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Reducing anxiety, increasing core competence: a practical program for beginner adult heritage learners of Eastern Algonquian languages

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Title:Reducing anxiety, increasing core competence: a practical program for beginner adult heritage learners of Eastern Algonquian languages
Authors:Quinn, Conor
Nicholas, Andrea
Jeddore, Alwyn
Paul, Gabriel
Contributors:Quinn, Conor (speaker)
Nicholas, Andrea (speaker)
Jeddore, Alwyn (speaker)
Paul, Gabriel (speaker)
Date Issued:03 Mar 2017
Description:We report on a new curriculum approach for beginner learners of three Eastern Algonquian languages (Penobscot, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaw) that actively targets the practical needs of L1-English adult heritage learners, and challenges often unquestioned default priorities of school-based teaching. In this model, beginner-course content minimizes adult learner anxiety and memory load (and optimizes orality) by limiting itself to eleven brief (≈5min) lessons, each introducing at most 2-3 sentences of new information, rigorously selected to satisfy two criteria: each must (a) be a simple model-word/phrase forming a key step within a clear progression of essential morphosyntactic patterns, and (b) have immediate daily-life communicative use. This approach's strength is in its limits. For example, pronominality-by-a x is introduced not by standard intimidating full-paradigm charts, but instead via a single lesson-target of only two wordforms: one 1s, one 2s. Immediately usable for face-to-face conversation, this crucially lets learners start from the absolutely minimal pattern example, and so focus rst just on its simplest form and essential function(s), without being distracted by its complete set of realizations. This less-is-more approach to linguistic content is complemented by two key psychosocial components. First: explicit discussion of L2 learner anxiety as an integral, ongoing part of the course. Second: reframing learners as teachers-to-be: each ve-minute lesson mastered can now be shared with a fellow learner—over just one cup of co ee. This provides motivation beyond just individual success/failure, reduces teacher availability bottlenecks, and shifts the program model from teacher/school-centered to learner/community-centered. The 2015-2016 Maliseet implementation team reports promising results: students no longer overwhelmed, consistently con dent as learners, and enthusiastically using what they have learned with each other and with uent speakers. A recent Mi'kmaw application also reports a similar development of con dence and comfort. For both, reducing learner anxiety—by strictly limiting the target material and by continually acknowledging individual and group experience of linguistic performance anxiety—seems to be a key factor in its success. In an area that can often seem frustrating and hopeless, this approach appears to be making real progress. We attribute this to a design e ort that joins linguistically-informed pedagogical minimalism with active attention to the real social/emotional needs of adult learners—particularly as agents of both their own learning, and that of fellow community members.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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