Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Hugs!

“What is a free hug?”

    This was the question that was posed to me last week by several students.  They had seen a group of UD students on Main Street carrying signs which read “Free Hugs,” and the ELI students were perplexed as to what exactly a free hug is and why anyone would want one.

     “Is this normal?” one Saudi asked me.  “Do all Americans give free hugs?” queried another.

     What, then, is a “free hug?”  Well, the “free” part of that phrase means that it doesn’t cost anything.  And a hug is a common way that Americans greet each other, show affection for one another, or, in times of sadness, console each other.  If you’re happy to see someone, give them a hug!  If you’ve missed someone, show you care by giving them a hug!  If your best friend is homesick, give her a hug! 
So, in short, a “free hug” is just what it sounds like-- a hug from a stranger with no strings attached.

     But why?  Why take a hug from a stranger?  The “free hugs” movement was started as a form of promoting random acts of kindness.  The idea is that people should do nice things for strangers for no other reason than because it makes the world a happier place.  Juan Mann, the founder of an international day to celebrate free hugs, recalls “... I went out to a party one night and a completely random person came up to me and gave me a hug.  I felt like a king!  It was the greatest thing that ever happened.”  Giving away free hugs is a simple way to bring smiles to people’s faces.

    Since the first official “Free Hug Campaign,” free huggers have been spotted in China, Israel, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Taiwan, Belgium, France, England, India, Uganda, Canada, the United States, Greece, Austria, Portugal, and now... Newark, Delaware!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banannagrams, Blurt, and Scrabble

I think many of us would agree that it may be coming on high time to rechristen the student lounge at the ELI the game room. Or the Bananagrams Room, maybe. Or perhaps even the Scrabble Saloon. I'm sure we can vote on it at the next meeting. Whatever we may call it, the fact is unmistakable that word games have become ubiquitous among tutors and students in the lounge these days--and not merely as filler for ELI down hours. Instead they've become an important part of tutor-student interaction and vocabulary building.

"Horseradish," for example. "What does 'horseradish' mean?" a student may ask in perplexity at the appearance of that particular condiment (well, the word for it at any rate) on the bananagrams table. "Well," the tutor might answer, "Well, I'm not really sure. But I know I spelled it right." For a moment there is silence and somebody shuffles the pages of the dictionary. Then another student, one who lives in a home-stay with a peculiar fondness for German mustardry says, "I know, I know. It's a kind of mayonnaise. You put it in a Bloody Mary." Mayonnaise? Bloody Mary?

This kind of conversation, which is quite common during ELI game-time, illustrates the kind of discursive learning that word-games encourage. When we read something--an article, a book, a blog-post--the mind often goes straight to the general meaning ignoring the suggestions and polarities of the individual words. It is this tendency to focus on the big picture that allows us to skim long passages of text. Word-games, however, force the mind to focus on isolated words. This process, particularly when accompanied by debate and discussion about the meaning of the words, can help enrich vocabulary and increase our awareness and comfort-level with unfamiliar language.

Word-games, of course, also have the advantage of making studying vocabulary a good time--albeit perhaps stirred by the occasional inter-student, inter-tutor, or student-tutor rivalry. For those unfamiliar with the kinds of games popular at the ELI, banagrams is a form of scrabble in which players attempt to form words up and down in linked rows. The game is unique in that players have their own individual space to make their own words instead of using a shared scrabble board. It also employs a host of useful banana-related vocabulary (peel, split). Blurt is a kind of name-the-word game in which one player reads a definition and other players attempt to guess the word. The first player to "blurt" out the correct word gets to advance his game-piece around the board.

So, next time you're up for doing some vocabulary work, grab a chair and stop on by the student lounge. Or the Banana-Bar. Or the know, that word.