How to use this book

[the following is from the introduction to "A Cree Phrase Book"]

This book is intended to help persons who do not speak the Cree language learn to speak some Cree. However, used by itself, this book cannot teach very much. The student should get someone who is a native speaker of Cree to be their teacher. The teacher and this book should form a teaching team.

The book performs the following services:

  1. it organizes the material to be learned in order to make the learning as efficient and easy as possible, and
  2. it offers explanations of Cree grammar.

Neither of these services can be performed by a native speaker of this or any other language without special study or research.

The teacher has the following three duties:

  1. They should pronounce every word and phrase and sentence in a natural way and at a natural speed, for the student to imitate. Students often ask a teacher to "say it slowly." It is all right to help a student in this way as long as they are taught to say the word or phrase at normal speed as soon as they have learned to say it at slow speed.
  2. The teacher should correct the student's mistakes. The teacher should always base their corrections on what seems to them to be natural and proper Cree, even when it seems logical to say something in a different way, even when this book says it in a different way, and even if the teacher has previously said it in a different way. It may sometimes seem illogical to say something the correct way, because languages often require us to say things in illogical or complicated ways. The teacher may sometimes disagree with this book because this book may contain mistakes, and because this book almost certainly contains things that don't belong in the teacher's dialect. The teacher may change their mind about what is the correct way to say something, because a language class is an unnatural way to use a language, and even a native speaker of the language being taught can get confused in that situation.
  3. As soon as the student knows even a little bit of Cree, the teacher should start to speak in Cree to them as often as possible, using the words and phrases that they have studied. In the early stages, of course, this may require the teacher and student to converse in Cree about a lot of uninteresting things, and to say things in Cree that they would never waste time saying in English. It can be very frustrating to adults to have to talk foolishness, but the aim of studying Cree is, of course, to learn Cree, not to make intelligent conversation. Languages are designed to be learned by little children, who are not ready for serious, intelligent speech. The student must learn Cree like a child before they can talk Cree like an adult.

Obviously, the three duties of the teacher cannot be performed by the book, so the teacher is essential for the successful use of the book.

The student's intention is, of course, to learn to speak some Cree. They should bear in mind some of the things learning a language includes.

It is obvious to everyone that the words of different languages are different' therefore learning a language requires learning these words. But many people do not realize that there is more to it than this, because different languages also differ in several less obvious ways. For one thing, the ways in which words are arranged to make sentences also differ in different languages. These new arrangements also have to be learned in a new language. For another thing, many meanings are not represented by whole words at all, but only by sounds or syllables attached to other words. Such sounds and syllables are called affixes. An example of an affix is the s in English dogs, hats, rooms, and stones, which means "more than one" when attached to dog, hat, room, stone, and many other words, but which is a meaningless hiss or buzz when spoken alone. Affixes, their meanings, and their uses differ greatly from language to language, and must be learned anew in a new language.

When an affix is attached to the end of a word it is called a suffix. The s in the examples above is a suffix. Suffixes are written with a preceding hyphen in this book, thus -s 'more than one'. When an affix is attached at the beginning of a word, it is called a prefix. The un in English unexplained, unseen, untidy is a prefix meaning 'not'. Prefixes are written with a following hyphen in this book, thus un- 'not'. Within a word, the hyphen is generally dropped before a suffix, but retained after a prefix, in this book.

The student should memorize every word, phrase, and sentence in this book, for it is much easier to learn to use the affixes and word arrangements of a new language when examples of them are memorized!

The student should note that it is not really possible to teach a language; it is only possible to learn a language. In other words, the student must expend most of the effort; they must strive to remember the Cree words, phrases, and sentences, and they must use them as correctly as they can as often as they can. There is no way for anyone or any machine to put a language into their head without their working hard at it them self. Fortunately, the task is not as formidable as it might be, for the human being is made for speaking, and their brain is designed to learn languages.

Time spent with the teacher should be used to speak and hear Cree. All exercises should be done orally in the teacher's presence so they can correct them immediately before errors are rehearsed an memorized. The student should avoid as much as possible questions about grammar. They use up valuable time in talking about Cree instead of talking Cree, and the teacher probably does not have the conscious knowledge to answer correctly.


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