the linguist behind spoken Dothraki and alien-speak on the Syfy network’s Defiance.

Kindzi in SyFy's Defiance.huffingtonpost.com

Kindzi in SyFy’s Defiance.huffingtonpost.com

At schools like S.F.A., Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Truman State in Missouri, students take apart the words, sounds, writing and patterns of such conlangs as Dothraki, Na’vi (Avatar), Elvish (Lord of the Rings) and Klingon (Star Trek) to get a sense of how languages evolve to meet the needs of their speakers. Coursework marries the principles of linguistics with the creativity of speculative fiction genres and pop culture.

Eleves from Lord of the Rings had their own language. wikia.com

Eleves from Lord of the Rings had their own language. wikia.com

So how do you create a language? First, think about your speaker’s anatomy, and therefore what sounds he can create, says Jessica Sams, whose conlang course at S.F.A. has grown from minimum to maximum capacity.

Can you speak Vulcan? wikipedia

Can you speak Vulcan? wikipedia

Klingon became a universal language. mashable.com

Klingon became a universal language. mashable.com

Then, she says, build on elements of grammar, culture and habits (and, in the case of bears, growling patterns).

xkcd-Language Nerd. xkcd.com

xkcd-Language Nerd. xkcd.com

Hash yer tihoe jin, hash yer shili Dothraki (translation: If you understand this, you know Dothraki).”

To Those we lost in 2016:

REST IN PEACE

Umberto Eco January 5, 1932- February 19, 2016

~Umberto Eco~January 5, 1932- February 19, 2016

 

Harper Lee April 28 1926-February 19, 2016

~Harper Lee~April 28 1926-February 19, 2016

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” Harper Lee

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. This is the tongue spoken by the nomadic Dothraki.
  2. The series has sparked new interest in constructed languages.
  3. Thanks to the popularity of  these shows new languages are created.
  4. Coursework marries the principles of linguistics.
  5. Students take apart the words, sounds, writing and patterns.
  6. Students  learn how languages evolve.
  7. Students can create new fiction genres.
  8. First, think about your speaker’s anatomy.
  9. Next, think about their culture.
  10. A savvy bear might hide its snout to blend in with snow.
Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Reading Comprehension

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

At schools like/look S.F.A., Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Truman State in Missouri, studies/students take apart/part the words, signs/sounds, writing and patterns of such/songs conlangs as Dothraki, Na’vi (“Avatar”), Elvish (“Lord of the Rings”) and Klingon (“Star Trek”) to get a sense/cents of how languages evolve to meat/meet the needs of their/there speakers. Coursework marries the principles of linguistics with the creativity/create of speculative fiction genres and pop/pip culture.

 Grammar Focus: Prepositions

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  through, from, during, up, off, with,

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed above. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

The tongue spoken___ the nomadic Dothraki warriors___ HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones.

Students need___ get a sense___how languages evolve___ meet the needs___their speakers.

A savvy bear might hide its snout___blend___   ___snow when hunting.

Eight verbs are needed___Brandi Woodstock’s New Jeruslanic, including one___ ask___ something, one___intercede___someone’s behalf and one___plead.

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them restate the following statement in their own words. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. 

“So how do you create a language? First, think about your speaker’s anatomy, and therefore what sounds he can create… Then build on elements of grammar, culture and habits (and, in the case of bears, growling patterns).”

Group Activity: Create Your Own Language

Directions: In groups, have students reread the instructions from the article for how to begin creating a language. After, groups will share their new languages with the class!

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Language

Receipe for Language: English +Cooking!

“For many immigrants, coming to America is full of the unfamiliar — from the language to the food. In Philadelphia, a program aims to help these arrivals settle into their new country by folding English lessons into a cooking class. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, 20 recent immigrants and refugees to the United States streamed into a shiny commercial-size kitchen on the fourth floor of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s central branch. They were here to partake in the library’s take on teaching English as a second language.” N. Roshania, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Photo- npr.org

Photo- npr.org

Excerpt: A Cooking Class…For English  By Neema Roshania, NPR

“The program, dubbed Edible Alphabet, is run through the library and Nationalities Service Center, an organization that helps settle refugees when they arrive in Philadelphia. By offering English instruction in the form of a cooking lesson, organizers hope to provide a familiar setting for the students — who hail from over 10 different countries — to connect to each other.

