Thursday, December 22, 2011

Well, the QTalk book printing costs have been increasing - and now we find they are really going up - by a significant amount. We cannot pass along the entire increase to our customers. Some of the school districts have already set their budgets for the 2012-2013 academic year, and they will not have enough money allocated to purchase a Student Book for each student if we were to try to pass along the entire increase. So we've been trying to look at the big picture. I hope you will help us -- we need to understand whether it makes sense to keep offering these printed Student Books, when schools are looking for ways to get more bang for their bucks across every category of spending.

As it happens, QTalk really does not make any profit from our books; after the costs of development, printing, inventory management, and shipping are taken into account, the books require a great many resources, and we have so many different books, that even with overall high volume, there is no single edition that we sell in high enough volumes to make the bestseller lists in the newspapers (that other dying breed of publication).

We can always keep improving and enhancing a subscription type of product, and we do keep tweaking and adding to our Digital Language System (DLS) products for Smart Board, and we keep adding more and more activities for our Online Games subscribers. But sadly, once the book has been shipped to a school and assigned to a student, it's difficult to make updates. Even when we post errata lists - the inevitable typos, inconsistencies and other gremlins that somehow manage to sneak between the covers of our books from time to time, despite the proofreaders' most attentive efforts - we wonder whether any student is every informed of the corrections which are made to the next edition.

Now, this is interesting because there is a huge buzz going on, about eBooks. Can we imagine a future where reading is really done entirely with these electronic gadgets we must recharge, avoid dropping or spilling onto, and generally take better care of, than most students can be expected to take care of anything, even their most meaningful toys or favorite items of clothing. Perhaps there is a market for a "Tough eBook" similar to those wonderful (and expensive) Toshiba "tough laptops' that can be dropped, stepped on, spilled on, and still work properly. But even these "tough books" could be lost or left at home, or left on the bus, or left behind in a classroom... and then what? Will the school or the parents need to keep buying replacements?

And can it really be, that the experience of leafing through the pages of a cheerful, colorfully illustrated and thoughtfully presented Student workbook, is quickly to become a thing of the past? Has the printed Student Workbook gone into the dustbin of history, along with other charming artifacts of the pre-digital classroom, such as the handwritten essay, or the teacher's olive-green attendance book (why were the covers always that shade of green)?

How rapidly will schools transition fully to eBooks? What are you seeing?

And what should QTalk Publishing do about the increased cost of printing our beautiful, colorful student books? For the short term, we need to swallow the bitter pill and raise prices to avoid losing money on our books, but even so we shall not be passing along the full increased cost of printing, so our profits on the books will be even slimmer. But as a component of our curriculum, and as a support to the QTalk method of language instruction, the Student Book, intended as a consumable, is an important and highly effective tool.

Should every student have their own Student Book? We'd like very much for this to be the case. But in fact, we know many schools are working with budgets that simply are not sufficient, so they stretch and squeeze wherever they can, and indeed are often getting by using the QTalk language instruction tools without the Student Books, and we at QTalk are not so inflexible as to insist that these amazingly wonderful, and increasingly costly books be purchased by every one of our school customers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Check out our online games "FREE TRIAL" , so now anyone can play the sampler games as many times as they like, as long as their Internet-connected device has a browser with Adobe Flash support (meaning all the major browsers for Windows and Mac, but not iPad or iPhone).

The games use Maurice's deeply intuitive visual mnemonics, so anyone can enjoy them and practice vocabulary, even if you are not using the QTalk method in your classroom.

QTalk Free sampler - online language learning games for Spanish, French and Chinese

Is this too sales-y?

Feel free to share this.... When the new games platform launches, we'll add another set of free sampler games that will run on iPads and iPhones.

We know it's repeating content from the prior post but someone said it should have its own topic, so now it does!!

Okay, so we launched our new website - and now we are working on completing the migration of our Online Games to a standards-based platform that will not require Adobe Flash. Why? Because Apple will not support Flash, and we want the schools with iPads to be able to use our games!

