9 Years & 90% Uphill Battle: Why I’m Not Choosing To Research Second Language Pedagogy

It’s absurd, really. After nearly a decade as a professional second language educator (i.e., employed AND trained as one, because those don’t always come in tandem), I can say that the opposition has been steep. No need to get into the weeds about Terrible Work Experience X, or Shockingly Obtuse Administrator Y, or even Internet Troll Z whose job seemed to be disagreeing with everyone about A) how languages are acquired, B) why acquisition-focused practices are the most equitable and effective way to teach second languages in public school, C) that you cannot update content without updating pedagogy and still call yourself a social justice advocate who promotes intercultural competence, and D) how all of the above apply to Latin.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but over the past nine years I’ve learned some of the best pedagogical practices that have existed for decades. These practices have been discovered and discussed by those whose job it’s been to ask difficult questions, gather data, interpret evidence, and whenever possible, draw conclusions. Many of those conclusions have a strong consensus, and some of them are all but fact. Sure, there are traditionally held beliefs with a MASSIVE following, but those beliefs are held by people not asking questions. If those people were asking questions, what they’d find wouldn’t confirm their beliefs. I’m not interested in learning from the people not asking questions. Instead, I’ve observed the people who do ask questions, absorbed some of their findings, and learned some of the most practical applications of second language acquisition (SLA) research before implementing them in the classroom.

I‘m not looking for any kind of medal.

I’m just sitting here nearing the end of year 9 realizing that so many classroom teachers and scholars have had so much resistance to basic understandings and foundational concepts. These understandings and concepts could otherwise ground the profession in solid principles that improve teaching and learning for all. N.B. is that a jussive, potential, or optative (possible or contrary to fact?) use of the subjunctive? It’s a shame, really. This resistance—nasty at times—was omnipresent prior to, during, and still after I learned the most profound truths—and near-truths yet to be disproven—about humans and language acquisition. While that resistance slowed over the years, it really hasn’t gone away. Even in the most fortified Facebook group with explicit rules about what ‘s considered “given,” there’s always someone who creeps up with “but…” and then it’s the same conversation all over again:

“No, that’s not actually true.”
“We’re talking about different things.”
“That’s not the definition used in the literature.”
“There’s no proof of that.”
“Your teaching context is different from the one we’re talking about.”

So, when it came time to narrow my research area, I didn’t even give second language a second thought. Or a first, or third for that matter. It simply wasn’t on my mind. After just nine years, I see where things are going. I’ve experienced the broken record over and over already, and have no interest in keeping it on the turntable. In a nutshell, this is how things will play out, especially with Latin:

  • Some Latin teachers will argue that students should produce language, and that input is not enough.
    They’ll be wrong, or marginally correct.
  • Some Latin teachers will argue that students should learn grammar rules.
    They’ll be wrong, or marginally correct.
  • Some Latin teachers will argue that students should mostly read unadapted texts, etc.
    They’ll be wrong, or marginally correct.
  • Some Latin teachers will argue that students presented with anything other than native-like language will be negatively impacted in the future.
    They will be wrong, or marginally correct.

If the conversations had more interesting outcomes, or outcomes that improved teaching and learning, that’d be one thing. Yet for all the banter I’ve experienced in the last almost-decade, I can’t say I’m convinced. That makes a career in second language research with a focus on Latin utterly unappealing to the point where I didn’t even consider it. Well, I just did, and hard pass. Props to those who still intend to go down this road, though. Your work might get picked up by ACTFL in a century or so (ooof, true not true sorry not sorry but had to say it #provemewrong).

3 thoughts on “9 Years & 90% Uphill Battle: Why I’m Not Choosing To Research Second Language Pedagogy

  1. non dare possum quod non habeo, Magister–the problem, for me (and I imagine, when it comes down to it, for so many traditionally trained teachers), is that we don’t feel comfortable speaking in Latin. I would love to become truly competent in the Latin required to do this well (I learned Italian in under a year through total immersion and studying in Rome) and am wondering where I could find the practice to make this possible.

    • There are several conventicula held throughout the year. While I don’t suggest K-12 teachers run home to apply what’s done in those contexts (because our students don’t have the same prior knowledge we do), traditionally-trained teachers do need to seek out their own PD, the word I often hear is “to activate” one’s knowledge of Latin. Although they’re two different data systems, I understand what is meant by that.

      So, get to a conventiculum, and listen to Latin podcasts. Start by just reading Latin aloud in your classroom, and using memorized phrases. Over time you’ll be speaking without thinking.

      • Thanks for the tips–it makes sense that what’s good for students (input,input, input) is good for teachers too.

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