This weekend (May 6-8, 2011) I attended a training weekend at the Gaelic College for the Bun is Bàrr mentor-apprentice program. Dr. Leanne Hinton is a linguist (and professor emerita from the University of California at Berkeley) who helped develop the Master-Apprentice language learning approach, and she came all the way to Nova Scotia to train the teams of Gaelic speakers and learners who will be taking part in the program this year!
I was really excited to be an observer at the training weekend, and I took lots of notes (and even some pictures)! I’ll post them in chunks on the blog for anyone interested, but first, a bit of context:
The general idea behind the Bùn is Barr program is to pair up a fluent or native speaker with a learner and have them spend time together so that the learner (apprentice) can learn the language from a real speaker instead of in a classroom, from a teacher, or from a book. The Master-Apprentice program was originally developed for the indigenous (i.e. Native American) language communities in California, but it can be (and has been) applied to many other languages around the world. According to Dr. Hinton, the Nova Scotia Gaelic master-apprentice program will be the first time the program has been applied to a language of European origin.
Now, you might notice that I’ll switch to calling it the mentor-apprentice program as opposed to master-apprentice, mostly because “mentor” seems to be the preferred term among the Gaelic group that was there this weekend.
I’ll start getting into more detail about the training in my next post, but here are the main principles of the approach, just to give you an idea:
- Avoid English as much as possible!
- Make yourself understood in other ways: gestures, expressions, props, activities, context, etc.
- Focus on oral learning, not reading and writing!
- Pro-active apprentice asks lots of questions and directs learning by choosing topics they are interested in!
- Learn through activities!
- Learn language that you can use, and use the language that you learn!
- Have fun!
It was a fantastic weekend full of all kinds of fantastic information, but there were some fantastic things going on in the evenings as well. Such as: