Tag Archives: language

Arst Arsw: Star Wars in Alphabetical Order

baby darthFather’s Day by Artiee / Flickr

A friend recently lent me the book Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, which discusses the development of the Google N-Gram Corpus.  After scanning millions of books, Google could not simply make them all freely available because this would essentially be republishing copyrighted works.  Instead, Google has made them all searchable by N-Grams (one-, two-, three-word phrases and so on up to n-words) which protects the copyrighted works because they are really only viewable in aggregate.  The corpus is, of course, limited in that it only includes books (as opposed to also including magazines, newspapers, oral texts, etc.), but given that it goes back hundreds of years, the size and the scope of the corpus is pretty amazing.

Early on in Uncharted, a book called Legendary Lexical Loquacious Love, a concordance of a romance novel, is affectionately described as a conceptual art piece that helped to inspire the N-Gram Corpus.  In Love, every word from a romance novel is presented in alphabetical order.  So, a word like a, which appears several times in the original source novel, is repeated scores of times.  The authors talk about how different the experience of reading a concordance of a romance novel is from reading the original romance novel, but how the former is compelling in its own way.  For example, they offer the following quote:

beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful
beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful
beautiful beautiful beautiful,  beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” beautiful. beautiful. beautiful.”
beautiful… beautiful…

These 29 occurrences of the word beautiful are, presumably, spread throughout the original novel.  But seeing them juxtaposed next to other words that begin with b (and with the scores of occurrences of the word a) gives you a different perspective on a romance novel.

What does this have to do with Star Wars?  Great question.  While reading Uncharted, I came across the following YouTube video:

Created by Tom Murphy, the video is “meant to be provocative in its uselessness.”  It took 42 hours to produce the 43-minute video, which is oddly compelling to watch.  In addition to the video, a small data bar at the bottom graphs the frequencies of each word, which is also tallied onscreen through the video.  It’s a difference experience, much like reading a concordance is different from reading the original source text.  For example, the famous scene in which Obi-Wan uses a Jedi mind trick on a couple of Stormtroopers appears in the original movie as follows:

Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.
Obi-Wan: [with a small wave of his hand] You don’t need to see his identification.
Stormtrooper: We don’t need to see his identification.
Obi-Wan: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

(Source: imdb.com)

In Arst Arsw, this interaction is best summarized by the three occurrences of the word identification, which are the only three times that this word appears in the film.  Identification appears at 16:08 of the video.  There are many other interesting moments, particularly when different voices utter the same word several times (for example, leader by several rebel pilots) or when only one character uses the same word several times (for example, kid by Han Solo.)  For me, longer words are generally more interesting because they take longer to say, whereas the shorter words can fly by so quickly that they can be hard to comprehend.  One exception, however, is the word know, all 32 occurrences of which fly by in under 5 seconds.  But because the 26th know is so emphatic, it stands out against the rest.

I’m not sure if there are any other video concordances out there, but if there are, I would love to see them.  Especially if the original source material is as compelling as the original Star Wars.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

Building a New Language

throne

I’ve somehow managed to avoid the pop cultural phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. I’m aware that it exists, and that it’s adapted from a series of fantasy novels, but I’ve never seen an episode.  An awareness of the show is hard to avoid.  For example, one of my favorite podcasts, Nerdist, hosted by Chris Hardwick, references it all the time.  I bring this up because one of the recent guests on the podcast was David J. Peterson, a linguist who created Dothraki, the language that is used by characters in Game of Thrones.  (Actually, as Peterson explains, George R. R. Martin, the author of the novels, invented the language and then Peterson had to flesh it out further, develop the phonology, etc.)

So, if you’re interested in linguistics and Game of Thrones (or either of these things) you will probably enjoy Nerdist episode #502, in which Peterson goes into depth on creating Dothraki and several other topics.  Please note, as often happens on the Nerdist, the hosts and guests occasionally drop an F-bomb or two out enthusiasm, which means that the entire episode may not be appropriate for younger audiences.  Enjoy your burrito!

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

Web 2.0 Tools

tools

Just over a year and a half ago, Betsy Lavolette and Susan Pennestri presented a session at CALICO 2012 called Where’s the Peadagogy in Web 2.0?  In this presentation (available here), Betsy and Susan defined Web 2.0, couched these technologies in a discussion of Bloom’s taxonomy, and proposed curating an evolving list of useful Web 2.0 tools.  Naturally, they did this by crowdsourcing the list via a Web 2.0 tool, the online bookmarking site Diigo.com.

The most amazing part of all of this is that the list is still going strong and now includes over 400 items.  To access the list, go to https://groups.diigo.com/group/calicotools.  Each item has a brief description has brief notes and several tags such as reading, writing, listening and speaking, each of which can also be used to search for tools within the list.  Just click on the tag to view other resources on the list with the same tag.

