Tea with BVP (9.1.16): Teachers with Low Proficiency

It’s clear that non-idiomatic language (hopefully not with structural errors) has an effect on the mental representation of a student. It would be silly to deny that. Although Bill VanPatten advocates for teachers to have high proficiency levels in this week’s Tea with BVP, he also mentions that we don’t know for certain what the negative impact of exposure to low-quality input is over different periods of time (e.g. K-12 Spanish vs. 4 years of Latin). Regardless, I think we should be asking this:

Does the negative impact of using non-idiomatic Latin outweigh the benefits of an improved experience and inclusion of ALL students in the Latin classroom?

If the answer is “yes” in a catastrophic way, an extreme suggestion would be that all Latin teachers below X proficiency level should immediately resign, or at least refrain from creating and/or publishing materials for students. These teachers should attend the available immersion events (e.g. conventicula, rusticātiō, Living Latin in NYC, etc.), listen to Nuntiī Latīnī and Quōmodō Dīcitur, read as much Latin that they understand as possible, and then get back on the horse when they’re up to speed. A less-extreme suggestion would be that they should simply not teach Latin communicatively.

If the answer is “no,” or “yes” in a non-catastrophic way, then the teacher should still definitely seek out those same ways to improve proficiency, but perhaps with less urgency. They should certainly keep teaching, and we could certainly use the published materials.

Personally, I feel that ANY mental representation of language is more beneficial than what has been going on with Grammar-Translation, and my hunch is that the negative impact is nowhere near catastrophic. Thus, it’s only a matter of time until the teacher’s proficiency improves to a high level, which means that each year students will be exposed to richer and richer input.

Note how the most effective solutions to improving proficiency become an issue of access—the immersion events aren’t cheap, and not everyone has a local Latin conversation group with highly proficient speakers. Teachers with more money and time have greater access to understandable Latin. Note, also, how the issue of access brings us right back to the classroom. A CI classroom is about extending access to Latin to all students—students typically left out in the grammar game. Realize, too, that most Latin teachers, themselves, have been denied access to communicative proficiency, and are doing what they can to improve it.

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2 thoughts on “Tea with BVP (9.1.16): Teachers with Low Proficiency

  1. Lance, you have articulated some of the current dynamics among Latin teachers with precision. I appreciate that, very much. The rush to “Latinity” as a refrain especially by those who are new to CI, and the implied judgments that certain recently published works don’t measure up to that refrain completely discount the years of experience with CI that many of us have. Your suggestions for attending immersion programs, reading more Latin, listening to Quomodo Dicitur (I’d add the Nuntii Latini as something else to listen to as well) are all good as they likely provide teachers–whatever their proficiency level–comprehensible input which will advance our own proficiencies in Latin. I will add two more thoughts about these.

    1. Immersion experiences, as you have noted, are expensive. They can be helpful, and they can be very intimidating. I long for a new model, and I’ve suggested this to various leaders in the immersion camp movement. Let’s create Latin language gatherings that employ all the best practices of CI within the camp itself which would take away almost all of the intimidation factor. Signing a “no Language other than Latin” contract at the beginning, as most of them require, creates this intimidation and prevents best practices. I have specific ideas about this that I am willing to share with anyone who wants to carry on that conversation.

    2. Just recently I was thinking about all the snide remarks and jokes that Latinists make about Loebs editions of various texts. But, that Latin text with facing English page is an easy, fairly inexpensive way to give oneself comprehensible input of ANY Latin text you want to immerse yourself into. There might be some better and worse ways to do that, and I’d be willing to explore that more, too.

    Thank you for raising these questions. That should provide us with good reflections and hopefully productive, respectful conversations toward a good end–more Latin for all kinds of learners.

  2. Pingback: Pīsō Ille Poētula: A New Latin Novella | Magister P.

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