Top Secret

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February 7, 2011

I can't tell you much about the experience. I signed a paper swearing me to secrecy, and allowing them to use anything I said.

Maybe it's one of the most top secret organizations in Harrisonburg?

It's called "Rosetta Stone."

If you haven't heard of the company, they create computer-based language learning programs that they sell to anyone willing to learn.

I was asked to meet as a consultant on their project related to Korean learners of English. It was a fascinating experience to go inside and see the inner workings of their programs. A lot of thought obviously goes in to marketing, effective language learning, and making the best product with all the technology available. There is no limit to creativity here!

I and a Korean learner of English met with a group of 15 or so, and they asked us questions about our experiences with language learning and teaching. It was fun to have my knowledge and experiences validated that way. Yet, it was difficult to make generalizations about my years of teaching such diverse individuals. How can I say, "THIS" is what worked?

After seeing a great demo of their program and all the amazing ideas put into a form that someone can work at on the computer, I was impressed. They've probably developed the best of language learning for that particular format - an individual in front of a computer.

But there was something missing. I thought about my experiences with language learning and teaching and realized that all of the best moments, the learning revelations and break-throughs, the times that meant the most, had to do with the people I communicated with and our relationships. Through language learning, we had begun to know one another more deeply and to share our lives with each other. The experiences and memories surrounding the language are as much a part of the learning experience as the words and expressions. It's a connection that cannot be accomplished intentionally, let alone in a computer product designed for all learners.

Something happens when people hear and speak each others' languages, particularly with the spirit of peace and understanding in mind. Certainly, one might know a language fluently and not have it transform them or others. Yet it's hard to resist the ways of "thinking differently" that occur when new language is acquired. Similarities and sameness across human kinds become more clear, as does our common humanity. We begin to see that we are all creations of the same Creator.

So I feel free with signing the document which allows them to use all my ideas as theirs. Hopefully I'll get a mention in the credits! But I'm not worried. As a language educator for peacebuilding, there is no threat from computer programs in taking over my work. Perhaps this kind of language program can even be a start to the kinds of interactions that lead to transformation. Certainly, it seems the company's hope is for building communication and understanding. Their Endangered Language Program also seems like something which employs peacebuilding concepts.

And hey, I'm ready to start on the free product they gave as a thank you. I chose Arabic. Not necessarily because of the program, but to be able to connect more deeply with friends and students I've met already. Through interactions with them, I'm looking forward to being transformed again.

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