Photo- smapan.org

Photo- smapan.org

It’s been great for us to sort of connect over, Here’s a can of chickpeas. What do you use chickpeas for in your meals? How would you do this differently at home?  says the library’s program administrator, Liz Fitzgerald.

Each class is helmed by both a chef and an English-as-a-second-language instructor. The class starts off with an English lesson focusing on the day’s ingredients. Today, the students are spelling and sounding out words like onion, garlic, tomato and jalapeno.

Photo- yahoo.com

Photo- yahoo.com

After the language lesson is over, they’ll set out to make chana masala and roti together…This is about welcoming new Philadelphians to the city…”There is no better way to do that than to share a meal together.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level:  Low Intermediate- High Intermediate


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

Pre-Reading Task

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

 While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The program is  dubbed Edible Alphabet.
  2. The program helps settle refugees.
  3. Each class is helmed by both a chef and an ESL teacher.
  4. The program helps people adjust to life in America.
  5. Some students rolled out roti and chopped vegetables.
  6. Saleh was carefully documenting each step.
  7. Many students are sociable.
  8. All the recipes used in the class are pulled from the cookbook.
  9. Learning how to  shop in an American grocery store on limited means is important.
  10. One students says he savors the choices  of foods.
Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Reading Comprehension

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students are to circle or underline the correct word or phrases from the article. This exercise reinforces students’ attention on words that have been introduced in the reading. Have them skim the article to check  their responses. Students should also find the meanings for any  unknown words.

“It’s the third/bird time the class has been caught/taught. And along the way, the instructors/instruct say they’ve learned/leaned some lessons of their own. For instance, Fitzgerald says in the first round of classes, they stated/started off by teaching recipes like quinoa salad. But, they quickly realized the students weren’t dig/digging the flavors. That’s when they started teaching/teach recipes that used flavors and ingredients more familiar to the students, who mostly come from Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”

 Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

Click here for a review of Adjectives

III. Post Reading Tasks

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them restate the following two  statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

  1. “Each class is helmed by both a chef and an English-as-a-second-language instructor. The class starts off with an English lesson focusing on the day’s ingredients. Today, the students are spelling and sounding out words like onion, garlic, tomato and jalapeno. After the language lesson is over, they’ll set out to make chana masala and roti together.”
  2. “…the class is about much more than just learning English…learning how to navigate an American grocery store on limited means is an important part of the class. Strawberries, for example, are available in America year-round, but will cost more and won’t taste as good in January.”

Extra: Web Search

Directions: In groups/partners have students “google” the topic and see what additional information they can find. Students can either have further discussions or write an essay about the subject.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Language

Are Emojis A New Language? …Maybe

“An obscure organization that standardizes the way punctuation marks and other text are represented by computer systems has in recent years found itself at the forefront of mobile pop culture, with its power to create new emojis. A new batch is under review, a process that takes months. But don’t call the pictorial system a language, unless you want an argument from Mark Davis, 63, a co-founder and the president of the Unicode Consortium, the group that serves as the midwife to new emojis.” J. Bromwich, New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Emoji sentences used for Valentine's Day. photo- curious

Emoji sentences used for Valentine’s Day. photo- curious

Excerpt: How Emojis Find Their Way to Phones By Jonah Bromwich, The New York Times

“Mr. Davis said there was no broadly shared way to interpret the symbols, despite their widespread use on phones and other devices. I can tell you, using language, I need to go get a haircut, but only if I can get there by 3 p.m., and otherwise I have to pick up the kids.  You try to express that in emoji and you get a series of symbols that people could interpret in a thousand different ways. In an interview last week, Mr. Davis discussed the latest group of 67 images, set for a vote at the consortium’s meeting next spring.

