BLC Travel Grant Report

Thanks to the generosity of the BLC and the Center for African Studies, I attended this year’s African Language Teachers Association (ALTA)/National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL) conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The stated goal of the joint conference was “Promoting Advanced Language and Intercultural Proficiency in African Languages and other LCTLs.”

The main reason I like to attend this conference is the human element: I enjoy updating old connections and making new ones. The second and more important reason is that I get a chance to find out about the state of research and practices in the teaching of LCTLs, and to join in the sharing of ideas and experiences that inevitably ensues. This summary will mainly dwell on that.

Because a lot of the sessions were occurring simultaneously (parallel sessions), I was not able to attend all those I was interested in, and for those that I missed, I tried to get as much material as possible from those presenting or from other participants.I talked to Professor Jacques du Plessis of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for an update on the use of technologies such as Prezi, to follow up on a workshop he gave last summer. I also sat in on a very informative session on STARTALK (for Arabic), as it is being developed and implemented in communities in Bloomington, Indiana. I also caught the conclusion of “Second Life Communities: Teaching real languages in virtual lands,” making use of virtual technology and building a virtual environment in the target language and culture to achieve competency.

I’ll gloss over some of the presentations about the business side of LCTLs, and about the use of proverbs, cartoons, literature, storytelling, and media. [As an aside, there is nothing like the film clips project yet. Perhaps I can get Mark Kaiser invited to talk about the BLC Library of Foreign Language Film Clips (LFLFC)]. However, I would like to share something about two presentations that really stood out for me.

The first one was “Perfecting the Flow of a Target Language for Advanced Students Through Dub,” by Bomi Oh, a teacher of Korean from the University of Oregon. The instructor has students watch a clip from the media—a segment of news or weather report—and later re-issues the same clip without sound and asks students to come up with their own texts or dialogues, emphasizing the flow of speech, not unlike how actors preparing for a role go over their lines. Once the students achieve the desired fluency, the dialogue is recorded and assessed by the whole class. One video called “baby talk” allows, in my own opinion, for possible work with less proficient students, maybe even with beginners. I plan to explore it further.

The second take-away came out of a talk among Wolof Language teachers meeting to establish a formal association, WOLTA (Wolof Language Teachers Association in America). As we were discussing the basics for such an association, the subject of materials development came up and our colleague from Bloomington, Indiana gave us a glimpse of what she was able to create, with the support from her campus, using a software called “Raptivity.” It’s a platform that allows an instructor to quickly and easily create learning interactions such as games, simulations, brainteasers, interactive diagrams, virtual worlds and more. You can embed these interactions right into your online courses to improve learner engagement. ( I enthusiastically recommend that the BLC explore this by perhaps contacting African Studies at Bloomington, and if possible, obtaining the software so we could use it for all languages at Berkeley.

There were occasions during the conference when I questioned my decision to forsake participating in Annamaria Bellezza’s Words In Action project for these workshops, especially because of the rave reviews it got, but the knowledge and inspiration I received from those two presentations, on “dubbing” and “Raptivity,” gave me some comfort that I had made a good, and potentially fruitful, move.

I thank the BLC and the Center of African Studies for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow, and look forward to further sharing what I learned with colleagues and students.