Increasing Focus While Listening: Synonyms & Word Order

One way to get students’ attention is to say something they don’t quite understand. Granted, you need to have solid rules in place for negotiating meaning, and you can’t just unleash a ton of words students don’t know. However, when used judiciously, messing with the input ever so slightly is a handy, level 10 trick…

Synonyms
I remember the day I said “discipulus” instead of the expected and known cognate “studēns.” Then, after being around other Latin speakers at CANE 2018, I overheard “ita” being used, which influenced how I responded “yes” in class the Monday after. Of course, my own students were expecting “certē,” so they gave a bit of pause, I established meaning, and moved on. That got me thinking.

Much like how spouses tune each other out over time, students begin to ignore the teacher voice as the year goes on. As the main source of input, this becomes a problem for the language teacher. For example, by the end of the year, I had to start a sentence two or three times before students realized I was speaking. Compare that to day 2 during which EVERY word felt new and focus was high!

Based on the “ita” experience, I printed a couple new posters with synonyms in place of very common words and cognates to hold attention a bit more (certē, now ita, or iam, now nunc, or quia, now quod, or persōnae now hominēs, etc.). Even one new word, or word that didn’t appear much in the input was enough to give students pause as they focused on processing the language. This is something I want to do more deliberately, and sooner next year, probably at midterms.

Word Order
About a year ago, Bill VanPatten shared some cool research on word order. The message was basically to NOT avoid non-English-like word order, although I suspect it’s a different matter in sentences of more than 3-4 words.

I vary my use of word order considerably, saying and writing sentences resembling English first for more comprehensibility, and then using different orders (sometimes immediately following the easier-to-process English-like order!) to continue the processing of input. The result is a lot of exposure to how Latin works instead of thinking in terms of a fixed word order pattern that’s different from English. It’s true that a lot of Latin is written following a non-English-like pattern. However, Latin is flexible. Its endings hold meaning, not word order, even if it tends to be written in a particular one. The famed “hunt for the verb at the end” is one drawback to focusing too much on this pattern!

So, I started noticing how using the least English-like word order requires students to focus a tad bit more, which is just enough to sustain focus with so much comprehension in the input. You could think of this as a challenge, but that’s a slippery slope. This, as well as the use of synonyms, are more management (MGMT) strategies to keep students focused while listening to Latin.

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