Acquisition Rates: Thinking we have control


I made a silly decision at the start of last year. While the expression for “my name is” in Latin comes out as “nōmen mihi est” (lit. name for me is), I really, really wanted to introduce students to adjective agreement early. As such, I chose “nōmen meum est” (lit. name my is). Results? My students still have adjective agreement issues, which is normal, but there’s more. Sadly, they also don’t know “mihi” very well, which is a much more frequent and useful word.

First mistake.

Targeting a grammatical feature at all is silly. As a recovering Grammar-Translationist, this is a tough one. In planning my first few lessons last year, I was further influenced by a textbook I had to use, so I primarily sequenced new vocabulary based on that. The only thing that saved me and my students was also including very high frequency words that appeared in class stories and discussions. The kids know those words really well. Granted, I do see and hear incorrect forms of those words all the time, but that’s totally normal. Producing accurate language is a very delayed process (some native speakers never fully reach it, even after “being educated” about language features).

Second mistake.

We can’t actually control what students acquire. We can certainly control what to present, but there is no guarantee that they will pick it up. Even Bob Patrick had a fourth year student blank on how to say “I am.” As much as I hate to admit it, general education practices quite often don’t apply to learning a second language because other content areas are taught using a language students already know. There is, however, a quote from Understanding by Design ringing in my ears from graduate school that does support this same idea:

“Teaching, on its own, never causes learning.”

Although I had planned to begin working on noun-adjective agreement and taught a fun ice-breaking “Naming Game” (ex. my name is Tom, and I like Turtles) from day 1, the fact that such a concept is late-acquired remained true. I repeated that phrase 100’s of time on the first day. Students also repeated the phrase each time they went around in a circle to repeat what each person had said (ex. his name is Tom, and he likes Turtles. My name is Sarah, and I like Smores. etc.). Well, it didn’t stick, and neither did other adjectives for most of the kids. The kids who rock noun-adjective agreement are ones who pick up new words after only a few repetitions, and ask grammar questions on their own (in order to make Latin understandable in their minds, and out of bizarre enjoyment). There aren’t too many of those.

One thought on “Acquisition Rates: Thinking we have control

  1. Pingback: 2014-2015 Fluency Writes | Magister P.

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