To participate and contribute to this list, click on the “Join this Group” button and create a free Diigo account if you don’t already have one.  Diigo is a lot like Delicious.com, but has a few more features including the ability to highlight and annotate any web document before sharing it.  Diigo is a tool worth using on it’s own, but signing up for this group makes the experience even more useful.

2 Comments

Filed under Resources

Reaction GIF Resources

As I’ve written before, animated GIFs have re-emerged on the World Wide Web as a visual shorthand to express complicated emotions, ideas, and reactions.  Their popularity has received a boost from the fact that they are relatively easy to create and small in file size, meaning they load quickly on almost any device.  And, as one of my students observed, they’re kind of like the pictures in Harry Potter.

You’ll find animated GIFs throughout online discussion forums where they are often used to sum up a response to a discussion thread more quickly than a written message.  They also are often deeply embedded in popular culture, which can also be a bonus.

One of the most popular online discussion forums is Reddit.  Animated reaction GIFs are so popular on Reddit that there is a subReddit devoted to retiring GIFs that have been used so effectively that they will never again be used as a response in a more satisfying way.

ESL students can benefit from animated GIFs in many ways.  One approach is for teachers to use them as conversation starters.  Find something complicated that is expressed in a single GIF like this one and ask students what emotion is being expressed, what just happened to him, what might happen next, and to tell you about a time that they felt a similar emotion.

Animated GIFs also reference pop culture.  And because of the are much shorter than a complete movie or TV show, they can be bite-sized points of entry into different touchstones of popular culture.  For example, I recently watched Forrest Gump in an ESL classroom.  Animated GIFs can serve as a potent reminder of the key scenes.

Animated GIFs are also a phenomenon of pop culture in their own right.  Would memes like Tom Hanks as an animal have gone viral if the images were still?  Perhaps.  But animating these images doesn’t make them less interesting.  Animated GIFs are a participatory form of pop culture – anyone can contribute to the virality of a meme by sharing it, retweeting it, or even creating their own take if they have simple Photoshop skills.

So, where to find them?  Here are some good resources:

Any good search engine will turn them up.  Including the words “animated” and “GIF” in your search terms will help.

Giphy.com is a search tool for animated GIFs.

ReactionGIFs.com is a website that collects and tags animated GIFs.

Reddit has an entire forum dedicated to animated reaction GIFs.

Tumblr is full of them.

My favorites are tagged “GIF” in Diigo.com, an online bookmarking service.

A final note: As you and your students venture out in search of animated GIFs, be aware that this corner of the World Wide Web, like so many others, can occasionally contain strong language and adult themes.  If you work with younger students, you may want to preview these links before sharing them with your students.  You are likely to encounter language that you may not want to share in your classroom.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

CALICO 2013

In May, I attended the 2013 CALICO Conference.  CALICO stands for the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium.  According to the CALICO website, the organization “includes language educators, programmers, technicians, web page designers, CALL developers, CALL practitioners, and second language acquisition researchers–anyone interested in exploring the use of technology for language teaching and learning.”  The diversity of the conference attendees leads to a wide range of interesting sessions.  Here are a few of the highlights:

First, was a pre-conference workshop called “Place-Based Mobile Game Design for L2 Learning and Teaching” presented by J. Scott Payne and Julie Sykes.  Scott and Julie have been working in a mobile game design platform called ARIS, which can be downloaded for free to iOS devices.  Julie has developed a place-based augmented reality game called Mentira which requires students in Spanish classes at the University of New Mexico to venture into local Spanish-speaking neighborhoods to solve a fictional murder mystery.

Scott has worked on modifying the ARIS platform so that it can function offline and can work with historical maps for projects like Immigrant City.  It’s amazing to see the little blue circle that represents you on your phone’s map move around a hundred-year-old map while you walk through the real city.  Some roads and structures on the map are still there, while others are not.  Workshop participants signed up for free accounts and used the ARIS editor to begin building place-based games.  Although the editor is simple and easy to use, very complex games can be built with it.  (If you would like to build your own mobile game, visit http://arisgames.org/make/)

“Eye Tracking for Dummies: A Practical Overview of Options, Affordances, and Challenges in Conducting Eye Tracking CALL Research” was a panel that described several options for conducting eye-tracking research.  In language learning, eye-tracking can reveal how readers’ eyes move over words, where they pause, and where, when, and how long they go back over words they have read.  Although this kind of research typically requires sensitive equipment which costs thousands of dollars, one of the panelists, Jeff Kuhn, built his own eye-tracker for about $150.  (For more on Jeff’s DIY eye-tracker, see my earlier post.)

