We don’t teach grammar? Oooooh, sure we do…

I’m working on the Teacher’s Guide to Pīsō Ille Poētulus, and thought I’d share exactly what the practice “shelter vocabulary, unshelter grammar” looks like. To begin with, the conventional language teacher has crippling anxiety at the apparent lack of grammar in my classroom, but oooooh is it there, and oooooh is it understandable. The major difference in a comprehension-based communicative classroom like mine, however, is that grammar just isn’t taught explicitly, though pop-up explanations abound (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word have a ‘-t‘ on it?”).

The reason my students don’t need explicit grammar instruction to understand Latin is because a) conscious grammar knowledge isn’t necessary to read Latin (or ANY language), b) internal learner constraints prevent students from noticing grammar features before they are ready, and c) grammar syllabi are sequenced in artificial ways that don’t match the order of what students are ready for. Instead of explicit grammar teaching and the grammar syllabus, students need a net of input, and that net has to be HUGE so that something particular that any given student at any given moment of time is ready to soak up is actually floating around in the input (and not just 3 person singular for 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months, etc.).

Students who read Pīsō are exposed to a broad net of grammar. Oh, and there are some cultural topics in the target language, too. Here’s what you’ll find JUST in Chapter 1—the first 4 pages of Pīsō…

Grammar (as organized in the National Latin Exam (NLE) syllabi)

1st Rōma, poēta, mēnsa, littera, syllabae
2nd nōmen, puer, Vergilius, Rūfus, arma, amphitheātrum, verbum
3rd Pīsō, māter, mīles, pater, frāter, carmen, gladiātor, Aenēis
4th versus

Nominative: subject and predicate puer Rōmānus sum, Pīsō nōn loquitur, Rūfus nōn laetus est
Genitive:       possession versus Vergiliī
Dative:           indirect object mihi nōn placet, Rūfō nōn placet, mātrī nōn placet
                         possession nōmen mihi est, nōmen frātrī est
Accusative:   direct object mē audit, versūs scrībunt, carmina canunt, versum nōn scrīpsī, habetne arma? eum vocat, eum nōn videt
                         extent of time annōs octō nātus sum, nōn nātus sum trēs annōs
Ablative:        object of prepositions ā/ab mēnsā, ad mēnsam, dē poētīs, dē carmine, in urbe, in amphitheātrō
Vocative:       direct address Rūfe

Appositive    vult esse mīlitem
Diminutives poētulus

personal:            ego, mē, mihi, tibi
interrogative:    Cūr, Quid, Quōcum
demonstrative: eum, ille, is

1st/2nd declension Rōmānus, parvus, magnus, bonus, meus, tuus, laetus, prīmus, sōlus, pulcher
noun/adjecetive agreement puer Rōmānus, puer parvus, poēta magnus, puer bonus, versūs pulchrōs, carmina pulchra, versus pulcher, versus meus, versus tuus,  pulchrum verbum, versus prīmus

numbers:            cardinals trēs, octō

Adverbs:             ecce, ergō, iam, nōn, sīcut

Conjunctions:   et, neque…neque…, quia, sed

Enclitics:          -ne, -que

Interrogative Particle: nōnne

1st habitāre, pugnāre, vocāre
2nd salvēre, dēbēre, habēre, vidēre, rīdēre
3rd agere, scrībere, canere
4th audīre

imperative:   present active salvē!
indicative:     present active habitō, dēbet, agunt, scrībunt, canunt, habetne? pugnatne? vocat, videt, scrībō, rīdet
                          perfect active scrīpsī, scrīpsit, audīvistīne?
infinitive:      present active esse, scrībere
irregular:        esse (present est, sum, imperfect erat)
                            velle (present volō, vīs, vult)
                            īre (present it)

deponents     loqueris, loquitur, nātus sum
impersonal    placet, placent

Metrics and Poetic Devices:
scansion and terms associated with dactylic hexameter dactyl, elision, spondee


Culture (as organized in the National Latin Exam (NLE) syllabi)

Geography:  Roman world Rōma

Roman Life: Entertainment gladiatorial combats
                          Military mīles, arma
                          Roman household frāter, māter, pater

History:          Prominent persons from Early Empire Vergilius

Authors:         Epic Vergilius

6 thoughts on “We don’t teach grammar? Oooooh, sure we do…

  1. I love this, too. So in line with my thoughts recently. Watching Latin III/IV students devour Ovid all the while asking me why I’ve been keeping it from them for so long! And, all of their preparation has been via an inductive approach. I am certainly not anywhere as versed as you and Bob in CI, but there are those who like to say we don’t teach grammar. Nice affirmation at this time of year!

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