I shared the following picture of my language library to the “iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching” Facebook group to share how reading novellas has increased my Spanish and French proficiency:


Now, the books circled in red are either mostly-unadapted ancient Latin containing support (i.e. some words defined—in Latin—in the margins), or Latin translations of books unintended for the language learner (e.g. The Hobbit, or Harry Potter). These represent more than half of my current extensive reading options for Latin—the others nearby not circled being 10 novellas with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary published within the last three years. Sheltering vocabulary has had a positive effect on my Spanish and French proficiency, so I got thinking about the effects of reading unsheltered Latin…

Today at the coffee shop, I timed myself reading Spanish, French, and Latin, and then counted the total words. After 5min., I read 131 words of mostly-unadapted ancient Latin, 353 words of sheltered vocabulary French (i.e. written for the language learner), and 458 words of Spanish, also sheltered. There are certainly more unique words I have been exposed to in the Latin, but they seldom repeat in a text, if at all, so I haven’t been soaking them up like I am the French il y a, or Spanish sabe que, etc. In fact, the only Latin word I remember reading today was secūris, or “axe,” and I know that someone killed someone else. Clearly, this is not the kind of reading that was very comprehensible to me, but remains as one of the more “easy” options available, sadly. So, going back to those numbers of Latin and Spanish words read within 5min., it’s obvious that the language I have been studying and trying to read for 12 years—twelve!—is the one for which I’m receiving the least input.

This is disappointing.

Now, out of curiosity, I picked up Brandō Brown canem vult—one of the first recently translated Latin novellas with sheltered vocabulary, though not as limited as others—and read 462 words. That’s nearly as much input as Spanish within 5min.?! Before the implications of this amateur study are lost to criticism, let’s just focus on the fact that I was NOT able to read Spanish a year or two ago, but can do so now after extensive reading. Just imagine if we had as many Latin texts with sheltered vocabulary available to us and our students!

On that topic, there are only a handful of Latin novellas with sheltered vocabulary that exist for Latin at the moment (~12*), and the word count range is broad (i.e. 40 to 400+ sheltered words), but it’s clear to me that if there were more adapted and sheltered Latin texts, I’d be receiving as much comprehensible input as I am in Spanish. Based on what is available to me right now, however, I predict that from reading graded/leveled readers with sheltered vocabulary alone, and without any formal/informal instruction, my Spanish and French proficiency will eclipse my Latin. Alas, I’m being denied CI in my primary second language, and with each persistent call for the use of unadapted ancient texts (i.e. some like to refer to these as “authentic”) over adapted and sheltered ones, I am painfully reminded of that. prō dolor! 

*There are new books being published in Latin, but the extent to which they shelter vocabulary as a deliberate pedagogical practice varies by author. It is unclear to me whether these books are for the beginning language learner,** or perhaps better suited for teachers’ own extensive reading in our pursuit of Latin CI.

**Lest we overestimate how well beginning students can read Latin, here’s a review of Rūfus et arma ātra, a novella with 40 unique words, from another teacher’s Latin II student reading Rūfus in April or May:

“This book was very good. I feel like when we did our army unit this book would’ve been great to read. I knew most of the words, and only had to look up a few, which was nice. The book wasn’t too easy and also wasn’t too hard so it took just the right amount of time to read.”

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