Ghanafication | In4mashun Tekmologi en teh Peace Corpz



The Celebrate Language Audio Project

Hello all,

It’s been quite some time since I have posted on this blog. A lot has been happening and I haven’t found myself with the time or the inclination to sit down and compile all the shit that’s gone down here into another massively long post that nobody is going to read. Basically, things suck at my school. I am having a miserable time trying to make something meaningful out of my time here (that is, as per my actual “job”). I don’t care to go into the details here, suffice it to say I have spent the balance (nay, the majority) of my time working on something that has essentially nothing to do with my primary Peace Corps assignment. I am calling it The Celebrate Language Audio Project.

The premise is simple: Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a standardized audio course for every language and dialect on Earth? How exciting would it be to travel anywhere in the world and be able to converse in the local language? Well, I certainly think it would be awesome, and that’s why I’ve started working to create a generic set of (at this point) ten lessons that can be translated (loosely enough) into any language. That’s the hypothesis at least. Obviously these lessons do not get into heavy grammatical technicalities and complicated verb tenses. Nor do they cover extensive vocabulary. They do, however, emphasize the basics–the common denominators shared by every spoken vernacular. I do not know of a language on Earth which does not have the equipment to say, “Hello, how are you doing?” or “What is your name?” Every language has a word or phrase that approximates the expression, “Excuse me?” It’s a linguistic necessity! Human interaction requires a sound that politely establishes one’s presence or interest in speaking. It’s part of the protocol of conversation. At least, that’s what I think. Perhaps there is a language out there that is devoid of such things, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

So, the idea is to make a set of lessons emphasizing these polite building blocks and essential linguistic machinery. Then the lessons are translated as organically as possible into a desired language. No direct translating, of course! If direct translation is possible, fine, but the idea of going word for word from one language to another all the time is ridiculous. Languages don’t work that way. What is needed is the most appropriate approximation, a phrase that captures the essence of what is being communicated.

After translating, the lessons have to be recorded with speakers who know the language very well. It’s preferable to use people who have studied the language formally, but, that’s not always possible, (or even the best thing!) All things being equal, someone who speaks clearly and has a command of the language and its mechanics is usually sufficient. Furthermore, both male and female speakers are needed. The timbre of male and female voices are different, and learning a language hearing only one person speak is a recipe for confusion later.

The structure of this project is inspired by existing audio language courses. What I have developed consists of a narrator who guides the listener through the lesson, explaining and introducing words and concepts as they arise, a male speaker, and a female speaker.

When you listen to one of these lessons, you will hear the narrator introduce you to a specific phrase, and then you will hear it spoken. Then you will be asked to repeat several times. As new words and phrases are introduced, you are continually asked to repeat the things you were introduced to earlier. The timing scheme is such that just before you are about to forget something, you are asked again to repeat it. In this way, the information is reinforced, and you will once again remember it, this time for slightly longer. And so on and so on, each lesson builds on the previous, continually reinforcing old concepts while introducing new ones to the point where the basics become instinctual. They come out as reflex responses as opposed to things you spend time to think about.

The motivation for doing this through an audio format is simple as well: Language is something that is most often heard, not read! In fact, for many languages, the act of reading serves to mislead you about how the language actually sounds! As well, many languages in the world are, in fact, entirely oral. They have no orthographies and are maintained only through their constant repetition in day to day conversation.

Anyway, enough talk, I think the project speaks for itself once you see it. Later on I will be posting a more detailed write-up as well as information for general consumption about how YOU (yes, you!) can do one of these yourself! (In fact, that’s more important if this project is to grow beyond just the handful of Ghanaian languages we are piloting right now.)

All of the downloadable MP3s and speaker credits can be found here:

The Celebrate Language Project

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