tell me the history of instant english
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 oh my!
I began  using icons in the 1980's--at first just for nouns and

In 1990 I discovered WordPerfect and instantly saw a solution to the cut and paste problem. I thought: "Wow! If icons were added to a spell check program, the teacher could just select a word, and clicking a tool, select an icon to pop up over the text."

I bought a SyQuest drive because I couldn't afford a computer. I took the drive to Kinko's, piggy-backed my drive up to the store computer and began to make icons in McPaint. I bought my first computer- a IIci in 1991. I died and went to heaven.

1992: I had been struggling with how to show tense. I didn't want to use a symbol on top of a symbol. On the computer, when a file is not available it appears in gray, So I put a paste-on screen over the icon to make it look "not active". I continued to use artists "dot" screens until I discovered Quark, which could produce a gray background with a simple click. It was a small leap to reversing the foreground /background colors to create a participle. Shading and reversing--singly or in combination--produced all the tenses I needed. It was this that earned the patent.

verbs, then for every part of speech. I drew the icons on the board: long soap operas in icon sentences; stories about emergencies, family conflicts, and all the angst of modern life. Students loved it.

I drew icons in ink and cut and pasted them on lessons. I also created color-coded paper tiles, and magnetic tiles with the icon on one side and the word on the other.




oh my!






the mac
In 1992, I became friends with Bertha Mayorov, a lab tech at Truman College. I showed her my paper lessons and asked her if a computer version was do-able. She was fascinated and and made a simple demo using SuperCard. The first demo had three English and three Russian lessons, but it had no author, so every lesson had to be hard-wired in code. This was not useful to teachers, but it was a big hit in the lab where beginning students tried it out. It was moving to see older, non-literate adults cry with pleasure at their ability to understand an icon sentence and hear it over and over.
A Russian singer made the voice files for the Russian lessons and those lessons were used to show English speakers how it felt to be a second- language learners.
Next was DOS. The editor was crude, there was no way to show past tense and files were a nightmare. Thousands of icon and sound files were all in one directory with 8-letter names.  I had spent the few pesos I had on programmers who had no talent for multimedia concepts. In 1993, I filed for a patent. The lawyers gave up on me, because the project was too doubtful and complex for the small fee I could afford. I went to D.C. and was mentored by the same agent who had rejected the application for five years. Apparently, seeing is believing. I received the patent in 1999. I met Suzie Issacs in 1992. As a CEO of a multimedia publisher for elementary schools, she understood and loved the concept. She continues to be a mentor and advocate for Instant English. In 1993 I incorporated and looked for funds. But everything is harder than it seems at first.
January, 1994--a great gift from JVS!--a young man just two weeks here in the U.S.  Dennis Startsev worked for Apple in the Ukraine. Dennis saw the demo and with his great visual imagination, designed a teacher-friendly, modular suite.

Dennis had a intuitive feel for a visually elegant interface and worked as only a teenager can, --all night long on my new Mac IIci. But then, inevitably, (it was the era), Dennis got busy and the program crawled along between his degree, his

mom's programming career, and hang-gliding with his friends. He married, bought a motorcycle, a home for himself and his mother, and some elegant euro-looking suits. His latest work of art is a beautiful daughter. He is living the American dream.
In 1996, I despaired of finding a business partner. According to monied advisors too numerous to mention, I had no "management team", no "marketing strategy" and no "numbers" (whatever that means). I needed a Windows version, but how to pay for it?  I began to identify with the little red

hen who surely must have
been thinking of
investors.  In 1997, The City College presidents and the Chancellor saw the program and loved it. With the help of Truman president Phoebe Helm, CCC agreed to pay for the Windows version.  

Dennis went to work again with a brand new design. We now had a stable,

completely modular, suite of
applications with many

customizable features. Any user could edit any element, including the menu page.  

A patent was published in 1999. The system is the first to use icon sentences  and an icon grammar to teach a second language.

"Once I saw that Instant English worked, I knew I would have to have an environment to test it, install it, add to it, watch how students used it, train teachers to use it and, and in general just learn how to make it really useful."


At Truman

Spring, 1999. Teachers started using the program in the lab. They were delighted when older students began to speak up in class. Their only demand was for more lessons. President Helm encouraged training on Instant Author, but we learned that few teachers want to tackle the back end of technology.

In 1999, 3 TV stations came to the lab and filmed students using Instant English.
In July, 1999, I became friends with a homeless hacker who hung out in the lab. He added an animated lesson to the webpage and designed the forum. Then one day I went to the parking lot and couldn't find my car. When I got home, my laptop and my friend Alex, were gone, with my car.

In January, 2000, Truman bought laptops and we began to use Instant English in the classroom. For the next two years, grants paid for new e-classes where non readers could begin to learn English using computers all the time, instead of once in a while. The e-classroom is both lab and classroom. It permits an easy flow of activity from group to individual. Student naturally take over the management of the e-classroom. It becomes a kind of studio where projects are always in progress. The best e-classroom draws heavily from Montessori and learning community concepts.
the e-classroom
Environmental controls are far more effective in solving problems than personal authority. For example, trees and plants will raise humidity and reduce static, and will also create an beautiful space which inspires care and respect. Sofas, coffee, and open storage increase student autonomy and time on task, and prevent discipline problems.
Community grows in spaces for small groups, conversation, research and art. Don't crowd tables. Beauty: Learning spaces should reflect elegance, convenience, and comfort. Ambient lighting creates mood. Structure: Visual order maintains a professional environment without the necessity for explicit rules. 
Respect: The learner is not second-guessed. We assume that the learner's initiatives are legitimate. Hospitality: Materials and amenities are there for and at the discretion of the user. A doffee pot is inviting. Dignity: the generosity of the staff and the natural courtesy of learners provides mutual learning.

women's venture fund
2001 was spent with a team of Chinese programmers to build a web version, but unsuccessfully. Perhaps it was the long-distance communication and the language barrier. Perhaps it was the absence of any money for all the work being done.
In 2002, Lisa Fu, a colleague at Truman, brought us Xun Ding, a young woman studying at UIC, and her friend, Leo Kong. They completed a CD "fix" for Windows 98, ME, 2K and XP. This brought us a new lease on life in the school where computers had been upgraded. The young couple married and are now expecting their first child. Leo started work on the Internet version of the program and so far has completed one, hard-wired lesson that works perfectly on the web.
In 2002, the program got the attention of Archeworks, who gave it a David Award for a design that is disability friendly. In 2003, the Women's Venture Fund, gave Guinan it's Highest Leaf Award, which honors women entrepreneurs.
We need help! Instant English is a set of tools. If teachers around the world can access these tools, we will be able to collect thousands of lessons and have a international curriculum for ESL literacy.   You could help...
  • with other languages. We need a Spanish version! 
  • create lessons from songs, poetry and folk tales. 
  • create new icons for abstract words. …Can anyone think of a good metaphor for "use"? (usable, used, useful, user, useless, unused…) 
  • Please use our Instant Forum and let us know you're out there.
  • Use any of the 5,000 icons on this web site to create your own icon sentences.
thanks! President Phoebe Helm for supporting development, to Therese Turnipseed for supporting use of the program, to Clifton Truman Daniel for getting attention from the media. to Suzie Isaacs, multimedia exec, who has watched and pitched my program for the last 8 years, and to my family and friends who constantly proivde small loans.



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