CAN8 Coordination Meeting

Hi guys! CAN-8 Team here, checking in to talk about our meeting with Conor Quinn, and Mary Ann Metallic and Janice Vicaire, as well as set up some plans for the coming weeks.

We talked about a lot of things at this meeting! Some of it was very broad, sweeping things–the linguistics consultants (Mr. Quinn especially!) were focusing on how to construct lessons such that learners become speakers fast. These were a few points we discussed, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on them too:

  • material (vocabulary and structures) should be local and relevant to daily life
  • material should also be memorable in its content–more funny = more better! It’s easier to draw on something that you laughed at while learning.
  • focus on learning strategies to keep learners learning outside the classroom. Learning how to talk to speakers in their families, bring their knowledge of Mi’gmaq home with them.
  • how to not be embarrassed about getting things wrong from time to time–we all do it!
  • start with basic interactions (“you and me” discussions) so that they can use as much Mi’gmaq as possible, as soon as possible.
  • avoid grammatical jargon and complicated terms. They often aren’t helpful, are sometimes wrong, and don’t help speakers as much as familiar/relatable terminology will (plus, it’s less metalinguistic terminology to remember).
  • avoid long lists to be memorized–knowing every colour is cool, but not necessarily linguistically helpful.
  • when learning new vocabulary, try to avoid “translation” approaches from English -> Mi’gmaq, but rather go from picture/concept (discussed in Mi’gmaq if possible) to the Mi’gmaq word.

We also discussed the role of writing in Mi’gmaq teaching/learning/usage. We want to include elders who shouldn’t be forced to learn a writing system they don’t currently use, but we also want to integrate online material–it is just plain easier to interact over the Internet with access to typing. What are your thoughts on the role of writing? How much should we recommend teaching it specifically? Is it better to let learners develop their own systems as they go, or start off with one from the get-go? Comments are open!

Our big goal for the coming month is to get a CAN8 skeleton up and ready to fill in with actual material. We still haven’t learned the language ourselves (yet!) so this will involve a whole lot of back-and-forth between experienced teachers/speakers and us consultants.

Exciting times indeed! If I can figure out the picture-inserting tool, there should be a picture under this post. Cross your fingers for us!

March 23 meeting at McGill

March 23 meeting at McGill. From left-to-right, reporting for duty! Conor Quinn, Gretchen McCulloch, Mary Ann Metallic, Janice Metallic, Erin Olson, Jacob Leon, Elise McClay, Jessica Coon

This entry was posted in Listuguj, Mi'gmaq learning tools, Website meta by Elise. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elise

Elise got her BA in Linguistics from McGill in 2012, having written her undergraduate thesis about Mi'gmaq possession. She spent that summer working closely with the teachers at the Listuguj Education Centre, and learned a lot! She was lucky to be able to spend two years devoting her time to the various programs run through this blog, and working at the McGill Prosodylab. Now, she's working on her MA in Linguistics at the University of British Columbia.

2 thoughts on “CAN8 Coordination Meeting

  1. This is a great post! There are many things to think about. I was wondering if we expect elders to do these lessons & if we would expect them to engage in online materials (would most of them use the internet on a daily basis?)? While it seems important to not commit to an orthography before the community has come to a consensus on which one to use, there would seem to be many benefits to using writing in the lessons. Learning writing would allow learners to understand the examples used in the wiki grammar and ease engagment with other speakers using online tools and social media. If I remember correctly, MaryAnn used some writing in the classroom (i.e. in verb inflection paradigms and preverb lists) and online lessons could compliment her in class usage as well. If we take this route, then one of the first lessons could discuss the sounds of Mi’gmaq and introduce the orthography at the same time… But this is something we should think about more…

  2. This is indeed a great post! So much to talk about, but here are just two things. First is about writing. All the advantages of writing that Mike talks about are definitely the case, and should not be missed. However, we have to make sure we don’t take for granted the costs of a new writing system for any new learner. As linguists, we slide in and out of writing systems with nary a thought, but for most people, any new use of the familiar old alphabet is a struggle to undo years of habit/expectation. This is particularly an issue in that we generally think that one of the great helps of an orthography is how it can show a learner what sounds to pay attention to (and perhaps what sounds not to): i.e. to develop a native-like phonemic perception. This, however, is not likely to happen while the learner is still reading English sound categories onto these all-too-familiar letters. (The pre-existing phonological mapping bias issue is often an argument put forth in favor of non-Roman orthographies, though I think it runs out of steam pretty quickly.)

