Listen, Write, Illustrate

This week, I tried something new….

I have been ready to move on to a new target structure and with only 4 short weeks left of term 1, I didn’t want to begin anything major. This type of window provides the perfect opportunity to trial an idea and if it works, its a bonus and if it flops, then there’s absolutely no harm done and we can merely chalk it up as experience.

Our stories have usually focused on structures that help us stay in Indonesian when communicating with each other in the classroom. The story this term introduced the phrases, open the door & close the door which are both very handy in summer and winter! ‘buka’ &’tutup’ are useful in themselves too and it wasn’t till we added them to our repertoire, that I discovered just how useful they could be. Another verb that I really need to is ‘get’ (ambil). I often ask students to get a clipboard, a pensil, a penghapus etc. So last week, I set out with that intention.

I began with having the word up on the board and asking students to copy me saying it a million times using a variety of voices. I love doing this and wish I had a greater ability to mimic well known characters! I also love singing the words because this gives me the opportunity to stress syllables slowly and clearly. Students just love opera singing!! Its hilarious watching them doing this! Maybe they get just as much enjoyment from watching me!! Following this is an explaination of  what ‘ambil’ means along with asking for a hand gesture which clearly demonstrates its meaning. I only choose one gesture for the entire school, so I encourage students in each class to demonstrate their suggested gesture repeatedly while I search for the student whose gesture is either identical to or very similar to the initial gesture that I chose during the very first lesson of the week. I then give kudos to the student whose gesture was ‘chosen’ by looking them in the eye and giving them a big smile! It truly makes their day! We then as a whole class practice their gesture while simultaneously  verbalising the structure chorally.

Then instead of circling to chase those repetitions, using either a picture, powerpoint or student, my distributors handed out a pensil, clipboard dan kertas to each student. Then I asked students to lipat (fold) then lipat again (while demonstrating to minimize using English). I could then ask students to ‘buka kertas’ ( open the paper – got a rep of buka in- what a bonus!) and number each quarter. I then gave the instructions while gesturing to clarify my meaning: Bu Cathy berkata dan murid menulis. After clarifying the meaning of menulis (write), I said the sentence, “SpongeBob ambil sprite.” and students wrote it in square nomor satu. I clarified that only the Indonesian must be spelled correctly!! Then  I asked students to menggambar SpongeBob ambil sprite.

I got so many repetitions of ‘ambil’ and students through illustrating each of the 4 sentences truly demonstrated that they understood and comprehended it. It was a fun way of having all students fully focused and on task. They loved it. 

Enjoy the following selection of work from one of the year 5 classes.



Why are Frequency Lists Important For Language Teachers?

A frequency list identifies words that occur most frequently in that particular language in everyday conversations. For most languages, frequency lists are easy to find, yet for Indonesian the first one I found was this one and that was thanks to Penny Coutas. There are many sites that offer lists of common Indonesian words. See here, here (my favourite) and here. Look through their word lists and see if you agree that they are in fact a list of the words that you would use the most when communicating in Indonesian.

Ben Slavic says that a language teachers curriula is a list of words and for me this rings true. No matter what methodology you use to teach a language, your lesson is based around a particular group of words. As the goal of language teachers is to provide opportunities for students to develop conversational fluency, it makes sense for teachers to target the specific vocabulary necessary for this. The frequency lists are thus lists of the most frequently used words that occur naturally and regularly in everyday conversations.

From the list of 200 most common Indonesian words, we wanted to determine the Indonesian ‘Super 7” (credit Terry Waltz). To identify the core vocabulary  necessary to ensure 100% comprehensibility in all classroom conversations. Terry Waltz says of her ‘super 7’ that “if you can get novices to really, really, really own these words, they can figure out how to communicate about quite complex things with just a few words.”

So we decided we wanted to determine the Indonesian ‘top 10’. However I do agree with Penny Coutas about sudah/belum, so therefore I personally suggest that the Indonesian list becomes known as the Top 10 + sudah/belum. Knowing our Top 10 + sudah/belum, helps us determine the path necessary for students to develop and improve their proficiency.

So far, in term 1 we covered suka, pakai, punya, kasi, di and mau while this term our target structures have included revising the above as well as ada & pakai. The idea being that once students have thoroughly acquired the Top 10, we can start introducing more complex  target structures.

Elsewhere on Ben Slavic’s blog, he and other experienced TCI teachers advise that frequency lists are a very good place for novice TCI language teachers and learners to start; they are the ‘beginners curriculum’ (Alisa Shapiro). TCI teachers are in favour of a personalised curriculum – that is a curriculum based around the  interests and needs of students. Engaged students are after all far more enjoyable to teach, so it is a win – win!!

The Top 10 + sudah/belum list is always open for discussion and will be revised over and over as time goes by. No doubt, during the next opportunity to speak in Indonesian, I will hear/use a word that will make me stop and wonder whether it too should be a consideration!!


What are the Top 10 High Frequency Words in Indonesian?

If you had to identify a  list of no more than 10 Indonesian words that are absolutely essential for communicating with anyone in Indonesia, what would they be? 

We have been working on this list all year and hope to complete our first draft of it during the upcoming July school holidays. No doubt the list will be constantly tweaked as we progress along the TCI road. 

My list includes:

  1. punya – to have/own
  2. kasi – to give
  3. suka – like
  4. ada – there is/are
  5. bisa – can
  6. mau – want
  7. pakai – wear/use
  8. ke -to
  9. di – in/at/on
  10. ambil – get

Other words that I believe are also important (although could largely be communicated using body language) include:

  1. sudah/belum
  2. ya/tidak/bukan
  3. sedikit/banyak 

What do you think of the first list? I would love to hear your comments if you are an Indonesian teacher/learner.

Once the top 10 list is finalised, we will next identify the top 100 high frequency words which are pertinent and relevant for beginner Indonesian learners. I believe it is useful to know what these words are because they focus and guide teacher planning. When I look back over the thematic units of work I have done with past students, very few (the 4% ers) can recall much of the vocabulary we covered. Our new catchcry is narrow and deep unlike our previous method for which the catchcry in  hindsight seemed to be: shallow and broad. The top 10 essential words for communication will become the foundation for our current and future students’ aquisition.