[Conversation] with Gold Contributor : Japanese for English Speakers course
A conversation with jkanero, Gold Contributor for the Japanese for English Speakers course.
Jkanero is the lead incubator contributor and forum moderator in Duolingo’s Japanese for English speakers course.
As a postdoctoral research fellow at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, jkanero is working on the L2TOR project http://www.l2tor.eu/, designing a social robot to help children learn a second language.
L: Welcome jkanero. May I also call you Junko ?
J: Yes, of course!
L: In looking at your profile, I notice you joined Duolingo 4 years ago, so back in 2014.
How did you come to know about Duolingo?
J: It was when I spent a year in Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. A friend of mine back home casually mentioned Duolingo to me just because I was at CMU and he thought I might know something about it. I tried the app a little bit but didn't start using it right away.
It wasn’t until I came to Turkey, about 2 years ago that I first started using Duolingo.
I knew no Turkish when I came. Duolingo helped me a lot, and I started to learn more about the app and the Duolingo community.
L: What inspired you to volunteer for Duolingo?
J: I have many friends who study Japanese, not only here in Turkey but also in other countries like the US and Syria where I used to study. When I talked about Duolingo with those friends, so many commented that they were so sad there was no Japanese course in Duolingo.
Some of those friends were very passionate about learning Japanese but did not have resources to do it. I found out that people had been working on the course but it still needed volunteers. I didn't even know volunteers were making Duolingo courses until then! After learning that, it was very quick, I applied to become a course contributor and started to work on it. The process was very easy for me!
L: What was the process of applying to be a contributor in Duolingo like for you ?
J: It just asked me why I wanted to be a contributor and why I was qualified. I wanted to become a contributor because I wanted to help my friends and people all over the world who want to learn.
I am a psychologist and neuroscientist, and my research is all about how humans use and learn language. I also have a lot of experience in teaching language, Japanese, English, and Arabic, so I was pretty confident.
I always wanted to volunteer to help people and the experience I had as a Duolingo contributor got me interested in volunteering to provide language education in other settings. I just know there are so many people who cannot have access to basic needs - food, shelter, but to me perhaps most importantly is education.
L: Oh, so you also volunteer for other communities?
J: Yes, I have been volunteering at a local NGO called Istanbul&I.
L: So why Istanbul&I ?
J: To be honest, I didn't have many choices. Back in college, I studied Arabic back in Aleppo, Syria. Because of the great experience I had there, I have been most passionate about doing something for displaced people from Syria. I moved to Turkey, thinking that physically being in the Middle East would give me more volunteer opportunities. But at first, I really could not find an organization that let me volunteer in my spare time.
I have a full-time job so I cannot volunteer during the day on weekdays, and it needed to be an organization that let me volunteer in evenings and on weekends.
I randomly came to know Istanbul&I at their fundraiser event. It was at a stand-up comedy show, and I just went there to have fun. I didn't even know a volunteer organization was doing it!
L: Great comedy amuses and educates us, and gives us new and better ways to see and think about the world and ourselves.
J: Some of our volunteers/comedians were recently featured in Al-jazeera! I myself did a comedy once for our fundraising event! That was fun, but terrifying, haha.
L: Oh my! You performed in a stand-up comedy show! As I have observed your friend Berna commented on Facebook “Junko is there anything you're not part of?”
And you quipped back : “Good question. Let me know if you think of one because I'm gonna be part of that.”
I am just wondering, what do you do at Istanbul&I?
J: Istanbul&I is a volunteer organization dedicated to social impact for disadvantaged and displaced communities. We do all kinds of volunteer and social inclusion programs, from distribution of food, to providing language practice sessions, to hosting cultural events. In our Language Speaking Club, we also encourage students to use Duolingo and use it in some of our sessions!
L: I see. What attracts you to Istanbul&I, may I ask?
J: What I love most about Istanbul&I is its inclusiveness and diversity! It's a place where anyone who is motivated can do good. Each volunteer uses their talent in their spare time. We have teachers, engineers, journalists, social workers, photographers, lawyers, people from all different kinds of background, from over 65 countries. The diversity makes the community unique and really interesting.
L: We have covered so many topics that I knew nothing of. And have not touched on some of the issues I thought we may have touched on in a conversation with you. I hope we might get to have a chat again in the future.
J: I hope so too!
L: Thank you, as always, for your generous support for this community.
If any of you have additional questions you may like to put to Junko, could you ask them here. Then in a future conversation, we might be able to pose them if time permits. And perhaps if Junko finds time, maybe she may even answer them here.
Thank you Junko for the time that you have contributed in so many ways for the benefit of providing quality language learning for free. Not just in this Duolingo community, but also with Istanbul&I. As an individual that is passionate about quality learning being available for free, I personally hope that if you are curious, you the reader may also check out http://istanbulandi.org/about/ .
Fantastic story! It is very inspiring to hear about your background in languages + teaching, and now your work in science and with this organization, Junko. I am about a year removed from hopefully applying for a graduate Fulbright research grant, so seeing how you married your two passions is very helpful. Thank you for doing this piece with lindakanga, it gives me some ideas for goals of my own. Good luck!
Please also don't forget to ask questions.
Junko is such an amazing person of intellect, passion and also achievement, in a field that I see is critical to the future of people. Being n Education, especially in communication and language and sharing of ideas on a global inclusive basis.
Ah! I did forget to do so in my original post.
I had a question about the details of Junko's research concerning language learning and language usage, and was wondering if she wouldn't mind sharing what she observed. :-]
Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging comment, gamekkeut!! There are so many interesting findings in our field, but one of my favorite things to emphasize is the importance of interactiveness. Infants, children, and adults - all learn language much better when the learning environment is interactive and engaging. What we are trying to explore in our robot project is whether and how a robot, an agent with a physical body, can uniquely contribute to language learning of young children :) I would also love to hear about your research interests!
That's amazing! I certainly agree; I had the chance to learn languages as a child and never did beyond a few words because it was so boring with the methods used. That never improved with school classes. My interests are really varied at the moment, but finding more intuitive ways to teach languages is something I'm interested in. In America, it boils down to either straight immersion, or sitting down with books to learn. I'd like to find a way to bridge the gap. :-]
I'm also interested in researching dyslexia and its effects on language learning. It's a bit difficult with dyslexia not having a standard testing method, and coming in so many variations, but it might be a challenge I'm willing to undertake.
Yes, I conducted most of my research in the US, and I must say that second language education in the US can be improved a lot. Some of my close friends conduct research in dyslexia, and it surely is an interesting topic!
Dr. J! I was so happy to read this!
It is so cool and inspiring getting to know you. You take your love of languages and express it in so many deeply impactful ways. I didn't see a link to your website in tes interview. I hope you don't mind me sharing it here, since it is on your profile. When I first found it, my eyes did this O.O! And, I know that multiple people in our Duo community will be interested in several of your projects. I hope I will get to meet you again. If you are ever in Oregon, give me a heads up. Maybe you can teach me how to cook yummy Japanese and Turkish food, and if you don't already know how to backpack, I'll teach you that. :D
Edit: PS I just saw Istanbul&I's Facebook page. Very cool!
Thank you so much, Usagiboy7! Your support means a lot to me <3 ANd of course not, thanks for sharing my website. I really hope we will meet again. I will definitely let you know when I get to visit Oregon! And yes, cooking Japanese and/or Turkish food would be awesome :D
I love this interview Linda! That's why I always believe that Duolingo is a scientific revolution in language learning, and it needs more scientific support by linguists, educators and ITC experts.
Thank you Stergi3 :D
Duolingo runs its development of how the courses are presented in a quite a scientific way.
Often it is running many varieties of A/B tests, to see which ones are the most effective ways to engage and assist people with learning languages. Basing its decisions of the statistics and metrics that the system produces to decide which variation is the most effective and engaging.
You can see a little bit about this at : https://www.duolingo.com/research and the associated links you will find there.
Also check out https://www.duolingo.com/press , where you will find some other interesting information.
Amazingly, it manages to provide this whole platform, including https://tinycards.duolingo.com/ on a current staff force I recently read as being a bit over 110 people. And that quite unusually for a company such as this, the vast majority of its staff are ITC experts, educators and linguists. With a very small marketing department. Perhaps someone here can help me find at least one article where this is discussed.
And with this staff force, at the time of writing this it provides a whooping 73 languages in full release, 6 in Beta, and 17 in the incubator.
And in that it is constantly updating both the content of the courses, and the way it is presented to learners. And striving to make unique lessons that are engaging and teach language effectively.
Please be aware, I am NOT an employee of Duolingo, but a keen volunteer who is passionate about the power of Education to change the outcome of opportunities for both individuals and for all people, and for the planet. This tiny fragile blue dot in the expanse of space, which is the only blue dot we know of that we can live on. And at a time in human history, where we may be approaching a situation that may result in threatening not just the survival of our species, but we are exterminating other species at an alarming rate.
Now more than ever, for these reasons, seeking and assisting education on a world wide basis for all people to access is critical. Though ideologically I also support fairness of opportunities for all individuals and communities.
