The valuable agony of Cornish, and how it helped build something bigger…

So, the agony of Cornish.

I’ll be forever grateful to our Cornish friends for asking for our help – because the sheer pain of it forced me to realise two things.

First – the scripts of the methodology did NOT translate.

Second – I could figure out a way to build the methodology that didn’t involve translating scripts.

And the little dialogue stories were what made that second realisation possible.

You see, by the time I’d finished smushing all my different attempts together, and had the new Level 1, I could sort of see in hindsight what the key elements had been.

First and foremost, I’d had to take the little dialogue stories and condense them into what I’ve come to think of as ‘seed sentences’.

So if you have – for example – a dialogue story with 15 or 20 lines in it, you can usually condense that (or 80% or 90% of it) down to about 4 or 5 sentences that include all the words and structures in the dialogue.

Once you’ve done that, if you teach those 4 or 5 sentences in the right way – with plenty of spaced repetition and recombinations – then people become capable of understanding and producing the longer dialogue.

The seed sentences are the heart of it all, now.

Because once you have your seed sentences (and we’re up to about 500 now, so technically way, way more than enough to create at least another couple of levels for our Welsh course, although I don’t think that’s actually needed)…

Um, yup, once you have your seed sentences…

You can translate the sentences… and then, using the words from those translations, build enough model sentences (operating in the target language) to fulfil the methodology requirements…

Then you have a course which has been built through the medium of the new target language – so all the ways in which translating used to break our Cornish lessons just disappear.

There are some extra complications in that process, but this quick overview is very much the beating heart of it.


It works.

We’ve still got more work to do – probably will have for years, because each new stage we reach with it seems to open up new possibilities…

But the Manx course that we’ve built with Culture Vannin is the first SaySomethingin Method course that I had no hand in at all.

There are a couple of things that need fine-tuning about it – we need to cut back on a few of the new words/pairs which have too high a syllable count (‘to watch the football at the weekend’, I’m looking at you!)… but…

SSi Manx works.

Which means our approach for producing courses in multiple languages – and, as a by-product, through the medium of multiple languages – works.

Which is why we’re in some interesting talks with possible publishers now… πŸ™‚

It would never have happened without the initial agony of finding out how hard it was to build SSi Cornish… so it’s particularly pleasing that after a stunningly long wait, we now have the Cornish course rebuilt inside the new system, and our first batch of ‘no input from me’ Cornish lessons are just about to start on the recording process.

I think that’s enough on ‘the story of SSi’ for now – I’ll let you know as and when anything is signed, sealed and delivered on the next chapter – but as of next week, it’s time for me to get back to writing about the different challenges people face on the way to becoming Welsh speakers… πŸ™‚

11 responses to “The valuable agony of Cornish, and how it helped build something bigger…

  1. This is really fascinating. Thanks! As a polyglot who’s learned languages in a few different ways, from strictly schoolwork to “havin’ a chat down pub”, your process and your conclusions are intriguing.

    Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope that one of your next language efforts will be to continue the Dutch course.

  2. Oh, we’ll definitely be up and running with Dutch again soon, or Louis will look sternly at me (and I can’t deal with people looking sternly at me… ;-)).

  3. I’d love to hear more about the agony of Cornish. I was thinking of translating my Cwrs Sylfaenol Ceredigion book to something for learning Welsh through Cornish or vice versa, but it sounds like it would be harder than envisaged at first…

    • There are just so many ways the languages don’t match to each other, which is fatal for our methodology (although maybe not such a problem for more traditional stuff). I could imagine it being more straightforward with a textbook, where you’re not doing the same amount of spaced repetition – although you’ll still run into bits where you need rewriting – off the top of my head, I don’t think there’s any structure in Cornish which works as neatly (and as widely) as… oh, um… what was it… ‘wnes i’, perhaps – so instead of presenting that and then being able to use it with everything, we needed different forms for each verb… we’ve figured out how to deal with that now, but it’s fiddly stuff…

      • You could say “Y hwrug vy…” but in Cornish this wouldn’t be a a neutral way of speaking but particularly emphasising that you *did* do something, a more neutral statement would be “my a wrug…” which has the rather peculiar thing that Cornish does of (for positive statements) using the 3rd person singular for all persons.

  4. If you start saying things like the Y-particle causes 5th state mutation, then it make Cornish sound a bit like quantum field theory, but I promise you it isn’t that bad.

    According to “A Grammar of Modern Cornish” 3rd edition section 303 originally you would have a sentence like “yth yw my a dheber bara” ‘It is I who eat bread;, but the initial “yth yw” was lost, and then emphatic character of this sentence was lost, and became the normal type of affirmative statement

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