    An alternative is simply to teach contrastive phonological awareness by ear from the get-go, and wait until that’s fairly solid (or at least familiar) before troubling students with any particular way to write these sound contrasts. Here’s a rough sketch of how I might do it in person (translating it to Can-8 is another story):

    “So, Mi’gmaq has a nice straightfoward set of vowel sounds. Actually a lot fewer than English, so that you might actually have some problems from paying too much attention to subtle differences in vowels that only matter in English, but not in Mi’gmaq: like the difference between the vowels in “bit” and “beet”. Doesn’t really matter in Mi’gmaq.”

    “Basically there are just six vowel sounds you have to listen for. Every single word uses only these sounds and these sounds only, so to get the vowels right in any word, you only ever have to recognize which of just six sounds you’re dealing with for each vowel. And most of the time you can rule out all but one pretty quickly. And that’s all you have to do!”

    “So, the sounds themselves. Just these: “ee”, “oo”, “eh”, “ah”, “aw”—and one super-short sound that’s often just a blip, and pretty much “euh” when and if it gets any fullish pronunciation. The last one is easy to get confused by until you realize something important: the other sounds are always said fully and clearly. So if you CAN’T make out clearly some particular vowel sound, especially even after the speaker repeats the word slowly and carefully for you, it’s probably the short weak “euh” sound.”

    “This also means that you can’t do what we do in English, which is run over any vowel we don’t stress and turn it into “euh”-y mush. Have to say all the vowels with their full sounds, all the time, since “euh” is its own vowel sound.”

    “But again: this is ALL you have to pay attention to for vowels: is it “ee”, or “oo”, or “eh”, “ah”, or “aw”, or that short weak sound?”

    “There is one other related point. In Mi’gmaq, whether a vowel is long or short matters: ask a speaker to say “I love h/her” vs. “I hurt h/her” and you’ll see that the the longs and shorts of the vowels are the only difference. This is easier to learn than it might seem. Since you can’t go around keeping track of the length of every vowel in a long word one-by-one, the trick is to learn the rhythm of what the common combinations sound like. That is, SHORT-SHORT has a really obvious difference in rhythm to LONG-SHORT. This one any speaker can tell you because regular ‘Mary’ is SHORT-SHORT, while Holy Mary is LONG-SHORT. And there are only so many combinations of LONG and SHORT, and once you practice them out as little verbal drum-rhythms, like


    and so on, you’ll be able to pronounce all the vowels in even the longest words nicely and accurately, since you do it by simple rhythm. Takes some practice, but not really that much, and you can do it all by ear, just comparing each new word you’re learning to the rhythms of words you’ve already learned.”

    So that’s a start. Getting learners to do it all by ear for at least a decent chunk of time at the start, emphasizing the inherently limited and limiting nature of phonological contrasts—i.e. that they make your processing/perceptual job easier—rather than having their first introduction to the sound system be forever mediated by an often (unintentionally) readily-misdirecting visual representation. And after all, since real conversation demands doing everything by ear, starting with this as the foundational skill seems to make sense.

    So that’s the first point. The second is regarding the “translation” approaches from English. On top of what Elise wrote, it’s important to also remember that the targets are rarely always just individual words: phraseologies are just as if not more important than individual vocabulary items. Also important to avoid is the calquing of pragmatic norms, e.g. teaching “Good morning/afternoon/evening” or even “Thank you” in languages where such things can be said, but speakers never do (or have different norms about when and how they do). So it’s really important for this and many other reasons to observe as much natural native-speaker conversation as possible to learn, well, what it is they DO say. And prepare learners to participate in that set of language-use practices, rather than trying to bring all their English ones with them.

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