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2.3. Simple activity 3: working your way through books monolingually


This is the simplest activity yet. You go through children's picture story books, page by page, with your native speaker friend. You verbally point out anything that you can describe in your own words in the new language (even if you can only make a stab at it). You ask about things you cannot say, (by month two you can easily say "What is this?" or "What is s/he doing?" in your new language). Set your timer or stopwatch and tell your friend, "For the next twenty (or thirty) minutes we are only going to use your language." After the twenty (or thirty) minutes are up, you can use another language that you share (such as English) to ask about things that puzzled you. For but for those twenty minutes, no matter how much of a struggle it is, you do not depart from the new language.

You may question the importance of sticking to the target language. Well, we find it extremely helpful. As soon as we let English in, the whole exercise goes out the window. We must be forced to try hard to do as much as we can in our new language. Otherwise it quickly becomes a conversation about the language rather than one in the language. Now once you are gaining some fluency this may be less of an issue. But while you are seriously needing to develop some fluency, it is an issue.

For this activity you need to collect children's books. At least we've not yet seen an adult book that serves the purpose. The ideal books have a sequence of pictures which tell a complete story without words. If there are lots of words, even if the pictures are wonderful, the pictures alone will probably not tell the whole story. You want the pictures to tell most or all of the story by themselves. Actually, the best book we found for getting this started did have words, but very few, and we covered them with Post It note papers. The title was Hallo! How are you? It was the story of a little bear who was on his way home from somewhere, attempting to greet all and sundry. Various other events occur along the way and at home.

This is really a month two activity, when you already have a vocabulary of a few hundred items, and have been understanding them in context in simple sentences for a month. You may not be sure exactly how much you know or how well you know it, but whatever it is, you want to put it to work as you get into serious talking. You should be able to come up with children's books either by visiting bookstores (there are tons of children's books in bookstores in Pakistan, for example), and by raiding the collections of friends whose kids have outgrown the books. We found Hallo! How are you? in a city library book sale. New children's books can be quite expensive, but you might be able to share with other language learners. Two of our early books were

Hallo! How are you? By Shigeo Watanabe, illustrated by Yasuo Ohtomo. (1980,The Bodley Head, London, Sydney, Toronto; first published by Fukuinkan Shoten, Tokyo.)
The Big Fat Worm by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Marisabina Russo (1987, 1995, Alfred Knopf.)

A book we spent two or three hours in was a version of Goldilocks:

The Three Bears, by Paul Galdone. (1972, Houghton Mifflin)

Then we were able to talk much more readily about the following book:

Deep in the Forest, by Brinton Turkle.(1987, Dutton Children's Books)

It is a completely wordless book which happens to have the story of Goldilocks in reverse. It is about a little bear who goes into the house of three humans who are off on a walk to let their porridge cool.

Other good wordless books include the following:

Pancakes for Breakfast, by Tomie dePaola (1978, Harcourt, Brace & Company)
Good Dog, Carl, by Alexandra Day (1986 41so, other books in the Carl series. Simon & Schuster)

And these Puffin Pied Piper Books by Mercer Mayer

Frog on his Own (1973)
Frog Goes to Dinner (1977)
A Boy, a Dog, a Frog and a Friend (With Marianna Mayer, 1971)
One Frog Too Many (With Marianna Mayer, 1975)
Hiccup (1976)
Ah Choo (1976)
0ops (1977) (Dial Booksfor Young Readers, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014)

(We don't recommend that you use Mercer Mayer's Frog, where are you? since we have a secret purpose for that, which would be fouled up if you were to use this as a language learning book.)

At a later point, some books by Japanese children's illustrator Mitsumasa Anno will provide an enormous number of language learning opportunities. The one we have used is Anno's Journey (1977, Putnam & Grosset, 200 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016).

But these are just ideas. We're sure you can come up with children's books that we'll wish we had come up with.

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 21 March 1999

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