Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is "Where are your Keys"?

I heard of Where are Your Keys a while back, and it seemed cool, but couldn't understand what it was from the limited materials available at the time. Now we're starting to see some more material, especially video, and it's making more sense to me. I think it's awesome.

I want to write down what I think it is, both to clarify my thoughts and maybe to explain it to others.

Where are Your Keys ("WAYK") is...

...a way to transfer a language from one person to another. It does this very quickly, and in an easy, relaxed way, in contrast with the miserable experience of the classroom.

...a way to transfer language fluency instead of language knowledge. Conventional language learning often begins with rote memorization of vocabulary. Memorizing a large vocabulary will not make you sound like a native speaker; children who are just learning to speak have a small vocabulary but still speak with a comfort and natural ease that is out of reach of students in conventional language classes. By comparison, WAYK builds fluency: the ease and grace of a native speaker.

...a way to teach / learn sign language. Signing has the unique property of working concurrently with speech: you can talk and sign at the same time. Sign is a fundamental part of WAYK.

...a way to teach WAYK. When you play WAYK you are taught the techniques that are being used in the game. You walk away knowing how to play WAYK with others. You can then use it to further disseminate the language skills you have just learned. This is especially important for endangered languages, of course.

...a tool for student or teacher. As a student in WAYK, you aren't being "filled with knowledge" by a teacher; you become your own teacher, and are responsible for your own learning. Hence, a teacher of a language can use WAYK with a group of students, but a student can also use WAYK to learn from a reluctant native speaker. The latter is great for "rescuing" endangered languages of indigenous peoples.

...modular. WAYK is composed of many small techniques, which can be applied one at a time. Each has a memorable name. The first technique is called "Technique": the use of small, individual techniques with memorable names. The first WAYK video is about this very topic: source. Anyone can create new techniques. As WAYK spreads, the collection of techniques grows quickly.

...light on materials. You don't need textbooks or a classroom or a chalk board. They seem to start with 5 objects (red pen, black pen, white rock, dollar bill, and stick) and a table to sit around.

Up until now, Where are your Keys has been spread in person, playing the game face-to-face. This has created a geographic restriction on dissemination of the game. Now the people behind WAYK are working on internet videos to teach the game, so people can learn it without traveling to Portland, OR. They just started; you can watch the progress at

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