The wonderful Ukrainian couch surfer that stayed with us for three days was into learning some German, so we did three sessions, one each day. This time I made audio recordings of one of these sessions, so I could listen to them afterwards. I highly recommend this, it helps a lot revisiting a session and see what went well and what could be changed. Also, it’s pretty amazing to hear her speaking in German all the time, because my guiding her with signs of course does not appear in the sound file :) At some point I would model each word, later only signing central words. Maybe I should practice more letting others do the signing, as with me signing all the time it sometimes felt that her role was too passive, which likely has a negative impact on Alive!.
We went pretty quickly from What? and Who? to Where?. Because Russian and Ukrainian both have a pretty complicated system of word endings depending on case, she was not taken aback by this like some speakers of “easier” languages are. It became hard when after Where?, I introduced “If/Then”, and shortly before that “now”. This drove us deep into the morass of German word positions. For example, you can add “Jetzt” to “Ich habe deinen Stein” in three ways: “Ich habe deinen Stein jetzt” or “Ich habe jetzt deinen Stein”; but if you use it at the beginning, it becomes “Jetzt habe ich deinen Stein” (even more fun with “wenn ich deinen Stein habe“). I know some Russians that speak German, and many of them say “Jetzt ich habe deinen Stein” even after many years of speaking German, and it was really great to see her getting used to speaking German without the typical Russian mistakes very quickly. While mumbling is in some cases useful, in these cases I really concentrate on letting not a single wrong position or wrong word ending through, because I’ve tried to get rid of this in German speakers that have the wrong way deeply ingrained that it would become a huge undertaking to re-train them. I tended to stop her in mid sentence when she did a wrong ending or position, so she would then say the correct sentence (guided by my signs, I did not speak a lot for quite some stretches of time) immediately. I’m not sure if that is the best way, but as I did it not in a negative way, there was no frustration, just a feeling of letting go of the faulty sentence, and concentrating on the new, correct sentence.
So, introducing “Jetzt” was still fairly manageable. It became a morass when I tried “Wenn/dann”, as in “Wenn du mir deinen schwarzen Stift gibst, dann gebe ich dir meinen roten Stift”. This was just too much, with the changing word endings, and the changing word order all together, but I couldn’t quickly figure out a way to break this down, because either half sentence is not really meaningful. I have no better idea than to sit down and try to find rules of word ordering, and then use a shorter sentence first in which the word order is switched in this way.
I abandoned implicit “I/You” in the ASL “give” sign, adding explicit signs for these, to be able to indicate the positions of these words depending on sentence structure. This way I could guide her to “wenn du mir deinen xxx gibst” as opposed to “du gibst mir deinen xxx”. As German has different endings of verbs depending on (among other things) acting person, I still used the directed “give” signs to differentiate between “(ich) gebe (dir)”, “(du) gibst (mir)” and “(er) gibt (mir)”. That I didn’t do that at first led to some confusion.
We did the positions “hinter, vor, auf, unter, neben, zwischen”, which worked pretty well.
When moving on to plurals, I got some more black pens, and a blue pen (which was probably needlessly confusing). I told her (with mime) that the blue one was much more valuable than the blue ones, so we traded for example two black pens for a blue one. But we weren’t established enough in “wenn/dann” (because of the changing positions of words) to confidently move on trading with multiple objects, because the endings of words get even more strange in German (“Wenn du mir deinen blauen Stift gibst, dann gebe ich dir meine zwei schwarzen Stifte“). I tend to be quite aware of the other player’s Full level, but at this point I was pretty confused myself, and could not imagine her to be able to grapple all of this stuff at the same time. The confusing introduction of implicit “ich gebe dir”/”du gibst mir” (instead of just doing the directed “give”-sign for “gebe”/”gibst”, and consequently adding “ich/dir” + “du/mir” signs added to the confusion. I am also not sure if I should use different signs for “ich” and “mir”, and “du” and “dir”.
What I did do was use different signs for “ein/einen/…” and “der/den/…”. The latter was indicated by the “D” sign (with the hand tilted towards the viewer so that it is clearly distinguishable from the “a” sign). This helped a lot.