This blog post is based on the guide to Phase 4 produced by Greg & Angela Thomson, which is available in full here.
My previous blog post gave a very general overview of the Growing Participator Approach, and its relation to our own Long course. This post follows that up with a (relatively) brief description of Phase 4.
Phase 4 is the “Deep Life Sharing” phase. This is when we move away from simple stories, or stories we have in common, and move deeper into the worldview of Afghan culture. That’s not to say that you haven’t been doing that since you finished the Long Course—we all have—but Phase 4 offers some very powerful tools for doing it in your language lessons.
Phase 4 consists of the three activities described below. You’ll notice that these are similar kinds of activities to what you did in the later stages of the Long Course. The fundamental activity is massaging a text. It’s really, really important for you to understand how to do that, so if it’s been a while since you took the Long Course, please review this guide to massaging a text.
You’re intended to use these activities to fill up 500 hours of lessons. That works out to about three years of language study time at three hours/week, or much less if you take the option for concentrated language study.
The Life Story Activity
This activity begins when you ask a local friend to tell you his/her life story, as you record it. You could begin with a teacher, but it would be better to ask a “normal” friend to help you out. Listen as you make the recording, and listen again on your own. Then take the recording to your language lessons and massage the text.
Even after understanding the words and the grammar, there will be elements of the story you don’t understand. Some things will have gone without saying; other things will be conspicuous by their absence. After massaging the text, go back to your story-telling friend and ask some more questions. Record the answers, and then take those texts back to your language lessons and massage those texts as well.
As a way to bring closure to this experience, summarize the storyteller’s life story, and retell the story to the person in his/her own words. This is speaking practice, and it’s also a way to validate and affirm the storyteller.
You’re going to learn a lot about culture simply from what is included in these stories. You should expect that life events that would require a lot of explanation in a Western story (e.g., leaving school after grade three, getting engaged) may not be remarkable in the Afghan context; conversely, events that seem routine to us might be very unusual in an Afghan story (e.g., a decision to leave home, or to move to a new city).
In this activity, you’ll find a person you know somewhat well, and ask him/her to tell you about some part of his/her work. What is a typical day like for a [nʌnwʌj]? For a taxi driver? For a newly married woman? What’s a typical day like in the office where you work? What goes into building a new house? You’ll want to record the question and the answer. For most people, you’ll need to ask some follow-up questions to draw more out of them. Take these back to your language lessons and massage the text.
You can repeat this activity on any scale. You can ask about daily routines. You can ask about big life decisions. Do keep in mind that not every person will be willing and able to speak about every topic, and of course that some topics may be off-limits altogether.
Observing and Describing
This activity requires more of you as a language learner. Your task is to go to a certain place, and to write down notes about what’s going on in as much detail as possible. Is it a store? Who’s coming in, how do they behave, and what do they buy? Is it a park? Who’s there, and what are they doing? And so forth. Once you’ve got your notes, take them to your language lesson and talk with your teacher about what you saw. Have your teacher retell those things to you, with explanations of whatever you saw that you didn’t understand.
Be wise with this activity, because if you do it wrong you’re going to look like a spy. Choose a context that’s so public that you’ll be inconspicuous looking around and writing things down (e.g., a park, a buzkashi match, or a street you can see from your window), or a context where you’re known and trusted (e.g., in a shop where you know the shopkeeper).