I was thinking in Washington about how we help children acquire words.
Not how we teach them a whole language - just how we give them a few words.
It was because of what Donna Lloyd Jones said about the NAFOW age profile. She was right - it’s not a young crowd. But as I looked around the tables while she was speaking, I could see a different crowd - the people I’d met who were there because they’d learnt some Welsh.
It was a much, much younger crowd.
And I thought - the language isn’t an add-on - it’s how to get people involved in the first place. And it doesn’t go: learn -> fluent -> NAFOW, it goes learn a few words -> NAFOW.
I’ve been thinking about how to teach children for years.
I spent a couple of years volunteering at Angharad’s old school to teach bits of French and Spanish - a huge learning curve.
But all my thinking about teaching Welsh to children has been in the context of Wales.
I’d never wondered how to give children a few words and a spark of interest when there might not be another Welsh speaker for hundreds of miles.
So here’s a new idea - and it’s thanks to NAFOW. There’s no way I’d have had it otherwise.
You tap on a smartphone.
An app opens up.
It’s a dragon - a photo-realistic, CGI dragon. It’s looking at you.
Its eyes widen. It starts to breathe in, threateningly. You say ‘Paid!’ and it deflates slowly.
Or you don’t say ‘Paid!’ in time, and you get fire-balled.
It’s rocking from side to side, digging its claws into the ground.
It’s about to jump at you.
You say ‘Eistedd!’ in time, it flops down, grudgingly.
You don’t, the last thing you see is teeth… game over.
This is the SSi Method with the English taken out, replaced by visual prompts.
It means anyone, from any language, can use it.
And if they find it playful and entertaining, we can take them all the way up to dialogue interaction with the dragon itself.
I don’t know yet if we can go far enough for conversational fluency this way - I haven’t mapped the entire journey out - but I know that we can get to a wide range of conversational interaction, and that would be more than enough to spark a real interest - a real sense of belonging and involvement.
And the more complicated the language gets, and the more development money we can raise, the closer we get to being able to turn the higher levels into a multi-player game, where you need to be able to talk to other dragons - and, eventually, to other Welsh speakers - to co-operate and organise.
In other words, to become small but highly distributed pop-up Welsh speaking communities.
Now, imagine we have an entertaining app that turns people into functional Welsh speakers - or into people with enough Welsh to want to finish the job with SSiW - and that app is globally available, and (IT’S A DRAGON!) globally appealing to children.
Can that take us past the million speakers target?
Could it even turn Welsh into a kind of cult classic global language, with millions of new speakers?
I think it could become self-financing for the development - that players could pay tiny sums of money for things like adding colours or different kinds of skin or larger wings (or super-powers - Angharad says the dragon has to have super-powers!) - while all the actual learning could remain free.
But before we get to that point, we need a demo.
I’ve spoken to one of the front line speech recognition developers at Bangor University - he says this would stretch them, because the ideal lives-on-the-phone speech recognition tech is not yet available as a developer kit - but they’re currently working on exactly that with Mozilla. But they could do a lives-on-the-internet solution for a demo (and, of course, they could inevitably prioritise it a little more if we could make a financial contribution).
I’ve spoken to a nephew of Catrin’s who does animation - he could build an initial demo - we can’t put Ifan’s time into it right now (plus he’s not an animator) without slowing down the next round of beta testing for the SSiBorg, and I don’t want to impose on either Jeff or James until we have cash-flow for it (although I’m hoping very much that they’ll be part of it if we can get it to fly (bwm-tish! ;-)).
So I’m thinking two things.
I’m thinking a Kickstarter/IndieGoGo to try and raise an initial £5k or so - that should get us to a workable demo.
Then I’m thinking a Patreon set-up to allow people to become monthly contributors, plus follow-on Kickstarter campaigns to aim for key milestones. The further we build it out, the more chance of income from users and possible grant support.
Two questions to finish.
What do you think of the idea?
Would you be willing to chip in to a Kickstarter fund-raiser?