#1. If you’re an unemployed, financially strapped parent of young children who spends most of your time alone with them, you are in an EXCELLENT situation to teach yourself a language. You say the same things over and over every day so you have a perfect opportunity to put language into immediate use with absolutely no criticism, since the only people hearing you believe you are right about everything. If you don’t have the money for childcare or for stimulating activities, great, because then you’re stuck inside alone with them and you need something to keep your brain active and your kids happy. Adopting a language to learn lets you wake your brain up whenever you want, and it gives your kids a way to be good — a way to make you happy.
#2. If you dedicate yourself to sharing knowledge about a highly endangered language, you will be perceived as bragging, and shunned accordingly.
#3. To get a kid to produce language, do what they say. Make a big deal of it when they produce, by writing it on the calendar and giving them a sticker and telling Daddy while making sure they overhear.
#4. Beyond compare, the hardest thing about spending a year learning an endangered language with no one to talk to and no relevant books or tapes from which to learn it — absolutely without question, the hardest part of the project is keeping the motivation to try.
#5. Hearing my children speak Arapaho — is worth anything.
#6. A year is a good amount of time to dedicate to a project this big, because the energy to engage in it comes and goes. The five months from April to Septmber I pretty much gave up on it, but I’m glad it came back alive.
#7. WordPress is fairly easy.
#8. Arapaho can totally, totally come back as a language. This is a huge one. I no longer have any doubt that Arapaho’s fate can be reversed, because kids learn so effortlessly. Whether or not it will is not my call.
#9. There are a lot of people doing a lot of cool things to help revitalize Arapaho.
#10. Learning a language BY teaching your children is really fun and unstressful, because they have no clue if you’re saying something right or wrong, and if you’re saying it wrong, so what? You can correct it later, and you will.
#11 however it’s really hard to use words you aren’t sure are right, when you know you are teaching them incorrect language. But it’s critical that you swallow that hesitation and make your best guess, constantly, because otherwise you have nothing to give them — if you wait until you’re certain, you won’t progress, and they won’t get any exposure. That’s way up there next to motivation — it’s harder than it seems like it should be.
#12 This approach could be used for any language — it would be easy to use what I learned this year and make a template workbook with scripts in English that parents could translate into Spanish or French — or Choctaw
#13 The linguistic strategy of the approach is basically to treat interaction with kids as scripts — to divide a day’s activities into miniature scenes, then notice what phrases you repeat, then translate them, write them down, tape them up on the wall in the room where that interaction occurs, and use them.
#14 This means that books that tell you how to say numbers and colors are fairly useless. Relevant vocabulary is very easy to determine — naturalistic data. Just notice what you actually say, then memorize individual phrases. It’s a kind of strange approach to learning a language because there is no possibility of generalization, which is why…
#15 It’s important to pair parenting in the language you’re learning with exposing yourself to high-quality examples of the language. You need to hear good language so you can create good language.
#16 If you know no one who speaks the language you want to learn, and if no one in your immediate environment cares at all — no worries! You can still totally do it.
#17 because free downloadable technology like audacity will allow you to make lessons for yourself out of media you can find on the internet. So you can find things to learn from.
#18 but it’s weird because there is no one there to tell you if you’re saying a word right; you have to forge on with zero feedback. That’s exactly like the #2 challenge just under motivation, which is accepting that I may well be feeding my girls trash-language input despite trying so damn hard. I may well not be speaking anything resembling Arapaho. But…
#19 The gift to them of this project is not really how much Arapaho they’ll end up being able to speak — it’s the ability to learn language as a game, easily and enjoyably, and all of the positive associations of how happy Mama gets every time they try.
#20 The way to maintain motivation — is to focus on enjoying every tiny part of the effort. Like right smack now, the cognitive harvest, digging deeply for insight from all of this effort and sharing it with you — every little step needs to be inherently rewarding (appreciated as much as possible) because focusing on the end result (exactly like trying to lose weight) is just insufficient fuel for the amount of effort something of this magnitude requires.
#21 taping words up on the wall in no way means you’ll learn them — they are really effective though IF you intentionally say them out loud (pointlessly, most of the time just reciting the sounds out of context). If you forget they’re there, they can stay there for a year and your brain will be no better for it. They really serve as triggers to vocalize the language. The vocalizing it is where the skeleton in your brain gets some flesh on it.
#22 At first with a new phrase you say the English and then the translation, but eventually you just say the language you’re learning, and THAT is when the kids start to get it, or when you start to have proof that they do.
#23 but in order to do that really efficient way of only speaking the language you’re learning, your brain has to take an inventory every time you speak — before speaking — to see if you know the word. This is a heavy cognitive load, but it becomes automatic, just like writing facebook posts in your mind becomes involuntary.
#24 When a high-cognitive-load process becomes nearly constant — it really kind of sucks. What would otherwise be just getting a toddler dressed gets a whole new tier of effort, because every phrase is searching your brain for your best guess, and accepting what you can offer, or reminding yourself to look up what you don’t know. It gets stressful.
#25 But I have worked myself into a moral imperative. Instead of a job, I chose a moral imperative — this is something I can totally do, and it’s a gift to the world with every word I speak — I deeply believe that, for reasons that I never question anymore. So it sucks that a moral imperative makes getting my toddler dressed more stressful than it really needs to be — but at the same time…
#26 it is awesome to be able to give the world a gift with every phrase I speak to my daughters. For a hippie world-changer like me, to have the opportunity to take a loving action every time I speak is really a gift in itself. In a sense parenthood is always this way — any interaction with people can be framed in this light, an opportunity to increase the love in the world — but in my home, every phrase is an opportunity to put a little more life in the Arapaho language. And it’s great to know I can give to the world just by speaking to my daughters.
#27 it is important not to stress a kid out. Don’t ask for performance; certainly don’t require it. The more language is a game, the more fun interactions happen around learning, the more both of you will stick with it. And the more it enriches your home.
#28 Other people can have a huge influence — little statements people post online — because it ramps up motivation. Or it tears it down.
#29 If only one parent cares about the project, that’s totally fine — but, because of the motivation thing, the other parent needs to at least be supportive, even if they don’t care.
#30 but someone who does care enough to really engage — even if it’s just learning to read, even if they barely ever are involved — can have a really positive influence. That motivation piece. Having an adult who wants to learn is very encouraging.