Texterei Blog

Just texts: Hundrest poem without taers

My English translation

I actually do not read that much poetry. I wish I would. In 2012, I heard Dragica Rajčić read her poetry. She is Croatian and lives in Switzerland. This volume of poetry is in German; she also writes in Croatian, which I cannot read. I did not like the English translation, also presented at the reading, because it had eliminated all the idiosyncracies of the original. I believe it is the little nicks that make this poem.

Just words: I give you my word

Scrabble: FEEL

And you get 7 points for this.

I’d like a word with you.
I give you my word.
You are twisting my words.
This blog became popular just by word of mouth.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God.

This is a new beginning. The beginning of a series of blog posts. For each post in the series Just Words, I will select one word. Just one. Look at it from different angles. Play with it a little. Perhaps, see it in a new light. In a different context. And, today’s word is

the word

We are starting with an old Germanic noun. Linguists reconstructed a form wurda in Proto-Germanic, the assumed precursor to languages like Danish, Dutch, English, Friesian, German, and Swedish.

Is it important to be more aware of each individual word? Especially an old one such as word? One that we use quite frequently and in different contexts? One that different people have been using over many centuries?

Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. Before I answer it, confession time: I am a philologist. (In Greek: philo- = loving; logos = word) I love words. Using them. (My family, friends, and colleagues tell me I use too many too often.)

So, my answer: Yes, being aware of one’s words is important. For two reasons: Words have consequences. Depending on the words you use, people will hear something different, feel something different, understand something different, or do something different. Or as Carl Sandburg said: Be careful with your words: once said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. Words are powerful tools. Words can pinpoint and cover up. They can heal and hurt. And they can clarify and obscure. And so much more. Let me tell you two stories to illustrate.

I grew up in Finsterwalde in Germany. In this small town is a short street, named after Max Schmidt. The Max-Schmidt-Straße. For many years, I did not know who Max Schmidt had been.

1943. The war was in its fourth year. Max, a merchant in town, met with others in his local pub. Small talk and a beer or two. A time to tell jokes and anecdotes. Often with few words; one knew and understood each other. A popular opening gambit was the question: Do you already know the latest joke? The friendly reply was: no. And then the joke would be told. So, Max Schmidt sat down with his buddies and opened the conversation with “Do you already know the latest joke?” … … … “We will win the war.” One of the listeners mentioned the 5-word joke to a Nazi official in town. The Gestapo interrogated Max Schmidt. He came before the “People’s Court”, was accused of Wehrkraftzersetzung – undermining military force – sentenced to death, and executed in July of 1944.
For a 5-word joke.

When I was a student of Linguistics, I learned about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, a hypothesis that discusses the relationship between linguistic structures in a language and people’s thinking and cultural values.

Benjamin Lee Whorf, an American linguist and chemical engineer, became an engineer for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in 1919. In one incident, a worker had placed containers with liquid next to a heater, which started a fire. The containers were labeled “highly inflammable”. The worker had believed that inflammable was the opposite of flammable, like incomplete is the opposite of complete.
2 words. 1 prefix. The in- in incomplete or the in- in insure.

Do words matter? Even just one word? Carelessly or imprecisely used? The things we do with words …

Does it matter whether we talk about social distancing or physical distancing under COVID-19? Should one call it the Chinese virus? Are love and hate opposites? Can one compare apples and oranges? And which one is a correct word?

I will go through this word for word. You can take my word for it.

Originally, I posted this text on in the blog of our Panta Rhei Enterprise on May 2, 2020. It was indeed the first one in a small series, which I am now transferring here to this site.

And there was no prince(ss) …

No really. She never came. I must have been sleeping for 100 years. The blog was dormant. I was not. Actually. I was busy. Things went in many directions. Deadlines looming. Things I felt I had to do. Things I wanted to do.

More about that later. I have changed the structure and look of this site a little bit. This allows me to separate the two blogs, on which I have been working on and off. The plan is to give both sites a crisper focus. This should make it easier for you to choose whether you follow this one or the other one or both. Panta Rhei Enterprise, the other blog, with topics like Change, Language and Learning, Complexity, Leadership focuses and will focus more on my things professional. One of the consequences is that I will be moving the blog on Research on Learning and Language gradually to that site.

This, my personal, website will focus on things personal a little more than it has. One of the things I will do gradually is move blog posts from the series Just Words to this site. I have also got a couple of poems ready to go and will put these out one after the other. And I have only just begun working on the Adjacent Stories; these will come a little later.

Be safe and all the best


Sketch of an Instructional Approach

For a recent work project, I collaborated with my LARC colleague Chris Brown on outlining the approach to language instruction in our short intensive language courses. His contributions and the many discussions I have had with colleagues such as Shahnaz Ahmadeian-Fard and Farid Saydee informed my thinking and are gratefully acknowledged; shortcomings and gaps are my own. The following sketch is a slightly adapted version of an excerpt from the text that resulted from this project.

