This is a set of pointers for master-apprentice teams, or people who might want to be master-apprentice teams for their language of heritage.
1. Leave English behind. During the 20 hours per week that masters and apprentices will be working together (or however many hours you commit yourselves to), aim for communicating only in your language; try not to use English at all. At first there will be difficulties because the apprentice will not be able to understand or communicate. You can enhance communication with mime (gestures and actions and facial expressions), objects and pictures, context, and rephrasing what you are trying to talk about (see 2).
(a) Basic questions. Early on as an apprentice, you should learn how to ask things in your language. You should learn how to ask 'What is this?" and 'What is that?" (Remember, in most languages there will be lots of different words that translate into English as "that" or "this," depending on how far away something is or what kind of thing it is.) Or ask, 'How do you say X"? (If you were trying to learn Spanish, and wanted to know the word for table, the sentence would be "¿Cómo se dice 'table' en español?" In Karuk one can say simply, "piipi 'table'?") Other questions to learn might be, "What are you doing?" or "What am I (or what is he) doing?" Or maybe, "Tell me a story." (But see also point 5.)
(a) Actions. At the workshop, Nancy Richardson and Terry Supahan demonstrated the enormous value of acting out what you are trying to say. If you are the teacher, your apprentice will understand better; if you are the apprentice, you can help your teacher understand what you are trying to communicate even when you don't know the words. More importantly, research suggests that we learn much better if we learn words embedded in actions.
3. Teach in full sentences; teach in conversations. Even though often you will be trying to teach or learn specific words, the real lesson comes by embedding the words in sentences and conversations that are in your language.
Example: If you are trying to teach the word for door, don't just say "door," and don't use English to translate the word or explain it. Instead, speaking always in your language, say things like, "This is a door." Ask, "Where is the door?" Say, "Now I am going to open the door. Now I'll close the door. I'm knocking on the door." Tell the apprentice, "Open the door." "Close the door." Extend communication further using gestures to help in your communication say, "It's hot in here! Let's open the door." Or tell the apprentice, "Go out the door." Then say, "Now, close the door." Then, "Now, knock on the door." When s/he knocks, say, "Come in!"
4. Aim for real communication in your language of heritage. Aim at doing every thing in your language. Once the apprentice can do some basic communication, don't start your sessions by saying in English, 'What shall we do today?" Say it in your language. If you need a break, say, "Let's have some coffee" in your language, not in English. If you know how to greet each other in your language, never do it in English. As we advised at the workshop, if you get sick and tired of each other, get angry in your language, not English. Don't think of your language as something you do just during lessons, but as the language of communication between you two always, and with other people too who know the language or are trying to learn it. Someday, even if the house caught fire, maybe you would be so accustomed to speaking your language that you would yell "Fire!" in your language of heritage! Is this going too far? Well, it's something to think about, anyway
5. Language is also culture. Your language is not just a translation from English, Learning your language of heritage also means learning about all kinds of customs, values, and appropriate ways of behaving.
Examples: I mentioned using gestures to communicate; learn how to do gestures in your culture of heritage.
We said above that the apprentice should learn how to ask various questions, such as "What's this?" or "What are you doing?" Such questions may actually be impolite in your language of heritage, and you may need to learn a polite way to get your point across. While storytelling is a good activity for language teaching and learning, it is probably the case that many stories are not supposed to be told in the summertime. Learn about the stories and the restrictions governing them.
A great deal of vocabulary is embedded in traditional ways of life. Doing traditional activities such as participating in ceremonies, or traditional food-gathering, or making or using objects such as traditional houses, tools, weapons, or cooking utensils will be important for language learning. In some cases, the master and apprentice may not know how to do these things; in that case, maybe you can go to someone else together for help. Or maybe no one knows these things anymore; in that case, reading some of the old ethnographies might be useful, to learn about both vocabulary and traditional cultural practices.