Emoji provided by Emojipedia and Unicode Credit via Unicode

Emoji provided by Emojipedia and Unicode Credit via Unicode

The Unicode Consortium is sometimes labeled “mysterious” (as in a recent post from New York magazine) but Mr. Davis said there was nothing shadowy about it. Its work is largely transparent, and information about its history, members and processes are included on its website...The group meets quarterly; at a meeting in May, they will vote on whether to formally induct the 67 new emojis.

Unicode was started in the late 1980s to develop a standardized code for text characters. It used to be that different computers could not easily talk to one another because they used different codes for the same letters.

Photo- itunes.apple

Photo- itunes.apple

To solve that problem, Unicode takes every letter, number, symbol and punctuation mark that it deems worthy and assigns each — including emojis — a specific number that a computer will recognize.

And, whatever Mr. Davis thinks, some experts are not quite as sure that emojis do not represent the beginnings of a new language.

Take Colin Rothfels, who works for a keyboard company. His job title? Emoji grammarian. Mr. Davis concedes that emojis could one day evolve into something more.

A hypothetical emoji keyboard photo- peopleuni-code

A hypothetical emoji keyboard photo- peopleuni-code

It’s not a language, but conceivably, it could develop into one, like Chinese did, he said. Pictures can acquire a particular meaning in a particular culture…Before the 67 new emojis can be the building blocks of language or personal style though, they will have to be made official.

Mr. Davis said that all but one of the last group of emojis to be subjected to a vote were inducted into the official hieroglyphic system…Some people are bothered by the inclusion of the rifle as a candidate,” Mr. Davis said. But the reason that’s included is because shooting is an Olympic sport…I’ll tell you what I think I’m going to use the most often once it’s available, he said. The rolling eyes emoji.”

Here’s a sample emoji from the Consortium. If Apple or Google ever included this emoji in iOS or Android, it would look different.

Face With Rolling Eyes

You Tube: Liz Lemon’s masterpiece eye roll. Courtesy Logan Warren

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills:
Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time:
Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: 
Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective:
Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use the UIE brainstorming chart (sample) for brainstorming the meanings. 

Brainstorming chart by UIE.

Brainstorming chart by UIE.

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Mr. Davis said there was no way to interpret the symbols.
  2. The symbols are used on phones and other devices.
  3. You try to express that in emoji.
  4. They’re set for a vote at the consortium’s meeting next spring.
  5. The pictures include a groom in a tuxedo.
  6. There’s a drooling face, a clown, and a shark.
  7. Unicode was started in the late 1980s to develop a standardized code for text characters.
  8. Some of these modern hieroglyphics have prompted debate.
  9. Some think that emojis do not represent a new language.
  10. It’s not a language, but conceivably, it could develop into one.

    Word Map from Education Oasis.

    Word Map from Education Oasis.

Reading Comprehension

Fill-ins

Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space.

1. I can ___you, using language, I need to go get a haircut, but only if I can get there by 3 p.m., and otherwise I have to pick up the kids,” he said.

  1. write
  2. tell
  3. sense

2. You try to express that in emoji and you get a series of ___that people could interpret in a thousand different ways.

  1. letters
  2. notes
  3. symbols

3. In an interview last week, Mr. Davis___ the latest group of 67 images, set for a vote at the consortium’s meeting next spring.

  1. described
  2. discussed
  3. dismissed

4. The Unicode Consortium is sometimes labeled___.

  1. mysterious
  2. mystery
  3. mighty

5. In deciding which emojis to add, the Unicode Consortium considers factors ___compatibility.

  1. inclusive
  2. including
  3. excluding

6. The group of ___new emojis includes a large number of sports icons. That was to accommodate people texting during the next Olympics.

  1. portent
  2. potent
  3. potential

 

Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

Finding the Main Idea

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main idea and points from the article.

Cerebral Chart by Write Design Main idea chart By Write Design

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1.The following two  statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“Some of these modern hieroglyphics have prompted debate. Sets of default emojis that included only white skin tones prompted Unicode to release more diverse characters last year. And one image in the latest group has prompted protest: The British gun control group Infer Trust has spoken out against a proposal for a rifle emoji.”

“In deciding which emojis to add, the Unicode Consortium considers factors including compatibility… and frequency of use (whether people will be interested in using a certain picture often enough to justify its existence). Another factor is completeness. For instance, at one point, the group added a mosque, a synagogue and a generic place of worship to complement the Christian church symbol that was already included.”

2. Do you use emojis? If so how often do you use them?

3. In your opinion are emojis useful? Explain why or why not.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Language | Tags:

Is Sign Language Universal in the Human Mind?

“First, tap your forehead with your index finger. Then, with hands at shoulder width and forming a circle using the thumb and index finger of each, move your hands from neck height downward, stopping abruptly. If you are not fluent in American Sign Language, you would struggle to guess that this motion means “decide”—but a study published this week suggests that non-signers can guess at least one crucial aspect of the word.” The Economist

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Signing the word Decide. Photo- Lifeprint

Signing the word Decide. Photo- Lifeprint

Excerpt: A word in the hand -The Economist

“Decide” is what is known as a telic verb—that is, it represents an action with a definite end. By contrast, atelic verbs such as “negotiate” or “think” denote actions of indefinite duration. The distinction is an important one for philosophers and linguists…One question is whether the ability to distinguish them is hard-wired into the human brain. Academics such as Noam Chomsky, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believe that humans are born with a linguistic framework onto which a mother tongue is built.

Exploring these ideas is tricky, not least because newborns hold the answer. But sign languages, just as complex and expressive as their spoken counterparts, may give hints by bringing the conceptual into the visual domain.

In 2003 Ronnie Wilbur, of Purdue University, in Indiana, noticed that the signs for telic verbs in American Sign Language tended to employ sharp decelerations or changes in hand shape at some invisible boundary, while signs for atelic words often involved repetitive motions and an absence of such a boundary. Dr Wilbur believes that sign languages make grammatical that which is available from the physics and geometry of the world.

Work by Brent Strickland, of the Jean Nicod Institute, in France, and his colleagues, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, now suggests that it is. Dr Strickland has gone some way to showing that signs arise from a kind of universal visual grammar that signers are working to.

All of this, Dr Strickland says, challenges the long-standing notion in linguistics that the relation between a symbol and its meaning is arbitrary. If the various symbols for “decide”, encoded in a number of different sign languages of different descent, all share unconscious visual cues, then perhaps the relation is not entirely arbitrary after all.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

KWL Chart

Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about  American Sign Language.  Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.

KWL Chart from Creately.com

KWL Chart from Creately.com

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Atelic verbs  denote actions of indefinite duration.
  2. The distinction is an important one for philosophers and linguists.
  3. Humans inherently have a broader core knowledge.
  4. Sign languages are as complex as their spoken counterparts.
  5. Signs arise from a kind of universal visual grammar.
  6. Dr Strickland’s team recruited volunteers.
  7. Participants guessed correctly more than 90% of the time.
  8. This pattern was not confined to Italian Sign Language.
  9. That may be an indication of core knowledge.
  10. All of this challenges the long-standing notion in linguistics.
Vocabulary Chart by  Freeology.

Vocabulary Chart by Freeology.

Reading Comprehension: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

One question/quest is weather/whether the ability/able to distinguish/distinct them is hard-wired into the human bran/brain. Academics such as Noam Chomsky, a linguist/linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believe that humans are barn/born with a linguistic framework onto which a mother tongue is build/built. Elizabeth Spelke, a psychologist/psychology up the road at Harvard, has gone farther/further, arguing that humans inherently have a broader “core knowledge” made up of various cognitive and computational capabilities.

Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. “Decide” is what is known as an telic verb.
  2. It represents an action with a definite end.
  3. The distinction is an important one.

II

  1. The volunteers reported having none prior experience of sign languages.
  2. Respondents accurately spotted the correct answer.
  3. Perhaps the relation is not entirely arbitrary after all.

III

  1. Speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN) would be useful.
  2. Humans may share such communication basics.
  3. But the present findings are an good sign.

III. Post Reading Tasks

KWL Chart

Directions:  Have students  fill in the last column of the KWL chart  (what they Learned). 

Graphic Organizers: Finding the main idea

Directions:  Have students use this graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning  to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.

opic organizer. By Enchanted Learning

opic organizer. By Enchanted Learning

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“Dr Strickland’s team recruited volunteers…These volunteers reported having no prior experience of sign languages. In the first experiment, they were shown videos of a series of signs from Italian Sign Language. For each, they were asked to guess the sign’s meaning and given a pair of options: one telic, and one atelic describing a different kind of action altogether (one pair might, for example, be “forget” and “negotiate”).”

“All of this, Dr Strickland says, challenges the long-standing notion in linguistics that the relation between a symbol and its meaning is arbitrary…That may be an indication of core knowledge that would not surprise the Chomskyists. What might provide more compelling evidence are experiments in a similar vein carried out among speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN). This developed spontaneously, in the 1970s, among deaf Nicaraguan schoolchildren: an untainted expression of communication made visual.”

“The notion that humans may share such communication basics is also fuel to Dr Wilbur’s idea that sign language long predated the spoken kind. Establishing either proposition will take far more work. But the present findings are a good sign.”

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about American Sign Language from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Language | Tags:

Saving Languages…Why We Should Care

“Tell me, why should we care?” he asks. It’s a question I can expect whenever I do a lecture about the looming extinction of most of the world’s 6,000 languages, a great many of which are spoken by small groups of indigenous people. For some reason the question is almost always posed by a man seated in a row somewhere near the back.” J. McWhorter, NYT

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal communityin northern Australia. Credit-J. Joyner

Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal communityin northern Australia. Credit-J. Joyner

Excerpt: Why Save a Language? By John McWhorter, The New York Times

“Asked to elaborate, he says that if indigenous people want to give up their ancestral language to join the modern world, why should we consider it a tragedy? Languages have always died as time has passed. What’s so special about a language?

The answer I’m supposed to give is that each language, in the way it applies words to things and in the way its grammar works, is a unique window on the world. In Russian there’s no word just for blue; you have to specify whether you mean dark or light blue. In Chinese, you don’t say next week and last week but the week below and the week above. If a language dies, a fascinating way of thinking dies along with it. I used to say something like that, but lately I have changed my answer.

Gu Hangyu, sits with his grandmother Wang Yufang, on Chongming Island near Shanghai. She speaks the Chongming dialect, but not standard Chinese. Credit- Ruth Morris

Gu Hangyu, sits with his grandmother Wang Yufang, on Chongming Island near Shanghai. She speaks the Chongming dialect, but not standard Chinese. Credit- Ruth Morris

Certainly, experiments do show that a language can have a fascinating effect on how its speakers think. Russian speakers are on average 124 milliseconds faster than English speakers at identifying when dark blue shades into light blue. A French person is a tad more likely than an Anglophone to imagine a table as having a high voice if it were a cartoon character, because the word is marked as feminine in his language. This is cool stuff. But the question is whether such infinitesimal differences, perceptible only in a laboratory, qualify as worldviews — cultural standpoints or ways of thinking that we consider important. I think the answer is no.

Yet because language is so central to being human, to have a language used only with certain other people is a powerful tool for connection and a sense of community… First, a central aspect of any culture’s existence as a coherent entity is the fact of its having its own language, regardless of what the language happens to be like. Certainly, a culture can thrive without its own language: No one would tell today’s American Indians that if they no longer spoke their ancestral language it would render them non-Indian. 