Over the years, LARC’s instructional approach has been built on two pillars: sustained student engagement and systematic language proficiency orientation. Student engagement has been achieved through lesson plans and learning processes in the classroom pursuing the strategy of gradual release of responsibility. The gradual release of responsibility follows the schema of I do > we do > you do together > you do alone and progresses in six dynamic steps: orientation, presentation, guided practice, collaborative practice, independent practice, and reflection. First, the teacher orients the students towards the learning goal(s) of the lesson, by providing a schematic conceptualization of the learning goal. In Sociocultural Theory and its pedagogic practice, Concept-based Instruction, such a schema is called SCOBA (Lantolf & Poehner, 2014). SCOBAs are multimodal, student-centered representations of the concept to be learned. Such concepts are, for example, a communicative function (greeting, introducing oneself and others), a semantic field of vocabulary (kinship terms, food and cuisine), an abstract grammatical construction (subject-verb agreement and verb conjugation, definiteness and indefiniteness), and a cultural concept (social respect and honor, a holiday tradition). SCOBAs need to be multimodal, that is, they need to incorporate two or more of print, spoken word, image, sound, animation, and video, in order to facilitate students’ cognitive understanding, to succinctly provide them with the ‘why?’ and ‘what-for?’ context, and – most importantly – to engage them successfully and to boost their intrinsic motivation. This comprehensive orientation is also important because it facilitates the students’ focusing on learning goals during the subsequent phases; this in turn enables them to notice features and facets of the language and culture, which they have not yet learned or with which they are not yet comfortable. After the orientation, the teacher can present more concrete examples of the concept. In the presentation phase the teacher models target language use and makes important features more noticeable and transparent, always engaging the students as active participants. During guided practice, students try out the new vocabulary and grammatical constructions, or they work and talk in pairs and small groups. Often this is done in direct student-teacher interaction. Throughout, the teacher provides individualized guidance, support, and feedback. More responsibility is released to the students during the collaborative-practice phase. Students interact with their peers and engage with and learn from each other. In the last practice phase, each student works independently, so that they have the opportunity to check their own knowledge, abilities, and skills. This phase or the final reflection phase can be combined with formative assessment. In the reflection phase, students publicly demonstrate their work and achievements, monitor their learning outcomes, and plan actions to further deepen their knowledge, abilities, and skills.

With all class sessions following this six-step lesson plan progression, target language use in the classroom is made increasingly possible and productive, as learners quickly become accustomed to teacher expectations, and they are able to tell for themselves if they are having success, or if they need more support. In this lesson plan structure only the first two phases – orientation and presentation – are instructor-focused. All other phases have the students at the center of the interaction in either an interpretive, interpersonal, or presentational mode, consistent with the ACTFL National Standards and recognized language teaching best practices.

Sustained, productive target language use is also achieved through a parallel progression in students’ learning activities, which is based on the dynamic phases:

  • reception (understanding the orientation and presentation, listening to the teacher’s explanation or feedback),
  • verbal imitation (repetition of teacher models, response to recasts),
  • material manipulation (accompanying words with associated gestures, total physical response, manipulating words and sentences by hand),
  • verbalization (explaining word choice or a grammatical rule while applying it in target language use, explicitly stating personal or transcultural contexts of a cultural concept),
  • private speech (students make explicit their planned and current language learning and language use steps only for themselves), and
  • inner speech (students are actively aware of their newly acquired learning material when they apply it in communicative situations).

This sequence, which again is rooted in the sociocultural theory of Vygotskian provenience, ensures that learning always moves from the social plane – student-teacher and student-student communicative interaction – to the psychological plane – the internalization of newly learned material. Instructors, and students, intertwine these two dynamic sequences to maximize learning success.

From the very first day, instructors deliver 90 – 100% of classroom instruction in the target language, making almost every moment of program time a genuine engagement with the language and culture at study. Drawing on recent research on the use of L1 and L2 in the classroom, instructors optimize the use of L2, while carefully monitoring learner performance to make sure that the predominant use of L2, especially in the early stages, does not lead to learner misunderstanding or frustration, or even a lack of active participation in class. To this effect, instructors make use of topics and domains relevant, and often familiar, to students, maximize the appropriate use of cognate words to the extent possible. They also use artifacts, images, body language, and acting – which all support the negotiation of meaning between students and instructor – while frequently checking students’ comprehension. Setting clear linguistic performance objectives for students during each class session, day, and week also aids in keeping learners engaged and motivated, as they can tell immediately if they are on track or not, and they are able to more clearly see for themselves what they need to improve in the latter case.

Technological resources such as DiLL (digital language lab software), online workbooks, and LARC’s Computer Assisted Screening Tool (CAST, an online oral proficiency assessment) also enable students to increase their time on task with the language. The program pursues the balance between knowledge about language and language use. This balance is necessary for students to achieve high levels of language proficiency. The consistent inclusion of integrated performance assessment in our programs keeps classroom instruction, learner activities, and formative assessment aligned with performance-based objectives. We also give students an orientation to the ACTFL and ILR proficiency guidelines approximately one week into their summer intensive experience. In this session, students are familiarized with the spectrum of functional language proficiency (from Novice to Superior; ILR 0 – 3), the expectations for their proficiency by the end of the summer, and the common challenges and plateaus associated with progressing from absolute novice to intermediate level in a second language. The purpose is to diminish unnecessary ambiguity around program expectations, enhance students’ focus on what they should be able to do and what they do not have to achieve, and foster constructive learner beliefs about how individual students can further their own second-language development.