6-Focus on listening and speaking, rather than writing and grammatical analysis. Writing and grammar have important uses, but you don't need to focus on these to learn to speak a language. Language learning in classrooms is sometimes only about writing and grammar, but people almost never learn how to speak a language fluently when writing and grammar are the focus. So we urge you to focus on listening and speaking.
Remember these points:
(a) The apprentice can learn the grammar of the language unconsciously, simply by hearing it and using it. That is how children learn grammar, and despite what we have been told in the past, adults can still learn new languages the way children learn their first language. You don't have to know what a relative clause is to use one.
However, this is not to say that you should give up all writing and grammatical analysis. Grammatical analysis may in the long run be very useful; languages might have a lot of special constructions and affixes that are hard to learn, and one might want to study these seriously and consciously. Also, many communities already have writing systems, and becoming competent in your language might include competency in reading and writing. Writing a language, so long as it is not always tied to an English translation, might be something you want to develop as a new form of language use for your community. You might want to use writing to record old stories, or write letters to each other, or begin a new art form of poetry. But just remember that to learn how to speak a language fluently, writing and grammar are not as important as just listening and talking, talking and listening.
7. Activities for master and apprentice to do together. One question people always ask is, "What do we do to learn/teach the language when we are together?" Here are some of the most important things you can do.
(a) Live your daily life together. Don't think of this time together as outside of your normal patterns of living. Do you have to do the laundry? Do it, and talk about what you are doing in your language. Do you want to go gambling? Do it, but only use your language. Do you want to fix your car, go to the store, plant a garden, paint your house, cook supper? Do it in your language. Would you like to take a drive or a walk? Maybe you'd rather relax and watch a baseball game or the World Cup on TV. just turn the sound down and be your own announcers.
(a) If the elder that you work with finds it objectionable to repeat things often, you can get added practice from tapes. Even if the elder will repeat words often, you will probably still want added practice.
9. How to be an active learner. The master does not always have to take charge of deciding what, how, and when to teach. The master is the expert who knows the language and a vast store of cultural knowledge that goes with it, but in many cases the apprentice may know more about teaching. The apprentice should feel free to guide his or her own learning experience as much as suits the relationship and the situation. As the apprentice, you can guide the teaching by asking the master questions about the language, by suggesting what sort of activity you might do on a given day, by setting up play-acting situations, or asking the master to tell you things like what s/he has been doing, tell a story, etc. Your master may have a lot of ideas too, but may need to be encouraged and drawn out. As an active learner, you can also focus on trying to understand what the master thinks is important to do. Which one of you guides the learning the most will depend on the particular team; but aim for making the learning experience a true partnership.
10. Be sensitive to each other's needs; be patient and proud of each other and yourselves! Personalities and cultural differences will play a big role in how you develop as a team. There may be a "generation gap" between the two of you, as Martha Macri pointed out in the training workshop. Coming to understand each other and respect each other's philosophy, values, and needs is an important part of your partnership. Also, remember that language teaching and learning are bound to produce frustration along the way for both members of the team. If you get frustrated, do something to relieve the tension- talk it out, or change the activity, or take a break.
The master needs to keep in mind that language learning is a slow process, and needs to be patient when the apprentice doesn't learn something as fast as the master thinks s/he should. Being overly critical or teasing someone when they make a mistake will discourage the apprentice from using the language. Learn to correct without being judgmental. When your apprentice says a sentence, it may have lots of errors and it may sound terrible to you; but be proud of the effort he or she is making to learn. Correct errors by simply repeating the sentence correctly. Think of a mother interacting with her toddler: the toddler might say, "Daddy goed in car!" and the mother would respond, "Yes, Daddy went to town in the car!" She is correcting errors, extending the sentence further to increase the child's learning, and expressing pride in her child's language use, all at once.
The apprentice needs to keep in mind that anything the master wants to teach is of great value, even if it is not what you had in mind at the moment. Also learn what things the master gets frustrated about in the language teaching Process and try to find ways to relieve the situation.
If you start to get discouraged, remember that you are doing the best you can, and you deserve to be proud. You are making a heroic commitment to a wonderful cause, by working together to bring your language back from the brink of death.