Further to that, I also support the key place that our different languages play, not just in respect to our individual identity, to the value of the unique and valuable different identities of the communities we belong to, but also for the unique knowledge and ability to think that is encapsulated in these differences.
With our wealth of history as well as our unique ways to be able to think about the world that is also embedded in these different languages. And all this knowledge, in this globally connected world, including the connection of our economies, is causing the extinction of not just different cultures, but also the languages that are a key part of these communities.
This is also why I especially support the inclusion of endangered languages to also be courses offered by Duolingo.
And if you have knowledge of these languages, and also have the passion to find the resource to assist in preserving and importantly nurturing them, then Duolingo provides a unique opportunity for you to use this platform, even without your language being included in the suite of languages that Duolingo teaches.
It is here - available for you to use and develop those resources for free here. On both the Discussion forums and through https://tinycards.duolingo.com/. Also, Duolingo supports you using other great free resources for the learner to access, such as https://www.memrise.com/ , and to refer and promote those resources in these public Discussion forums. Allowing you to link and embellish your resources.
For those that lament the state of one of the existing languages of the courses offered, I would consider this advice also holds true.
That there is so much you can be doing to create resources. Including improving and embellish resources such as
- Teaching by Topic, and resources to assist the learner in a simple interaction. Such us buying food, visiting the Doctor, going to the pharmacy, hiring a car, catching transport, meeting someone and being able to talk about the weather, or seek advice on activities to do in the area, organizing accommodation, going to the bank, going to the post office, etc.
And then to also link these resources together, assisting learners to be able to locate them. And to also link them together in different ways. Improving referencing.
And this can all be done in this globally accessible environment, so that you can also reach your target audience - people prepared to learn the language you are seeking to support.
And should a slot become available for Duolingo to accept a new language into development within the courses it offers, I am sure if it sees an active community, that is providing these resources and familiar and competent also with the structure of how Duolingo works, and supportive and in compliance with its guidelines, that there is a fair chance that this will be a considerable factor in it making the costly economic and management resources to take a risk and possibly consider to take on this language. Especially, also note, that there is a community of people who are showing also that they are able to work together to create these resources.
Bear in mind - I am NOT an employee or decision maker for Duolingo.
I also had Junko show me this a couple of days ago. It was something she stumbled across I believe. It is up on the internet at:
https://www.duolingomovie.com/ "Something like HOME - trailer"
I can recommend watching it.
It brought tears of joy and hope to me.
edited to add - in anticipation of seeing the movie sometime in the furture :
"Something Like Home is a Duolingo documentary about the impact of language and education on the lives of Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan. Over the years, thousands of people have written to us with stories of learning a new language in order to find a sense of identity, of safety, of home. So we traveled to meet them.
In doing so, we uncovered some common themes: survival, perseverance, humility, grit. These people defy stereotypes, and their stories have the power to forever alter the lens through which we see the world."
Linda, I suggest you change the main title to your subtitle i.e. to
A conversation with jkanero, Gold Contributor for the Japanese for English Speakers course
I nearly didn't click on this post to the forum because "Dynamic Duolingoers" didn't sound very interesting to me. It's vague and sounds like it's just going to be another ra-ra fluff post (instead of an interesting interview with a great contributor). And thanks for doing the interview by the way.
Interesting perspective. I will give it a go with giving it also a "tag" in the style often used here, with putting the word Conversation surrounded by the square brackets. Thank you for this input.
[Conversation] with Gold Contributor : Japanese for English Speakers course
oh wow - now that is an interesting, and worthy challenge.
Can we translate the interview above, into other languages !
What a GREAT idea !
Hi roo! Heads up, you need to change the url you embedded. You wrote: https://istanbulandi.org/about/ But, that will lead people to a warning message, because the website is not an https:// website. Rather, it is http://. If you change that, it should remove the warning people are running into. :)
Thanks for the heads up. You are correct that it only works by using the link "http://"
So I have changed it to that, and left the link address exposed.
You are amazing Junko! :D How can I support your work at Istanbul&I financially, is there a link to a donation page?
I hope you don't mind me hopping by to answer this. Unfortunately, Duolingo does not allow folks to do donation posts or post to donation page links. As a non-profit, they 99% likely have a Facebook page with such information. :)
Hee hee, sorry! I just wanted to make sure to avoid some trouble. Also, I didn't know there was a website. I went looking for one earlier and didn't see it. After I commented that there might be a facebook page, I looked and there it was! Very cool stuff on there. I am very proud to have met you. ^_^
I am usually slow in responding, so I appreciate you got back to the comment right away! The Facebook page has all necessary info too, so that works :) I am so proud to have met you too!!