Another interesting session was “Semiotic Remediation and Language Learning through Place-based Plurilingual Gaming” with Steve Thorne and the 503 Design Collective.  Steve described a mobile game his group created called ChronoOps in which players must survive the future past by becoming agents sent back from 2070 to document the dawn and dusk of environmentally friendly technology.  This game, which was also developed on the ARIS platform, requires players to document green technology with pictures, text, and audio which are geotagged and saved within the game.  When other players play the game near the same locations, they can see what in-game artifacts other players have created and recorded within the game.  By playing the game, players are collaborating to collaboratively augment their reality.

A complete list of conference sessions can be found on the CALICO website.  But it’s not just the sessions that make for a good conference; it’s also the people you meet and the conversations you have outside of the scheduled sessions.  One of the conversations I had was with Mat Schulze, a German professor at the University of Waterloo.  We sat and talked for over an hour about building an English learner language corpus.  In linguistics, a corpus refers to a large body of or collection of language.  A wide range of applications have been developed to analyze these collections of language that can find almost any trend or pattern you would like to examine.

For example, if we examine every placement composition that English as a Second Language (ESL) students write, we could potentially investigate anything from differences between speakers of different first languages (Chinese vs. Arabic speakers, for example) or at what point in students’ learning specific grammatical errors no longer appear indicating that they have learned how to produce a specific structure.  Building and analyzing our own corpus could lead us to a big data-informed curriculum as well as to research opportunities for other language educators and linguists.  Attending this conference helped to connect me to people who can help us build this corpus.

I was able to attend the 2013 CALICO Conference through the generous support of ESL Programs and the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.  I also received matching funds from an OSU eLearning Professional Development grant.  For move information on this grant, visit http://ocio.osu.edu/blog/grants/apply/pd-grant-application/.

This post was originally published on OSU’s Digital Union blog.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

Tumblr

In the world of social media, Tumblr lies somewhere between Twitter and a full-blown blog with interactive social elements that are similar to Facebook.  This combination has lead to exponential growth.

To learn more, I created a Tumblr.  So far, I’ve been using it to post links to relevant stuff I’m looking at, but may not be ready to create a long form blog post here at ESL Technology.com.  (As an aside, remember when blog posts were considered brief? #solongago)  Some of my posts there will develop into longer posts here, but many will not.  You can follow my posts to both on Twitter: @eslchill.

So far, I’m not a full-blown, hardcore Tumblrer.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t sought out a network there, which is a potent part of the allure for most users.  By reposting the posts of people you follow, Tumblr creates an echo chamber that allows popular media to spread exponentially.

One feature I like is the ability to queue Tumblr posts and release them a day at a time.  I can post several items at once and release them one per day — thereby always having something “in the hopper.”  In this way, I am contributing to the constant stream of consumable media and helping to build my brand, neither of which I’m sure I want to do, but Tumblr sure makes it easy.

As you would expect from a popular technology like this one, setup is free and easy, the interface is relatively straightforward, and there are lots of themes available so that you can change the look of your Tumblr.

Will Tumblr revolutionize language teaching?  Probably not.  Just about anything you’ve been doing with WordPress and Blogger, and even Twitter, can be done with Tumblr.  The difference?  If your students are keeping up with the latest online trends, they likely consider traditional blogs to be passé and already have a Tumblr.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Learning to QWOP

Evolution of QWOP

Studying a language is a great way for a language teacher to experience a her students’ struggles and challenges. But, as language teachers know, this is not always the easiest thing to do. Is there a simpler way for a teacher to remind herself what it feels like to struggle as a beginner? For me, QWOP brought back all of these feelings and then some.

QWOP is a game that simulates a sprinter running down a 100 meter track. Players use the Q and W keys to control the sprinter’s thighs and O and P to control the sprinter’s calves. Although running sounds like a simple task, the game is infamously, and perhaps intentionally, difficult. In fact, as a simulation of learning to walk for the first time, QWOP is quite effective.

The first time I played QWOP, I fell on my face. Several times. In fact, I often ended up as far behind the starting line as I did beyond it. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out this game without searching Google for some strategy help. Even after reading up on the basics, I still struggled to run more than a dozen meters.

As frustrating as this process was, it was instructive. Knowing where I wanted to go but being unable to get there reminded me of learning my second language — knowing what I wanted to say but not having the vocabulary or grammar to express it. Even though the task may seem simple, whether putting one foot in front of the other or asking for directions to the restroom, it may seem an insurmountable obstacle without the necessary knowledge and preparation.

If you want to walk a meter in these shoes, I would recommend QWOP to you. You can play for free in your browser. There is also an iOS app available, with slightly different, but equally frustrating controls, if a flash-based game is not an option. Your students might also offer interesting comparisons between learning to QWOP and learning a language.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources