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Miskitu Aisas!

Miskito Language Course

Aims Method
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Here is a brief, schematic view of the methodological principles applied in the production of this course.

Basic resources[edit | edit source]

The essential linguistic resources needed for the production of a course of this kind can be stated very simply as two: (1) a grammatical analysis and (2) lexical information. Or even more simply: a grammar and a dictionary. Other resources, which are actually more primary, are also important inasmuch as they can serve to supplement or enrich the grammar and the dictionary or even as a source from which to derive grammatical and lexical information: (3) native speakers' intuitive knowledge (which covers some things not found in numbers 1 and 2) and (4) a textual corpus, which ultimately derives from native speakers' knowledge and therefore, in another way, serves similar purposes.

Most immediately, Miskitu Aisas! rests, for its grammatical analysis, on the Miskito grammar sketch in Wikipedia. This in turn draws on other sources, which also complete the resources for the present course; these include a dictionary. See Links and bibliography for the details.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Structural syllabus[edit | edit source]

Miskitu Aisas! is built around a progressive, didactic presentation of the grammatical structure of the Miskito language. Therefore, its architectural foundation is a grammatical (or structural) syllabus.

The first thing we need in order to create a grammatical syllabus is a coherent survey and analysis of the grammar of the language. In our case the data for this come from the resources mentioned above, and the systematisation is given in the Miskito grammar article already referred to. The next step is to select which elements of the grammatical system constitute the target content that the course will specifically aim to teach. In other words, the objective is not to teach "everything" about the language (or its grammar) but only, or above all, those elements that are required by the course's objectives. In a general sort of way, the aformentioned Miskito grammar article can also be considered a statement of what is most important about Miskito grammar, although certain refinements will be required on adapting that information to the purpose of developing the course.

We now come to specification of the grammatical syllabus as such, in which the proposed structural content of the course is itemised (divided up into bite-sized pieces, we could say) and sequentialised (arranged into an ordered sequence on the basis of various considerations, such as degree of difficulty, usefulness, and teaching/learning strategy). At this point we decide how many lessons the course will contain and, at least provisionally, attempt to assign the items of language structure, henceforth called "points", to numbered lessons.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Target lexicon[edit | edit source]

It is necessary to teach some basic vocabulary through the course, first because without any words no amount of grammar will provide meaningful knowledge of the language, and secondly because without words we cannot even present the grammatical system in a didactically valid fashion, since the student will not be able to see the rules at work. Given that some words need to be taught, we may as well make a reasonable effort to ensure that the words included are useful ones and that words that are absolutely necessary are included.

The procedure followed in this case is both rough-and-ready and intuitive. Given that a dictionary of Miskito exists (without one this would be far more difficult!), we take it as our starting point, and reading through the entire word list, choose (as best we can) the words that look likely to be useful ones. In part this is done through pure intuition - intuition that is sharpened by experience at teaching languages.

Topics and notions[edit | edit source]

But we can also introduce (and have done so) some method, in the form of a topic-and-notion classification. Topics (thematic areas, semantic fields...) are subject areas. Here are some examples:

[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Actions]]


  • break
  • bring
  • carry
  • close
  • come
  • cut
  • dance
  • fall
  • get up
  • go
  • hear
  • hit
  • laugh
  • leave
  • open
  • pass
  • pick up
  • put
  • return
  • see
  • sit
  • start
  • stay
  • take
  • try
  • walk
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Animals]]


  • ant
  • cat
  • chicken
  • dog
  • horse
  • rabbit
  • snake
  • turtle
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Body]]


  • arm
  • blood
  • ear
  • eye
  • foot
  • hair
  • hand
  • head
  • heart
  • mouth
  • neck
  • nose
  • tooth
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Body functions]]


  • be born
  • cry
  • die
  • drink
  • eat
  • get well
  • give birth
  • hot
  • ill
  • pain/hurt
  • tired
  • wake up
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Commerce]]


  • buy
  • expensive
  • market
  • money
  • pay
  • price
  • sell
  • shop
  • wage
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Dimensions]]


  • big
  • long
  • short
  • small
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Environment]]


  • ground
  • moon
  • river
  • road
  • rock
  • sea
  • star
  • stone
  • water
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Food]]


  • avocado
  • banana
  • bread
  • cocoa
  • coffee
  • delicious
  • egg
  • food
  • fruit
  • mango
  • meat
  • papaya
  • pepper
  • tea
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|House]]


  • bed
  • chair
  • door
  • house
  • room
  • table
  • window
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Kinship]]


  • brother
  • father
  • grandfather
  • grandmother
  • mother
  • sister
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Language]]


  • ask
  • call
  • language
  • read
  • say
  • speak
  • story
  • tell
  • translate
  • word
  • write
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Social relations]]


  • angry
  • fight
  • friend
  • give
  • help
  • husband
  • kill
  • love
  • marry
  • obey
  • play
  • steal
  • wife
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Space]]


  • between
  • down
  • far
  • here
  • in
  • near
  • out
  • over
  • place
  • there
  • towards
  • under
  • up
[[../Lesson {{{4}}}|Time]]


  • after
  • before
  • day
  • immediately
  • night
  • now
  • soon
  • then
  • today
  • tomorrow
  • until
  • when
  • yesterday

Clicking on "Show" in the above table displays examples of notions that belong to each of the topics shown.

Typically, a given notion (such as "cat", "father", "hand", "moon", "table", "banana", "friend", "money", "story", "give", "drink", "go", "small", "far", "today"...) is expressed by a word in the language, but that is not a foregone conclusion, and conceptually notions must not be confused with words. Some notions are expressed by grammatical forms, some by compounds or paraphrases, some not at all (not all languages have a special word for "countryside", "knuckle", "friend", "today", "word", "mango", "ketchup", "library", "government", "bank account", "exam", "explain", "interesting", "against", "accidentally" or "away"), and some by several different words or expressions depending on finer distinctions (e.g. there may be different words for "sister", "tooth", "shoe", "town", "person", "cook", "wear", "go"... depending on the type of sister, tooth or shoe, the size of the town, the sex of the person, the manner of cooking, the garment worn, the mode of transport, and so on). A list of notions is not a checklist of "words to be learnt". It is just a reminder of some of the possible meanings that the language learner may need to learn how to express and understand.

A topic-and-notion classification of (part of) the vocabulary for a language course is one useful way of organising the lexicon for a number of reasons:

  • It helps us to check whether the topics that should (according to the course's objectives) be covered by the vocabulary given is or not, and suggest additions to the list.
  • Similarly, it helps us to check whether the appropriate range of notions within a given topic is covered adequately.
  • It suggests and facilitates several good criteria for deciding what vocabulary to teach when, e.g. presenting topically related notions (e.g. "woman" and "man", "big" and "small", etc.) at the same time, or introducing more important topics before less important ones.
  • It provides a more practical checklist to keep control of what vocabulary has or has not been incorporated into the course at a given time than, e.g., a simple alphabetical list.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Lesson design[edit | edit source]

A design for lesson structure in Miskitu Aisas! is presented on the Lesson structure page.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Important note:

From here on, you may find it more useful to study the related pages for each subject before studying the notes on methodology given here.

Choosing model sentences[edit | edit source]

The model sentences are practically the central point of a point because they are probably the first thing the learner will look at on commencing study of the point, and will also probably be referred back to while studying the commentary and perhaps while doing the exercise too.

Some students are likely to be capable of just looking at the model sentences (presumably together with the translations!) and inferring (i.e. "educatedly guessing") the rule(s) with which the point is concerned. For those who can do this, it is a very good way of learning; the comments that follow will then serve as confirmation, or a kind of "testing", of the student's hypothesis. One good thing about this way of learning is that it ensures understanding of the principles being learnt; another is that it is more motivating for very mentally-agile learners. This is to be taken into consideration when creating the model component so as to use examples which make it possible to infer the rule(s) correctly and easily.

Other learners will also lean more heavily on the models than on the comments that sum up the rule(s) because they find it easier to "pick up" things intuitively from examples than to understand and assimilate abstract explanations. So once again, the model sentences need to be constructed in such a way as that they do, indeed, illustrate well the point we want the learner to learn.

And even for learners of yet another kind, those who are good at understanding abstractions and can deduce the language from the rules (these are probably in the minority, but are often well-trained, intellectually bright students), the proverb that "a picture is worth a thousand words" is still applicable, and here the "picture" is of course the example, and the examples are in the model component.

Sometimes it is not enough to give an example that contains the application of the rule in order to make it clear how the rule works, but there also needs to be another example to compare this one with where the rule does not apply: it is by contrasting the two examples that the rule is actually illustrated. In such cases we will generally place the example without the rule first and the one with it second. This procedure can also be thought of as going from known to unknown, an important principle of learning that must be taken into account. Here is an example from Lesson 2:

What do they mean?
  • The book is on the table.
  • The books are on the table.
  • Buk ba tibil ra sa.
  • Buk nani ba tibil ra sa.

Here the point consists in learning the rule that we can make a noun plural in Miskito by placing nani after it. This is not illustrated in the first sentence, which contains no new elements and should therefore immediately be recognised by the alert student. But it is placed here because it is precisely by comparing it with the next example, which does contain nani, that the meaning and function can be seen clearly.

It is also acceptable, and often good practice, to illustrate a pattern using a question-answer pair, where only one of the sentences (most often the answer) contains the target pattern, e.g. (from Lesson 5):

What do they mean?
  • Where does your father sit?.
  • My father sits here.
  • Aisikam anira iwisa?
  • Aisiki nahara iwisa.

where the target item is nahara here (the reader already knows anira? where?).

We don't want to include too many sentences which all show exactly the same thing in the model, because the purpose of the model is to help the learner to grasp the concept clearly, whereas the task of practising the concept is performed by the exercise component just beneath the model. On the other hand, it is probably wise to provide, if possible, between two or three examples of each specific pattern. Giving more than one example allows the learner to first produce a hypothesis (perhaps from the first example) and then test it out (perhaps on the second one) and reconfirm it (on the third). And it gives a second chance to understand something when one example is insufficient.

The total number of model sentences should also not be too high, so that learners can concentrate all their attention, at this point in learning (the "moment of discovery") on a limited amount of material. Therefore, try to keep the overall number of sentences in the model down to reasonable limits, and also don't make the sentences themselves longer, more complicated or more difficult to understand than necessary. We might consider three and twelve the outer limits for the number of sentences; about halfway between these extremes would be good in most cases.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Explaining grammar[edit | edit source]

The first rule about explaining a point of grammar is that you should have a very clear idea of what that point is: what it is that the learner needs to understand at this stage in the learning sequence. This means both not giving superfluous information but also not omitting essential information.

The explanation should be as clear and concise as possible, but also easy to understand. If the subject matter is found to be too complicated to explain clearly in a few lines, this may be a sign that it needs to be divided up into smaller blocks and possibly distributed over more than one lesson.

We should try to avoid over-use of abbreviations, or difficult terminology, or very abstract formulations, all of which may be just as helpful for some learners but may present a daunting obstacle for others who are less developed intellectually or simply unaccustomed to such texts, but who also may look to our course for help learning about the language.

But we also want to avoid overloading our explanations with a fancy, flowery or over-colloquial style of exposition (the latter is actually just another form of pedantry that most readers will find irritating rather than helpful).

For most learners, actually learning the rules of the language is hard work enough. To package the information needed to do so in meaningful, bite-sized portions is to the would-be learner a great service and shows respect for the strenuous effort they may be making by reading your text in the first place. Don't waste their time and distract their attention with unhelpful information or empty talk. For example, don't keep telling them how easy the rules are (they probably won't believe you), or how difficult they are (stop showing off!). Don't keep insisting on how important it is to learn something (you're pressuring them), but don't tell them it doesn't really matter if they don't understand something (if that is true, perhaps you shouldn't be telling them it!). You don't want to be boring, but that doesn't mean you have to try to be funny; after all, the reader is coming to you for language instruction, not to be entertained.

It may be true that learning is fun, but if it is then help them to learn, and leave it to them have the fun.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Composing mini-exercises[edit | edit source]

The "mini-exercises" are built into the basic architecture of this course and should be considered an essential component, since their purpose is to provide learners with an immediate opportunity to try out what they have just learnt - "before they forget it", so to speak. They are meant to be tackled immediately upon looking at the new material (the models and the explanations) both to check whether they have taken it in and to help fix it in their minds by putting it to immediate use. They will help readers to become more familiar with the point being learnt, and therefore better prepared to continue on and study the next point.

As with the model and the commentary, the first requirement for producing a good exercise is to have one's mind clearly focused on what point is being studied. The point of the exercise is to reinforce that point and to permit the learner to find out whether she or he has really learnt it or not.

Different techniques can be used for this, resulting in different exercise types. It is a good thing to vary the exercise types, both in order to make the learning process less tedious and, more importantly still, to make the learner "exercise different brain muscles", as it were - rather as with physical exercise, in fact. Some ideas for exercise types follow (this is not exhaustive!), and one can also benefit from looking at lessons and analysing how the various exercises proposed work and how each helps the learner in different ways.

Ten exercise types
  • Miskito-English translation: You give the Miskito, the learner gives the English.
  • English-Miskito translation: You give the English, the learner gives the Miskito.
  • Sentence transformation: You give a sentence, the learner changes it in the way you specify (e.g. changing singular to plural).
  • Answering questions: You ask questions (in Miskito), the learner answers them (in Miskito).
  • Combining: You give one or more elements of a Miskito sentence (but not the whole sentence), the learner gives the whole sentence combining or manipulating the elements in the way you have specified.
  • Filling in blanks: You give Miskito sentences with a part missing, the learner provides the missing part and completes the sentence.
  • True or false: You give Miskito sentences, the learner says if what they say is right or wrong.
  • Order the words: You give a Miskito sentence with the words in the wrong order, the learner puts them in the right order to form a sentence.
  • Order the sentences: You give a series of Miskito sentences out of order, the learner puts them into the right order to form a coherent text.
  • Think of your own:

Bear in mind that you will only be able to give the right answers (with the implication that other answers are probably wrong) if the exercise is of such a type that each question only has a single correct answer. And remember that the objective here is to "force" the learner to try to apply the point being learnt.

Related pages[edit | edit source]

Vocabulary control[edit | edit source]

Review exercises[edit | edit source]

Layout procedures[edit | edit source]