This course is (perhaps) somewhat special, in terms of goals, in that, in my conception (ARK), these actually go beyond the straightforward aim of producing a Miskito language course. From its inception, I have started working on this course with a broader objective in mind: I want to create a model of language course design that will be applicable to a wide range of implementations in different languages.
Admittedly the field of language course production can be considered a very large one, in which a great deal of groundwork already exists "out there". I do consider myself knowledgeable in many aspects of this field given my background; yet I certainly cannot claim to be the last and only authority on the matter of course. To justify the ambition I have just owned to, therefore, let me attempt to make it a bit more specific, and also more pertinent to the present context.
I think it would be a very good thing if many of the authors (or would-be authors) of Wikibooks language courses (among others?) had access to some sound methodological guidance to help them along the way. I am aware of some attempts already made in this direction, so I don't claim to be the first to think of that, but I think there is a need for more - much more.
That being my first point, my second is that I believe this to be quite possible. With time, I have hopes of being able to make a substantial contribution along such lines myself. Because that is both a large task and one that goes very far beyond the writing of a course in Miskito (or language X), this is not the place to expound my views or proposals in detail on the matter, so I will not try to. For now, suffice it to say that I consider it something on my "To Do" list.
Then why am I not doing it? One reason why is that my vision of a handbook for language course authoring is of a practical material that people find easy to use, and one requisite for that to be possible is that there must be real examples previously in existence of what such a handbook tells its users to do. So, I thought it would be a good idea to start by producing a couple of examples myself, before attempting to explain the hows, whys and wherefores on a more general level.
One way in which this larger context affects the present language course is that I am particularly interested in following a strict methodological line, not only because this will hopefully result in a better product, but also because I want to set an example that others can perhaps some day follow.
For this purpose I have chosen to develop a course in Miskito, a relatively important language (all languages are important, so the operative word is relative) of Central America spoken by some 183,400 people (according to the Wikipedia article Miskito language) along the Atlantic seaboard of Honduras and Nicaragua. Although I have lived in Central America and have worked on indigenous languages of the area, I have not had the opportunity to visit the Miskito area myself, and all the knowledge of the language I have is gleaned from materials on the language written by others, many of which are available to the on-line reader of Wikibooks since they either are, or once were, freely available on the Internet (see Links and bibliography for references). Previously I wrote the Miskito Grammar article on Wikipedia, synthesizing some of the information to be found in such materials. In the sense explained, I view this language course as something of an "experiment", and I thought that Miskito was a good a choice as any for a first try at carrying this experiment out.
Objectives for this courseEdit
Leaving aside the broader aims alluded to above, the practical objective of the forty-ish lessons projected for the present course (of which, at the time of writing, the first two exist) is to provide a basic level of general knowledge of the Miskito language.
For whom? Target users of this course will be people who can read the language it is in (i.e. are literate in English) and are capable of studying a language on their own from this sort of material, which may be described as a fairly traditional "teach-yourself"-style introductory book. It is a known fact that many people cannot learn a language in this way, while some can. For those who can, I hope the course will prove a useful guide.
What sort of "basic level of general knowledge" are we talking about? This is not a communicative language course in the modern sense (just as none of the "teach-yourself"-style books were or are, and I might add, neither are some of the "modern" books that claim on their covers to be so). I would like to state from the start that this course belongs to a very widespread (and respectable) kind of language courses that have their uses but also their limitations, and actually learning to communicate just from a course such as this is, realistically, outside those limitations. What this course will provide is knowledge of the basic workings, the mechanics, of the language as a system. Such knowledge can be valuable indeed to people who need to acquire communicative competence in a language. It can also have a range of other applications for some people who are not actually aiming to learn to communicate in the language.
What do we mean by "Miskito language"? First and foremost, in the case of a course of these characteristics, the language's grammatical structure: how the language works (as a system, one might add). Secondly in order of priority, some of the language's most basic vocabulary. Thirdly, potentially at least, the possibility of accessing texts in the language in order to continue exploring it at the end of the course.
But as in the case of all "teach-yourself" books, it is in the last resort up to the individual reader or user to determine what the aim is and how to make the best use of the material provided as a help towards achieving that aim.