You’ve found a “fluent fool” in your target skill; you dive right in after “fluency”, by picking a common, accessible, “same conversation”, then “start at the beginning” by “copycatting” everything they do.
“Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation” (Mason Cooley).
According to research over the past couple decades, humans (along with some other animals) are soft-wired with mirror neurons. This means that if you see another being doing or feeling something, your brain will fire with the same activity as if you were doing or feeling it yourself.
Author Jeremy Rifkin speaks more extensively about this in the RSAnimate video “the Empathic Civilization”.
If you’re observing a skill or a new situation, having those mirror neurons fire means you are halfway there to being able to perform that skill or navigate that situation yourself. You’ve already experienced it in your brain; you can absorb it further by copy-catting it in your body.
Copy-catting is a physical boost, an accelerator to your mirror neuron activity. Imitation seems to be a fundamentally human activity.
And yet we use the phrase “copy-cat” as an insult, to goad someone to stop their imitation. Is copy-catting a primitive activity, or an insightful, intelligent, empathic one? Perhaps it all depends on context.
Language acquisition is seen as an intellectual activity. If you speak many languages, people will label you “smart”, and if you struggle learning a single second language, you may feel “stupid”.
And yet, if all you did was focus purely on copy-catting a fluent native speaker (what they said, how they said it, in what situations they said it, and their body language), without any extra effort, you would eventually acquire proficiency in their language. This is in fact how languages are learned all the time, and one of the key elements in the success of “immersion” learning: you have no choice but to copy-cat.
What is intelligence? What is imitation? For the purposes of accelerating learning, is it worth differentiating between them?
We begin WAYK language games by telling players “all you have to do is copy-cat; don’t worry about learning or remembering anything.” This usually relaxes new player, even though copy-catting accurately and quickly seems to be a skill that takes some practice!
In this way we can make the bias against imitation work for us. Everyone knows “just” copying is easy, but learning is much harder! Great. Then let’s play a copy-cat game, instead of a learning game.
Because of mirror neurons, we begin with an ability and urge to imitate. In spite of this, when hunting fluency in a new skill, we may copy-cat poorly and hesitatingly. We can choose to improve our ability to copy-cat.
The more you copy-cat with gusto and commitment, the faster you will become fluent in your skill.
Fake it till you make it.
Introducing the technique
Short: “This is a game, and we mark every rule with this hand-sign [technique]. The first rule of the game is “Copy-cat”. Copy my voice, and my signs.”
Long: “You don’t have to remember or learn anything in this game, just “copy-cat”. This is a “copy-cat” game, not a learning game.”
Applying the technique to language acquisition
When hunting fluency in a skill, copy-cat early and often. Copy-catting is your primary route of skill acquisition.
• Copy-cat TQ Fluency by doing whatever your fluent fool does.
• TQ Signing not only encourages you to add a physical, mnemonic element with ASL, but also copying your fluent fool’s body language.
• TQ Overdo It through over-the-top imitation of the fluent speaker, like a celebrity impression.
• TQ Pull-me-through-it by anticipating my need to copy something; TQ Parrot by going first and letting me go second, TQ Sing-a-long Song by performing the skill simultaneously with me, and go TQ Just Behind me to affirm that I spoke correctly.
• TQ Mumble at first; close enough is good enough. Fake it till you make it!
• Remember you are always copycatting a specific TQ Accent; hunt the language of your fluent fool, not an abstract or theoretical standard of perfection. The fluent fool is always right.
But what about…?
“I learn better by just watching.” We hear this sometimes from new players. Of course, the first and best response is: “this is a copy-cat game, not a learning game'”! In our opinion, as game leaders, all human beings will boost their fluency through participatory copy-catting.
However, there can be some good reasons for making space for a player uncomfortable with copy-catting right away, due to fatigue or mistrust.
Also, depending on the culture, some players may actually be offended by the idea of copy-catting along with a game leader in a child-like way. They may associate it with punishment, compulsion, or judgement of their intellectual ability.
• If you have time and space, TQ Set-up TQ The Meadow for players who aren’t TQ Warm/Fed/Rested/Safe/Willing, or who are very TQ Full and need a deep rest from the game.
• Set-up a TQ Lunatic Fringe for players who feel comfortable copy-catting as long as they don’t have to be in the TQ Inner Circle.
• Filter the players you start with; copy-catting is a core driver for acceleration, so focus on playing with people who are TQ Warm/Fed/Rested/Safe/Willing.
• Just TQ You Go First, and don’t worry about whether or not copy-catting will work; because of mirror neurons, new players will quickly pick up the game. They usually can’t help it.