Evan Gardner assessing Robyn Giffen's chinuk fluencyIf you’ve been following the WAYK blog for the past year you know that while I was interning last summer Evan, Susanna, and Sky taught Casey and I chinuk wawa and we shared our progress over the summer through our “language adventure” posts. Even though I don’t have Casey learning with me this summer and the other interns haven’t started learning chinuk this summer, I thought it would be a good idea to re-start the chinuk blog to share my experience and insights about language learning.

Robyn's Chinuk Wawa TrackingOver the summer of 2015 I accumulated just over 18 hours of immersion time in chinuk wawa. And by “just over 18 hours” I mean it was precisely 18 hours and 23 minutes, which I know because I meticulously tracked and recorded using TQ: Stopwatch. Since departing St. Paul last August I’ve had no opportunities to speak and as a result, the first time I said anything in chinuk again was after I arrived in Atka, Alaska on May 29, 2016 for my second internship, so it’s been a little more than 9 months since I used it.

Last summer Evan and Sky gave Casey and I each an ACTFL-style Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in chinuk after we had logged 10 hours of immersion time to check how our fluency was progressing. You’d have to ask Evan to be sure, but I think we both did pretty okay on that assessment. So before Evan began teaching me again this summer, he wanted to do a pre-assessment to check what I remembered and see what my fluency level was. Aside from reading through my hunting book, I had no review before the OPI that Evan administered to me. The one phrase that I did quite intentionally review was how to say I don’t know, and it certainly came in handy! However, I think Evan and I were both pleasantly surprised by how much I was able to recall in that interview. Although it was quite intimidating to return to my language learning adventure with an assessment, it was really helpful to see what I knew and what gaps needed to be filled in. For instance, even though I cooked many meals with Evan and Casey speaking chinuk last summer, I didn’t remember how to talk about any food that I liked to eat or to cook. In fact, I barely recognized the word for food! Put that on the list to review!

Immediately after my first OPI this summer (2.1) Susanna and I spent half an hour in immersion reviewing chinuk and after just that quick refresher my fluency level jumped significantly. And I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better. Conveniently, Evan gave me the same OPI one day later to demonstrate what an OPI looks like for the ATKA Summer Intensive team and it was dramatically different. I thought my OPI 2.1 had been decent, but in comparison to my second OPI 2.2, just one day and 30 minutes of review later, it’s clear how terrible OPI 2.1 actually was. In Evan’s words, “it was like you had been hit over the head with a hammer”. A perfect metaphor.

In my first OPI of the summer (2.1) I could barely track what was going on. I heard some words and phrases that I recognized but I couldn’t follow the line of questioning. Generally speaking I was only able to say a few things that related to the topic I heard, but I’m not sure if I even answered any of the questions that Evan asked, or if I just said something that I think was related. In my second OPI (2.2), however, I could follow the entire interview. I knew what basically every question was asking me, even if I couldn’t respond correctly. I was at least able to answer most questions even if only briefly, though for a few I chose to respond in English simply to demonstrate that I knew what was being asked, even though I couldn’t answer in chinuk. Perhaps a useful phrase I could have reviewed for my second OPI (2.2) would have been “I used to know it, but now I forget” or “I don’t know how to say that in chinuk wawa”. Evan says that the difference between my two OPI’s was “night and day”. I’m looking forward to watching the videos of my OPI’s, perhaps later in the summer, when I can really appreciate the difference between the two of them, to see how dramatic the improvement was. I’m also really looking forward to my next chinuk wawa OPI, probably after 10 more hours of immersion time, and seeing how big the improvement is.

I didn’t realize how much I missed both speaking and learning chinuk over the past year until I got the chance to use it again. I’m looking forward to another summer of learning chinuk wawa and honing my language hunting skills! The chinuk wawa language adventure returns!

Post authored by Robyn.

Written by Evan Gardner