06 July 2014

Paolo Meets Pablo: A Novice Low Friendship

Tulum was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. Until my son made a friend in Mexico who didn't speak English. It was beyond adorable--it was the very definition of precious. They were almost the same age and had almost the same name even, but they only knew bits and pieces of each other's language. I wish I could show you all of their synchronized flips and dives and the smiles that connected them in play, but my camera wasn't handy for most of it. Plus I just liked watching them having so much fun.
Paolo & Pablo's synchronized swimming.
This whole experience (and the fact that both Paolo and Pablo agreed to write each other via mamas' emails) really had me examining where we should be starting with our novices. Coincidentally, Sra. Cottrell was doing much the same thing at almost the exact same time that Paolo and Pablo were practicing cannonballs and holding their breaths during her Camp Musicuentos.

Sra. C.'s unit setups are among the more logical I've seen--and they actually stick to Linguafolio and ACTFL/NCCSFL standards progression. So I compared the Musicuentos novice experience to what I observed with my poor little Novice Low Paolo's interactions with his new amigo. They only got to hang out a few times, so it's safe to say they were mostly within the "How can I make new friends?" unit.

Sra. C. suggests hitting the following topics:
greetings, farewells, numbers 1-20, introductory conversation ('how are you'), basic storytelling verbs exchanging names, asking/expressing age, asking for and answering states of being/emotion, giving personal information (phone number, email address)
What Paolo wanted to know aligned pretty well with those content topics:
  • What's your name?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you want to do?
  • Do you like...?
He did say hola, of course, but he did have Sra. Mom help with the age figuring. He's six, though, so they basically went straight from hola to grin to wild splashing with fewer of the pleasantries we might expect even of adolescent charges, so I think it's fair to include greetings and "how are yous"  and states of being/emotion for our non-six-year-olds or even six-year-olds-who-could-be-more-polite. Also, in theory our kids would want to pick up make friends without passing notes through their moms, so the personal information would make sense too. I know, too, that my students would be just as interested in ages as my soon-to-be-first-grader, so numbers are a must, too. I'm not entirely sure where the storytelling verbs come in, but I can tell you that those non-pool hours Paolo spent watching Disney XD in Spanish led to him launching himself off the side of the pool and saying vuela!

Apart from vuela and the questions Sra. Mom fed him, this is about the extent of the rest of his vocabulary used with Pablo:
  • ¡Mira!
  • ¿Qué?
  • No.
  • Soy
  • Cuidado (there was also a REALLY wild four-year-old the last day)
I know there are several other terms Paolo absorbed during his first trip to Mexico, foremost among them playa and alberca and concha...and tapir (he just really liked the chubby critters). But he didn't really need those with his new friend--just for making demands of Mom and Abuela. If they'd had a little more time, and maybe after Paolo writes back, they could get into things like their favorites and what they did each day, too, I expect.

So I think the basic content put forth in the Camp Musicuentos curruciulm guide for the Novice Low is pretty spot on, but based on what my six-year-old actually used and what I saw him struggling to work around, I have a few ideas on some specific skills  definitely want to equip my other novices with from the beginning (some of which I know Sra. Cottrell does through her TPRS stories and questioning).

One of Paolo's new favorite animal--maybe a tie with horses and sea turtles.
Possibly my proudest moment as a teacher-mom was when Paolo, fascinated by Pablo's little wrist shooter pointed to his own wrist and repeated "¿Qué? ¿Qué?" until Pablo demonstrated. Paolo was using what little vocabulary he had along with gestures to convey his meaning (he's so smart!) This exchange alone told me two skills I want to make sure my students have, in addition to the content vocabulary Sra. C. recommends, from the get-go: Question Formation and Circumlocution.

Now for Question Formation, Paolo had at least the most important interrogative at his disposal, but my poor little gringo needed a few verbs at his disposal. I mean, while he and Pablo had just been cautiously eyeing each other from afar, he had asked me what that boy had on his wrist, so I had the context, but still I thought he was asking the time (duh, Mom). If Paolo had just had "es" in his vocabulary, he'd have been in business that much quicker.

So for my other novices, I need to hit some basic interrogatives and verbs hard (they can gesture, draw, or make up cognates for the first few weeks if need be). Of course I don't want to overload them, and the kinds of answers they would get to "why" might be a little esoteric for their itty baby vocabularies, and they rarely need to know about a time they can't ask for using Qué. Plus I want them to focus on basic sentences, so here are the lists I propose to begin with.
Interrogatives: Qué, Quién, Dónde, Cómo, Cuánto
Verbs: hay, es, son, quiero/quieres, puedo/puedes, tengo/tienes, me gusta/te gusta, creo/crees, ncesito/necesitas, entiendo/entiendes 
Sara-Elizabeth herself has an especially eye-opening podcast on the role of Circumlocution for novices (seriously, download it immediately), and we had a particularly enlightening #LangChat discussion on the topic. Of course, my baby is an especially clever lad, so he picked up on some of the things he should do to make his point (before he discovered via the momvine that Pablo went to a bilingual school and could kind of understand English) pretty quickly, using gestures at least to make his point, but, as suggested in World Language Classroom Resources, we should also teach our novices how to incorporate cognate synonyms, drawing, and opposites to make themselves understood.

With these tools, Paolo would have had an easier time getting Pablo to follow along with his crazy ideas and maybe figuring out more scenarios for engagement. With the same tools, our kids might be able to find some common interests with an international friend (maybe superheroes, maybe not) and find ways to keep the communication going after their poolside or checkout line encounter ends.

The most beautiful thing I have ever seen is my intrepid six-year-old making a friend with only a few words and the joy of sharing a swimming pool. I'd like all of my students to know that joy that I saw in him for themselves, and with just some basic vocabulary and strategies, I think that world will open up to them as it did to Pablo and Paolo.

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