Why Novellas? Why “Shelter Vocabulary?”

The new Latin novellas, first published in September of 2015, have been written with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary so the novice student can read Latin confidently after knowing as few as 40 words! This sheltering provides frequent exposure to Latin’s core vocabulary—even more so than textbook narratives, or unadapted ancient texts that seldom repeat words. Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas provide high-frequency repetition for the novice student.

High-frequency repetition is important when it comes to the quantity of Latin read—and understood—and students need exposure to a lot of that in order to build mental representation of the language so they read it fluently (i.e. ease + speed), and perhaps most importantly, confidently.

As of right now (but not for long)Rūfus et arma ātra is the most extreme example of sheltering vocabulary at just 40 unique words, yet students end up reading 1440 total words by the end of the novella. This is no small sum. In comparison, students don’t read that much Latin until after Chapter 10 of Ecce Romani (~1350 total words), the popular textbook. Chapter 10!? Furthermore, in order to read all of that Latin with ease (i.e. 95-98% comprehensibility), students must be accountable for over 5x the vocabulary (i.e. more than 200 by Ch. 10!) found in Rūfus, and grammar is unnaturally restricted in the textbook. Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas provide a considerable amount of understandable Latin for students to read.

Still, some are wary of high quantities of Latin, instead favoring high quality, yet there seems to be some confusion between high quality and complexity. If no simple Latin exists that novice students can read, the complex Latin that does exist—with its high Latīnitās—is of little value to them. That Latin is incomprehensible, and incomprehensible input is unreadable. This is not rocket science, or even Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Most students just don’t stay enrolled when asked to read something far above their level.

I’ve observed that some cite “fossilization” as the main issue with novellas containing imperfect language models. That would be a legitimate concern, yet listen to this one minute clip of Bill VanPatten on the concept. The implications suggest that reading a massive amount of Latin later on would likely “correct” any non-native-like “errors.” Even Bill’s examples mostly concern language production and pronunciation, and not comprehension. There is no evidence to suggest that listening to, and reading a lot of Latin with non-native-like “errors” will have any significant negative effect. So, yes, download all the Latin podcasts you can find…they will help you build mental representation of Latin, despite any non-native-like “errors!”

There’s plenty of research to be done showing how “fossilization” might impact the language learner. What time has shown, however, requiring no research whatsoever, is that most students, sadly, don’t continue reading massive amounts of Latin, since the input either lacked quantity (re: Ecce), or lacked simplicity (re: complex Latīnitās). The ideal would be to have examples of high Latīnitās simple enough for the novice student, yet no one has found/shared such resources. Even ones deemed “year 1” or “easy Latin” are inappropriately too complex. Our reality is that most Latīnitās-approved texts are appropriate for the intermediate student and above. Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas take into account the novice student. If anyone finds simple Latin texts (i.e. low unique word count, short messages), please share them! Otherwise, novellas might be more aligned with Latīnitās-favoring goals than some think.

So, by reading massive quantities of understandable, simple Latin, students build mental representation that allows them to read piles of complex Latin with high Latīnitās.

Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas are one way to provide that massive quantity of simple Latin.


2 thoughts on “Why Novellas? Why “Shelter Vocabulary?”

  1. Pingback: Writing for the Novice | Magister P.

  2. Pingback: Rūfus lutulentus: Published | Magister P.

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