Jimmy and Suzie - the sextette puppets in linguistics
Sante Fe, N.M. — Jimmy and Suzie open a wooden trunk and begin to pull out a remarkable assortment of things. ''Here's a desk,'' says Jimmy, producing a desk.
''We need a chair,'' says Susie, and she finds one.
Soon they have assembled the things they need for a school, including pencil, paper, and a book.
Juan, Ana, and Carlos and the other students watch and listen intently. Then they begin to mimic the strings of sounds they hear, the sound systems of English, a new language.
Jimmy and Sluzie are an extraordinary pair of teachers. They are puppets, stars of a 20-unit series of motion pictures. The films are one element of Let's Learn Language (LLL), a system developed by Shirley and Jerry McNally, who believe the best way to teach language is to build on the way children naturally learn to speak - by stringing together sounds into patterns.
The McNallys believe motion pictures come closest to the way we all learned to speak - seeing the action, hearing the sound, and learning to imitate that sound.
In this age of television, LLL takes advantage of children's attraction to visual learning. First the children see and hear the film in their own language. That gives them a chance to identify the concept and to understand what is going on. (It also helps them retain and value their own language, which may be lost if they learn English too quickly.)
Then the children see the same film with an English soundtrack.
At this point, Jimmy and Suzie make their personal appearance in the classroom, real puppets with a real trunk, exactly like those in the film. And the classroom teacher repeats the same patterns of sounds - phrases and sentences but not individual words - that the children heard in the film.
Then it's the children's turn to talk with the puppets, and with each other.
The films average 71/2 minutes in length, each based on the one before it; each introducing specific language patterns while reinforcing patterns from earlier units.
For instance, the first film ''What's Your Name?'' presents simple greetings and the concepts of naming things and describing them. The concepts as well as the vocabulary build on each other as the series progresses through visits to a food market, a library, a zoo, a farm, and finally a real adventure in an airplane.
Students see a film at least five times, not even aware of the continual repetition within each film. And of course the model is always constant - Jimmy's and Suzie's accent and inflection are invariable.
As the program progresses, there are plenty of chances to go back and see the early films again. At that point the children are able to pick up even more from it than they did in the beginning, and that shows them how much they've progressed, makes them feel successful, and motivates them to keep on learning.
Children respond to Jimmy and Suzie as people. Puppets, their creator believes, provide the ideal medium for developing communication because the puppets relate directly to the students - and the students relate to them.
Besides the films and the puppets there are 20 coordinated books, large-print illustrated readers that tell a shortened version of the motion-picture story. The content is based on early childhood and reading readiness concepts.
Although it began as a program for the children of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, Let's Learn Language has since taken off in several directions.
Head Start programs found LLL useful.
Next Jimmy and Suzie learned Portuguese to help the offspring of the thousands of Portuguese-speaking residents of New Bedford, Mass., preserve that language.
The Indians of the Northwest, realizing that the preservation of their culture is dependent on the preservation of language, called on Jimmy and Suzie to help them learn again their own Native American tongues that had been educated out of them by government teachers insistent upon ''Americanizing'' the Indians.
Then a family of Indochinese boat people arrived in the McNallys' home city of Santa Fe, N.M., and Shirley and Jerry McNally found themselves teaching in their own program, this time working with a whole family and not just the children.
And with that, Jimmy and Suzie added the sixth language to their repetoire.