Our most recent iteration:

“Where Are Your Keys?” is a collaborative game of high speed language learning, that uses sign language as a bridge for learning a targeted spoken language, along with employing a system of transparent teaching techniques used by both teachers and students to accelerate the learning process. This means we treat everyone as a potential teacher, because everyone who learns a language this way also learns to teach a language this way. This system of teaching techniques can then be applied to all learning endeavors. We essentially teach how to teach and learn anything.

On twitter, Marty Nelson (@martypdx) gave us the most recent piece of fairly consistent feedback we’ve been getting for a while now.

Namely: “How do I briefly explain WAYK to a complete newbie?” (or, in Marty’s case, “can someone briefly explain it to me? I don’t get it.”)

Evan and I have struggled for a while with the problem of “too much knowledge” about the game, and so we’re calling out to everyone who has played: How would you explain this game, quickly and succinctly? What do you wish someone else had said to you about it, to help you better understand it before you played? Does the above elevator speech work? How might you improve, as a newbie to the game?

Written by Evan Gardner


Jay Bazuzi

I run in to the same thing a lot (even though there are very few elevators in my small town).

I say:

“It’s a game for learning languages very quickly. If focuses on fluency [sometimes “speedy ease”] like a native speaker, instead of memorizing long vocabulary lists. I’m using it to learn sign language and Arabic.”

Depending on audience and time, I may add things like:

“The creators are focusing on rescuing endangered languages, where only a few elders still speak it, and they may be reluctant or unable to become teachers. The game lets you extract a language from a fluent speaker without burdening them very much. You can then take what you learn and practice it on your own, and teach it to others around you, and practice in community. You then only have to go back to the elder for refinement. Because the game also teaches the game, these people can spread the game and the language further.”

My particular experience with WAYK is mostly with kids. I can vaguely see a set of techniques that are kid-specific. My first one is _Just Play_: With kids, don’t explain how the game works, or why: just get out some props and play do What’s That?.

The “learn anything” aspect hasn’t really hit me yet. I accept it as true, but I haven’t experienced it. In time…

I think the Open Source feature is less important for the quick description, because it takes longer to really explain that aspect.


I like your elevator- (maybe more of a “sidewalk-“, due to lack of elevators) speech. It seems we’re running into the issue of multiple audiences and applications.

For you, the “learn anything” part is interesting, but I suspect if the game didn’t first deliver a satisfying experience in language acquisition it would feel pretty irrelevant. “Learn anything” only seems applicable when working in non-language-focused fields, such as our work with Agile software developers.

Anyway, thanks for your “speedy ease”. Together let’s make the best elevator speech possible!


How about:

“Where Are Your Keys?” is a systematic approach to group learning that uses easily-remembered sign language to accelerate language acquisition and recall. Through a layered approach that focuses on group competency and fluency, each group member progress quickly because s/he teaches and learns at the same time. Experience shows that it is particularly effective in learning spoken languages, but this dynamic system can be applied to any learning endeavor because students not only learn how to learn, they learn how to teach.


Ooh! I like it. And it clocks at 24 seconds. 🙂 You’ve accented the group competency aspect too!


How about this for a next elevator speech iteration? –

For people who want to converse fluently in new languages _fast_ or teach others to accelerate learning and applying _any_ new skill with speedy ease, “Where Are Your Keys?” is a set of high-speed, skill-building techniques that treats every learner as a potential teacher.

While playing ‘Where Are Your Keys?” participants learn how to acquire fluency in multiple languages and skills quickly in any context, in addition to gaining fluency in the target language — unlike computer or class-room based language programs which plod through one language at a time and rely on memorizing long vocabulary lists.


Yes, this is more in accord with the classic elevator speech;

-which audience?
-what service does it provide that audience?
-how is it unlike similar services?

Jay Bazuzi

One of the funky things about WAYK is that it’s so adaptable.

If you are only fluent in a few techniques, it still works. You just use what you know.

If you know techniques that aren’t suitable to the current situation (e.g. pointing out techniques when playing with kids), WAYK still works. You just use what makes sense here, now.