Language extinction hits close to home as well -- many Native American tongues are endangered. Credit CNN

Language extinction hits close to home as well — many Native American tongues are endangered. Credit CNN

Second, languages are scientifically interesting even if they don’t index cultural traits. They offer variety equivalent to the diversity of the world’s fauna and flora. For example, whether or not it says anything about how its speakers think, the fact that there is a language in New Guinea that uses the same word for eat, drink and smoke is remarkable in itself. Another New Guinea language is Yeli Dnye, which not only has 90 sounds to English’s 44, but also has 11 different ways to say “on” depending on whether something is horizontal, vertical, on a point, scattered, attached and more…We should foster efforts to keep as many languages spoken as possible, and to at least document what the rest of them are like.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing,  and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Have students use the pre-reading organizer to assist them in finding the main ideas from the reading.

Pre-reading Organizer By McGraw-Hill Company.

Pre-reading Organizer By McGraw-Hill Company.

II. While Reading Tasks

Word -Recognition
Directions: Students are to choose the correct word or phrases from the article. This exercise reinforces students’ attention on words that have been introduced in the reading. Have them skim the article to check their responses. Students should also find the meanings for all unknown words.

The answer I’m supposed/supposedly to give is that each lingua/language, in the way it applies/apply words to things and in the way its grammar works, is a unique/uniquely window on the world. In Russian/rushing there’s no word just for blue; you have to specific/specify whether you mean dark or light blue. In Chinese/China, you don’t say next week and last week but the week below and the week above. If a language die/dies, a fascinating/fascinates way of thinking dies along with it. I used to say something like that, but lately I have change/changed my answer.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Experiments show that a language can have a fascinating effect on how its speakers think.
  2. The most popular languages are from Asian cultures.
  3. German speakers are on average 124 milliseconds faster than English speakers at identifying when dark blue shades into light blue.
  4. A Spanish  person is more likely than an Anglophone to imagine a table as having a high voice if it were a cartoon character because the word is marked as feminine in his language.
  5. Hypotheticality and counterfactuality are established more by context in Chinese than in English.
  6. The article states that in 100 years only about 600 of the current 6,000 languages may be still spoken.
  7. A central aspect of any culture’s existence as a coherent entity is the fact of its having its own food.
  8. A culture cannot thrive without its own language.
  9. To have a language used only with certain other people is a powerful tool for connection and a sense of community.
  10. There is a language in New Guinea that uses the same word for eat, drink and smoke.

 Grammar Focus

Preposition Exercise

Directions: The following sentences are from the article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices presented.

Prepositions:  in, for, of,   to, as,

First, a central aspect ___any culture’s existence___a coherent entity is the fact ___its having its own language, regardless ___what the language happens ___be like. Certainly, a culture can thrive without its own language: No one would tell today’s American Indians that if they no longer spoke their ancestral language it would render them non-Indian.

Second, languages are scientifically interesting even ___ they don’t index cultural traits. They offer variety equivalent ___ the diversity ___ the world’s fauna and flora. For example, whether or not it says anything about how its speakers think, the fact that there is a language in New Guinea that uses the same word ___ eat, drink and smoke is remarkable ___ itself.

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  two  statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“…a central aspect of any culture’s existence as a coherent entity is the fact of its having its own language, regardless of what the language happens to be like. Certainly, a culture can thrive without its own language: No one would tell today’s American Indians that if they no longer spoke their ancestral language it would render them non-Indian.”

“…languages are scientifically interesting even if they don’t index cultural traits. They offer variety equivalent to the diversity of the world’s fauna and flora.For example, whether or not it says anything about how its speakers think, the fact that there is a language in New Guinea that uses the same word for eat, drink and smoke is remarkable in itself.”

2. Do you speak more than one language?  If yes, do you find that your thinking changes?If no, why don’t you learn another language?

3. In your opinion, should we strive to save the indigenous languages? Provide reasons to support your answers.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the importance of saving aboriginal languages from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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