Stay tuned for a pre-release promo on the new games subscriptions. Everyone who has an existing subscription will be able to migrate at their own pace - we will not force a cutover to new games if the old ones are working great for you.

In the meantime, we have updated our online games "FREE TRIAL" page, so now anyone can play the sampler games as many times as they like, as long as their Internet-connected device has a browser with Adobe Flash support (meaning all the major browsers for Windows and Mac, but not iPad or iPhone).

The games use Maurice's deeply intuitive visual mnemonics, so anyone can enjoy them and practice vocabulary, even if you are not using the QTalk method in your classroom.

QTalk Free sampler - online language learning games for Spanish, French and Chinese

Wow - how's that for promotion?

Imagine the flashing lights and honking car horns and glitter floating down from the sky.

Seriously, we're excited about this!

Feel free to share this.... When the new games platform launches, we'll add another set of free sampler games that will run on iPads and iPhones.

Other news - Japanese, Korean, Arabic and English (ESL) all nearly complete - look for some pre-release promotions in early 2012.

Enjoy the holidays! We'll try to post a little more frequently because the Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) space is catching on, and the discoveries that make QTalk work, are finally being recognized as critical to the future of education.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Classroom technology - Is "Does it Work?" the right question?

Check out the very interesting article by Trip Gabriel and Matt Richtel in yesterday's New York Times, about the "report card" of technology in K12 education.

When evaluating technology, are people asking the right question, "Does it work?"

Would it be more useful to ask, "What is the proficiency objective?" before deciding how to assess any specific technology's effectiveness?

There seems to be wide agreement that student assessment should consist of more than a numerical score on a standardized test, and teacher assessment should consist of more than an aggregate of students' standardized test scores. So - can textbooks or technology be evaluated based on student test scores alone? Wouldn't it make sense to begin with what the teacher is trying to accomplish in the classroom, and find out how well the textbook and/or technology (or game, or gadget, or teaching tool) actually assists and promotes what the teacher's goals are for the lesson or the class period?

The New York Times article's 130 comments (as of this evening) range from thoughtful to vitriolic. It's a little disconcerting to see the comments that accuse school officials and curriculum publishers of somehow colluding to defraud or hoodwink the taxpaying public. We cannot remember a time when emotions ran this high about education standards, curriculum decisions, and school purchasing/finance strategies.

Our position has always been that technology cannot replace a good teacher, and that the best technology assists and supports the teacher to provide an engaging learning experience for every student. What could be controversial about that?