Maybe today you only have a red pen and you’re alone. Maybe you’re sitting on a stage in a panel discussion, bored out of your mind. You can imagine the props & the signs and still play in your mind. It still works.

At its best, WAYK works in groups, as @Regina points out, but it scales up and down pretty well.

This is a little off topic, but maybe it helps us getting a clearer view of what WAYK *is*.


No, this really helps. You can stress so many different things about the game, just because it differs so fundamentally from almost any other way of learning…I wonder if you need to think modularly in the elevator speech. Stress different parts to different people in the elevator.

Marketers have nightmares about this kind of thing: “WAYK does everything for everyone in completely new and innovative ways that we can’t explain except by playing it.”

It actually violates a lot of the WAYK techniques too, such as “obviously”, “limit”, “sorry charlie”.

I wonder if explaining WAYK comes down to just playing it. I could play it in an elevator, I bet. Not in a comment box on the internet, though. Sigh.

The quest for the elevator speech goes on…

Jay Bazuzi

While I think the modularity / adaptability is really cool, I don’t think it’s important as part of the 30-second introduction. Just like Open Source, it takes time to explain that aspect, and then more time to explain why it matters. Both can come later.

The teacher/student pattern is also important. The teacher and the language expert don’t have to be the same person. The students all act as self-teachers. The students are capable of teaching the game & language to others. It challenges the institution of what we call “school”; it points the way to learning in the real world, from real people, doing real work; it empowers us all to self-direct our learning. Paying large amounts of money for WAYK (compare to Rosetta Stone, for example) doesn’t make sense.

(As an aside: the economy doesn’t like it when we do things without money. It’s a missed opportunity to grow the GDP. There’s an inherent resistance in the system to things that are free, or cost very little. Like Joseph Jenkins’ humanure vs. a $1700 Sunmar Composting Toilet.)


You’ve hit another really unique facet of WAYK, with this teacher/student pattern, and its viral, self-spreading (and therefore in a sense, “free”) nature.

Ironically, to get it started, kick-start momentum, and get people immersed in the game and fluent, in-person training (bringing Evan and I to learning communities) costs a lot more than DVD sets or the like. You and perhaps only a couple other people have shown you can play it from the videos, unfortunately.

But we’ll find a way to make ourselves obsolete as soon as we can, with everyone’s help!


Where Are Your Keys? is the Universal, Viral, Fluency Game. First off, its a game, played in a group, meant to be easy, unintimidating and fun. The object of the game is to learn fluency. Fluency is when the right word or phrase just rolls off your tongue without thinking. Because its a fun game–even though you are, gasp!, learning–you naturally want to share, so the game spreads virally. And the pièce de résistance is that the game is actually a universal learning system–you can use it to learn not just another language but any large body of knowledge and/or skills!


Wow, they just keep getting better.

“Fluency is when the right word or phrase just rolls off your tongue without thinking.” Yeah, totally!


“It’s a game for learning languages very quickly” tells me what it is. (I used to think it was like Pictionary but people were using sign language 🙂 ).

So I’d like to learn French, but I can’t find a link on the site for when that might be offered.

I’m also confused why all these software/agile types are so into this game. Are they trying to communicate with offshore developers?


Hi Marty,

I’ll take on your questions.

If you learn the WAYK techniques, _you_ get to decide when French will be offered. All you do is find one French-speaker willing to play a short game with you…which will feel a lot like having a conversation. e.g., Jay made a Palestinian Arabic class by asking his grandmother to sit down with him – at a time mutually convenient.

The reason that “all us software/agile types” are so into it is that we see how these WAYK techniques translate into a way to help people new to our projects get up to speed in record time, and then continue to learn whatever will help them succeed.

It’s about more than language learning. It’s a way of learning anything…that happened to start with language as the first skill. And the inventor/founder has a primary interest in saving endangered languages.

Does that help? If not, let’s set a time to play the game. I’d be happy to show it to you. Trying it will give you more information than any reading. Just like pair programming.

BTW, I’ll demonstrate it at Agile Open Northwest 2010 in Seattle Feb 9-10. I don’t see your name on the participant list, so I guess you won’t be there. We can find another time.


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