If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.
A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…
- …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
- …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
- …students had to speak and write Latin.
- …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
- …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.
**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**
When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.
Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…
ACL Classical Outlook
This confusion works in reverse, too, such as an assumption that when teachers are talking about providing CI, they’re also talking about speaking Latin all the time, avoiding English, requiring student output, teaching grammar in Latin, etc. This assumption has major implications.
In fact, in the latest issue (Volume 94, Issue 2) of ACL’s Classical Outlook devoted to “active Latin,” the first article begins from a point of confusion. Tom Keeline’s thoughtful article includes common language discussed regarding speaking Latin in the classroom in a movement frequently referred to, albeit far too broadly, as “CI.” That common language includes certain phrases and concepts, such as best practices, inclusive vs. exclusive, and reading vs. decoding, used as evidence in the article of an “all-or-nothing proposition tinged with moral dimensions” (p.57). However, these phrases and concepts are also classified as “active Latin.” That is, the “active Latin” label has been applied to what research-based practitioners speaking Latin in the classroom are talking about. Some very well might identify with that label, but many (most?) don’t. To highlight additional confusion, there’s also an insightful statement on page 60 that falls short of a strong connection to current Second Language Acquisition (SLA) understanding:
“In brief: speaking Latin does not somehow confer on you magical abilities to read ancient Latin texts as easily as you’d read an English newspaper article, or at least it hasn’t done so for me.”
I don’t know of anyone advocating for such a feat, but otherwise, of course speaking will not cause one to acquire and then be able to read Latin easily. That’s what we mean by confusion amidst the use of “active Latin,” and why principles of language learning are important (see below in the next section). To explain the example, we can recognize that the teacher speaking is providing input. So, it’s not the teacher, rather their students who are in a position to read Latin with ease—because they’re listening, and receiving input. That position will get better over time if students continue to understand what is said (i.e. CI, not just I).
This is all to say that readers of the latest Classical Outlook might take away a very different sense of what’s currently going on within the movement of speaking Latin in the classroom using research-based practices, but maybe not. Peter Anderson, Gregory Stringer, and Justin Slocum Bailey all agree that “active Latin” is problematic. N.B. I recommend reading Justin’s article for a look at the similarities across various authors using “active Latin” differently. Then again, Justin cites Wingate’s 2013 Classical World article, a source with nearly identical points of confusion that I’ve summarized above in the bullet list. Were readers led astray, resulting in our observations of confused teacher practices several years later? If so, with the latest Classical Outlook, what do the next several years have in store? The term “active Latin,” if not the sole culprit, has played a large enough role in the confusion already. I suspect that it will continue as people continue using the term, which means it will be years until much enlightenment. But who’s using the term, anyway?
“Active Latin” Elsewhere
As it turns out, “active Latin” isn’t really used much, if at all, outside of university settings and other post-secondary programs, and certainly not outside of the Greek & Latin community (i.e. “active German,” or “active French,” etc. aren’t things). If pre-collegiate teachers are using the term, it’s because they’ve heard it from someone else, etc. (I’m pretty sure I used it once, too). This is important because research-based teachers undergoing a paradigm shift are being influenced by SLA and modern language teaching practices, and there’s no equivalent “active Latin” to be found. Like the proprietary “reading method,” Latin teachers at times just kinda do their own thing, sometimes reinventing or switching out different wheel sizes leading to a wobbling cart that doesn’t make for a smooth ride.
Therefore, I recommend caution when reading or listening to anyone using “active Latin.” I’m not saying they’re a bunch of Jon Snows, rather, that amidst such confusion, caution is a good word. In fact, I’d say that as long as what anyone writes and presents aligns with your principles of language learning, then “active Latin” is just a vestige, and will disappear over time without much impact. Granted, that does require you to establish principles of language learning first, which can get tricky. For example, communicative language teaching (CLT), and comprehension-based communicative language teaching (CCLT) are current approaches. However, if you define “communicative” simply as “speaking,” then the principles upon which to evaluate practices will be flawed (i.e. reading is also a communicative act. As long as there’s a purpose to reading, listening, any writing, and maybe speaking, such as learning something, creating something, or doing something for entertainment, then language is said to be communicative. Speaking is not a requirement, and certainly not by students. The *ONLY* undisputed requirement is input. Beyond that, who knows.).
John Bracey suggested those years ago that instead of “active Latin” we just call it…”Latin.” I agree, but when a distinction does need to be made, such as for papers, presentations, panels, or other P words, I propose the following out of many suitable replacements, which you might have picked up on throughout this post:
Speaking Latin [in the classroom]
“Active Latin” has led some astray into thinking their students *must* speak and do other things…more actively. The way it’s used doesn’t tend to specify the perspective, suggesting that all Latin is active, both on the part of teacher/students. “Speaking Latin,” though, could be used to refer to the way a teacher teaches, not anything the students do. That is, since most of the paradigm shift talked about these days concerns teachers updating their own practices to align with modern research (though still based on 600 year old ideas), it’s appropriate to say that “speaking Latin in the classroom” addresses the biggest difference teachers face.
Yet that biggest difference isn’t necessarily the most important.
Once we disassociate”active Latin” from the false assumption that CI is provided just by speaking more in the classroom, the focus can then turn to how to make that input (I) more understandable (C), not only by speaking but also writing/adapting texts given to students. That would be a more productive endeavor.