What do you think? Will we continue to see technology purchases portrayed with suspicion as somehow "replacing" the teacher? Is it fair to assess a technology investment based solely on aggregate standardized student test scores' improvements? Even if technology is not viewed as "replacing the teacher," how can educators avoid creating this impression, when teacher layoffs are taking place even while technology investments are increasing? Is your school facing this kind of situation?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Can you imagine a toddler forming their first words, taking their first steps, laughing with delight at the new experience, suddenly presented with a sixteen-chapter syllabus to "help" them master talking and walking within a prescribed number of classes? It may not be so for other subjects, but when we are teaching language, we are very close to the private worlds of our students. They are vulnerable, and unsure of themselves, especially if they are monolingual and this is their first attempt to think, speak, and understand a new language. The teacher can be the key to a lifetime of language learning or a lifetime of "that's too hard." It's an awesome responsibility.
Teachers can so easily fall into the mindset, "We must cover this material." There are so many pressures that create this kind of thinking. When the student sees that the teacher's main goal is to "cover the material" - sometimes with the added, "We're so far behind, we need to work hard to catch up," then the student automatically becomes defensive. How can the student protect herself or himself from this steamroller teacher who is going to "cover this material" no matter what obstacles may stand in the way? The lessons become rote drills, the test preparation becomes a cramming session. The joy of discovery, of sharing, of connection, is difficult to detect in such a classroom environment. Does this ever work? Do students ever learn the material so diligently "covered"? It must work, because if it did not, no one would even try it. This is also the explanation for spam emails, and for those telemarketing calls that interrupt your family supper with a solicitation for carpet cleaning or a discount at the local portrait photography studio. Of course the success percentage is low, and there is a trail of anger and annoyance left in the wake of such activities, but so what? It works. Or does it? Is there a "middle way"? We invite all teachers to share your thoughts on this topic.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What - and how - should we be teaching world languages? What is the goal of attaining proficiency in a new language? Howard Gardner, in his book "A Disciplined Mind," asks us to think about why any subject or materials is taught to anyone - before we spend all the effort and time to determine proficiency objectives, assessment methods, curriculum, teacher qualifications and student classroom assignments. Gardner's vision is idealistic. He believes the goal of education is to help form the mind and character of students, so that they will be able to meet the challenges of our future society with creativity and confidence. How can language teachers contribute to this capacity? Why not be inspired with idealism? What new roads might our students travel, now that they have the capacity for language learning awakened within them? World literature is filled with stories of characters who learn a new language in a matter of weeks or months, (and in some cases it's just a necessary plot device so that they can get on with the dialogue in the following scenes.) In the James Cameron movie "Avatar" it was essential that our hero speak the language of the aboriginal community. He began with an intention to infiltrate, and ended up becoming a member, and a leader of the community. De Llosa's hero in "The Storyteller" makes a similar journey, and no doubt there are many others. It seems that teaching language is fundamentally different from teaching math, or science, or even the grammar and literature of a student's first language, or the dominant language of the community. When we teach a person to think, speak, read and write in a new language, we give them a unique gift. The inside of their head will never be the same.

Friday, September 23, 2011


When we say the goal of language instruction is to "awaken the language learner within each student," what we really mean is "activate the language acquisition device (LAD) within each student's brain."

It is amazing to think about the enormous impact of Chomksky's ideas on modern linguistics. But even more interesting, Chomsky's ideas about education challenge all of us who teach. We all might get so focused on our own subjects and proficiency objectives, that we can forget about the big picture. Our work as teachers makes an enormous impact on the lives of our students, no matter what subject we teach and no matter how briefly we may be working with them. The most important classroom experience can be a momentary breakthrough, a flash of insight, that a person remembers all their lives.

As we are thinking about how games stimulate learning, a nice recap of Noam Chomsky's theory of learning on the New Foundations website caught our attention.

The annual ACTFL conference in Denver is only six weeks away.

Are you attending this year? With the many budget cuts across the country, we wonder whether teachers will be able to travel.

We noticed that the Denver Art Museum is offering a "China Teacher Workshop" on November 1 and 8, so if you are in the area for a few extra days before or after the conference this might be worth checking out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Games are the enemy of boredom

Boredom. Here is the student, trying to sit still, trying to look only at the teacher or at one's own notes, trying not to be distracted by other students' actions. Annoyed when the class is reviewing material one already knows, or completely at sea when the lesson content makes no sense, and yet if one asks too many questions, the other students will think one is dumb. When will the class period end?

Then -- hooray -- it's time to play a game. Everyone gets out of their desks, moves around, is able to interact and express personality, is allowed to enjoy being human.

Home that evening. What did you do at school today? We played a game.

A year later: Did you learn this material? Yes, we played a game, it went like this. Smiles, remembers, enjoys telling how to play the game. Wants to play it again.

A fun classroom game is not only exciting for teacher and students, it is highly effective for learning!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Assessments and Readiness

How can we help students to realize that their performance on a test, or any assessment, is not a value judgement on their worthiness as a human being, but simply an opportunity to strengthen neural connections? The preparation for an assessment, the anticipation of questions to answer or problems to solve, and then the pleasurable experience of getting the right answer, or the "Awww....!" of getting an incorrect answer (think of the studio audience on those game shows, they groan "Awww....!" but they don't condemn or ridicule).

Assessments should be experienced as a fun part of learning. Athletes know they must track their progress in order to improve. They also know the coach will not put them on the field if they are not ready. With language proficiency, the progress is often obvious to everyone except the learner. What if the teacher were able to wait and deliver the assessment only when they deem the student is ready? So the assessment can give them that perspective -- "Hey, look what I have been able to accomplish! Wow!"

Memorization and fun

At last people are realizing that memorization "by rote" does not work - not for language learning, and probably not for other fields of study. The students who appear to learn "by rote" are actually making a game for themselves, assigning meaning - even if it's just their own private meaning - to the material they are memorizing.

Why not teach all students to make a game out of learning - and give teachers the flexibility and tools to make the game as much fun as possible, and include all the students?

Mind, Brain and Education

Annie Murphy Paul wrote a nice piece in the New York Times called "The Trouble with Homework," in which she notes that written homework may or may not contribute to learning.

Mass market magazine articles and popular books for business executives, students, and self-improvement wonks, have generated enormous awareness of how various learning and memory systems rely on scientific discoveries about how our brains actually work. 

It is good to see that an academic discipline of Mind, Brain and Education is now recognized as a legitimate and important field of research.

Any serious researcher who would like to visit a QTalk classroom or construct a language acquisition study including the QTalk method relying on visual cues, neuromuscular rehearsal, and the QTalk four steps, is invited to contact us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One more note about Chomsky's language module

The QTalk method is aimed at using the simplest technique to achieve this "awakening" effect, getting the dormant "language learner within" (Chomsky's language module in the brain) to WAKE UP! So that before you know it, you produce spontaneous speech! That is, you speak in your new language without thinking, just as you do in your native language.

We know that some people simply don't believe in Chomsky's language module, and that's fine.

What about this:
As a world language instructor you are familiar with the student saying, "I cannot do this," so then there is not the will to make the effort. We want to pre-empt this whole dynamic - just never even let the "I cannot do this" thought occur to the student. They must experience instant success, and this gives the incentive to continue to build on success until they are astonished at their own achievement.

This is Maurice:
“I believe the success of this discovery is aligned with our society’s need for immediate results.
When I first observed language classes, I was surprised that the most basic principles of short and long term memory where not implemented, what a shame to spend an average of 320 hours in Spanish and walk away with a mere ¿Cómo está? or Gracias.”

We are working on our website - soon you will see the reflection of this discussion in our profile and "About Us" pages. We hope you will let us know what you think about this topic.
Noam Chomsky first identified the innate language-learning skill, this magic part of the brain he calls the language module. This neurological marvel allows children to process an enormous amount of random information and naturally store it in place holders (during their sleep mostly), just as if they had created a vast network of cubicles in their mind. Unfortunately, this module gradually goes dormant from the age of 7 as we acquire the main infrastructure of our language.

The challenges is - how can we wake up this dormant language module?

Have you heard of the QTalk method, or have you tried the QTalk method in your classroom? 
What other instructional methods or techniques are able to accomplish this instant awakening of language learning capacity?

At QTalk, we believe that our adult minds are different from children’s but when it comes to learning we discover that children have a lot to teach us. They learn faster because they are not yet handicapped with the reflex of logic, wanting to assign information to different categories.
We're updating our website this month, it's provided a lot of discussion about what we do, and how a teacher needs to awaken the language learner within each student, before the student can become a true speaker of the new language, that is, produce spontaneous, meaningful expression without thinking.
Have you had this experience in your teaching? Are your students able to tap into their "inner language learner" in your classes?

Monday, February 21, 2011

About My Father

My father was such a great man.
I miss him so much. 
He spoke at least a dozen languages.
I remember so well him saying to me, "Maurice, there is nothing that will make you feel more stupid than going to someone's country without being able to speak their language."

Reach the Heart

 This Nelson Mandela quote has continued to inspire me throughout my career: 

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
 If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart."