Cognates & Latinglish: I’m Not Finished.

Gotta love a trilogy, right? This is my final Winter 2023 post on the whole cognate kerfuffle.

One reason Chinese takes native English speakers a LOT longer to acquire than something like Spanish is because Chinese has approximately zero cognates. Terry Waltz has reported that Spanish has about 3,000 words most English speakers can understand without being taught any of them. Languages with more cognates are acquired faster because cognates play a role in the first developmental stage of second language learning. Check out what ACTFL has to say about the novice language learner and cognates:

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Quīntus et īnsula horrifica (the prequel): Published!

Before Quintus and his parents had money and moved into their house, the family lived in a small Roman apartment. Times were simpler back then, but no less spooky! In this tale, Quintus is 100% scared of the dark, but wants to appear brave in front of his parents. To make things worse, Quintus receives paranormal visitors night after night…or does he?

15 cognates, 20 other words
750 total length

This one’s real short, on purpose. I’ve had the most success in class with the shortest books. Since Latin novellas first started popping up, teachers have noted that the whole-class reading experience can drag on for beginners. Therefore, books around and even under 1,000 total words seem best for a quick read at the start of Latin 1. This book is a prequel to Quīntus et nox horrifica. The new book is similar in reading level and scope to our first books read, Mārcus magulus and Olianna et obiectum magicum. It draws vocab from them, too. īnsula horrifica could also act as a stepping stone to the original for students who want to read what is now “the sequel” on their own once independent reading begins.

Beyond that, the content mirrors what has been our comparison of elite Roman villas and common apartments. This is part of our exploration of Roman topics in Latin 1, and this new book provides a backstory to the social mobility Quintus’ family experiences. Lots to talk about. Or not, and just read for entertainment. Also, there will be an audiobook just like the original tale. We’ve got until October for that, though. Stay tuned. Enjoy!

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Flex Time & Google Days

“You teach the kids you have.” I like this nugget of wisdom. It doesn’t matter if previous classes of students did this or that. Everyone must teach the students they have in the room, not anticipated students, or former students. Sometimes what the students in the room don’t know can be surprising, but the only thing that matters is what we do about it. For example, I’ve been perplexed by the lack of digital literacy I’ve been seeing with incoming 9th grade students. Rather than shake my head, pretending that lack of skill isn’t my problem, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to do something even if it has less to nothing to do with Latin. Why? Because I teach the kids I have, and these kids need to be able to navigate Google Classroom, and I’m tired of pretending it’s fine. The plan? Each week, students will have 20 minutes to organize their learning after another 20 minute independent learning session. The latter part isn’t really new, so let’s start with that:

Flex Time
This independent learning time worked out really well last year. I checked my planning doc and saw that between December and June we had Flex Time a total of eight times. I’ve curated the options, most recently removing Quizlet since I find it less useful when not immediately followed by a whole-class Live session before reading the text. New for this year will be to encourage an ongoing project. Is the goal to read as many novellas as possible? Is the goal to work through an entire textbook? Is the goal to learn about a specific Latin-related topic? Instead of bouncing around the Flex Time options every few weeks or so, students will now choose an ongoing option for this new weekly routine every Wed/Thurs. Yes, they can switch if they really want to, just as long as they reflect why (e.g., “I liked the idea of having textbook structure, but I think Caecilius is boring.”).

Google Days
The second half of Wed/Thurs each week gives students time to check feedback and submit learning evidence (Google Classroom) for Latin class. Once done, or if already caught up, the remaining time is for checking school email (Gmail) and responding to other needs, such as correspondence with teachers, and/or completing other class Google Classroom assignments. No, it does not bother me if a student ends up doing 8 minutes of math at the end of Latin. I’m teaching the students I have, and it’s clear that they need something like this. What I will do is make sure this rolls out smoothly. What I won’t do is hang out at my desk and overestimate my student’s independent learning capability. This kind of work with 9th grade requires heavy monitoring, not unlike the first minutes of independent reading. That is, if I think students are going to magically grab a book and be quiet on their own within 10 seconds, I’m fooling myself. Yet every time I take those first moments to ensure the majority of students—yes, majority, because we can’t have it all, all the time, everywhere, all at once—settle into a task, I’m always rewarded with my own quiet time to read, with the occasional look up, make eye contact, and stare down the kid who’s goofing off until they get back to the book. It works. You just have to commit to both: monitor the room, getting kids on task at the start of an activity, and being unwavering with a teacher look at the ready.

So, the second 20 minutes of Wed/Thurs is also for students to add learning evidence, submitting work from the previous week in addition to what they did during Flex Time. For example, they could attach a notebook pic from Mon/Tues annotation task, as well as a statement about something they learned from their Flex Time findings, how much they read of a book, what they were working on, etc.

Cognates & Unranked Caesar/Virgil

Cognates. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, how much Latin are we talking about? When they’re used, do cognates end up comprising most of a book’s Latin? Are we talking half? A quarter? Less? And then what does that mean about the rest of a book? How much of a book’s Latin is being dismissed amongst the cognate concerns? One of the concerns is that cognates weren’t used by Classical authors, the claim being that using infrequent words is a problem, and the conclusion being that cognates are unhelpful for today’s Latin learner. I don’t have this concern or have found evidence to support the claim. Nevertheless, I have been wondering just how much—or little—the concerns constitute, percentage-wise, of a book. I also have been wondering if there were many words Classical authors themselves used that other Classical authors didn’t really use. N.B., I don’t mean hapax, just words that were rarely used by others. Thus, if Classical authors preferred to use rare words, too, that would help illustrate how the current cognate fuss is more about preference than anything else. Let’s see…

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Pedagogical Immunity

Certain learners exist who possess what seems like complete immunity to whatever pedagogy they’re subjected to. College students are a good example. Professors rarely have pedagogical training, which is perhaps the most ironic thing about those in charge of training pre-service primary and secondary teachers, but most college students are able to persist through a lack of solid pedagogy. How? Using their interests, some independent learning skills, and a bit of determination. Polyglots are another good example. They’ll learn many languages under all sorts of conditions that don’t transfer to others, claiming they found “the secret,” yet relatively few who adopt their “methods” report success (except for other…polyglots!). Upon thinking this over, many high school students—and not just those studying a second language—are often pedagogically immune, too. These students manage to pass courses even when teachers have wacky pedagogy with unhelpful practices. Consider the teacher using some pre-fab curriculum with loads of busywork. Students will put up with all that busywork. They might not learn much, but they’ll earn credit, then graduate. In that sense, then, these students made it through. They were immune (though not to learning…which we’ll get to). They just made it past the next level. They…”succeeded.”

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Cognate Concerns? It Must Be January…

This year’s Annual Criticism of Latin, or ACL for short, is about a month early. It’s been the same old gripes with the same old assumptions going back to 2018 or so. Almost every concern rests on the assumptions that a student will continue Latin in college and will be negatively impacted somehow by the decisions modern Latin authors have made. That’s two biggies: continue Latin, and be negatively impacted.

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Independent Reading Lessons

When it comes to the fairly recent phenomenon of independent choice reading for Latin, how do students choose what to read, and what do they do when flipping through the book? These simple lessons get students thinking about why we want them reading level-appropriate books and to understand how important it is to choose ones that feel easy, as well as what we mean by actual reading (vs. some other close reading, skimming, etc.). Most importantly, perhaps, we want to show students the difference between what a translating experience and a reading one is. These two lessons are scalable, but I recommend taking at least 15 minutes.

A) How To Choose A Book (requires novellas with full glossaries)

  1. Students choose 3 random books from the library.
  2. Read/”read” that book, using the glossary for unknown words (~3 minutes).
  3. Count up total words read/”read.”
  4. Repeat with other two books.
  5. Share & Discuss.

Students should have a range of words read (e.g., 20 to 200). Mention that some might have been unlucky enough to have chosen the three highest level books. Obviously, they’re not gonna get as much out of a higher level book. The main thing to point out is that the book each student read the most of should be the kind of one they choose during independent reading. Strategies like “if you have to keep flipping,” or “if it feels too much like work” should send the message to get a book that’s at- or below-level, resulting in optimized input. N.B. get this poster from Eric Herman if you don’t already have it. I constantly point to it during class to show priorities (i.e., 1 = lots of Latin, 2 = must be comprehensible…). Once they get the idea of which kind of reading level will be most helpful, because you still get a lot out of books that are easily read and below-level (see Bill’s tweet below), do another mini lesson on how to read.

B) How To Read (or, Reading vs. Translating)

  1. Read book as fast as possible, skimming and getting the gist of what’s going on (~1 minute).
  2. Count up total words read.
  3. Go back and read for understanding, as if they had to tell someone who didn’t know Latin a) what the story is about, and b) what’s happening right now in the chapter (~1 minute).
  4. Go back and read as if to memorize and describe everything with incredible detail! (~1 minute).
  5. Share & Discuss.

The main point to make is that #1 is waaaay too fast. All that input doesn’t matter if students can’t recall what happened, or have no idea what’s going on. #3 is waaaaay too slow. They’ll never get enough input reading with that much attention to detail while trying to memorize. #2 is what we’re going for: reading with enough comprehension to retell the story to someone else.

Talk, Read & Reread

I’ve been using the basic Talk & Read class structure for a while (i.e., a greeting, quick discussion, and/or some activity “by ear” for about 5 to 20 minutes, then reading, reading, reading for the remainder). That was when I had 40 to 60 minute classes for years. However, switching to an 85-minute block schedule last year really fucked things up. Now, classes feel way too long, I’m exhausted, there’s too much time between class days (i.e., 48 hours) so “the din” of Latin in students’ minds grows dim, and absent kids miss out big time (i.e., now 96-120 hours from class to class if absent just one day).

It turns out that I didn’t write much about the block schedule messing with things last year aside from a blog post or two. Granted, 2021-22 was the first year back from remote learning. That came with unique challenges, and the schedule change didn’t help. Btw, this is my 10th year teaching and my 10th schedule. Even when I stayed at the same school for more than a year, the schedule changed each one. I’m now in the 6th year at the same school. 6 schedules. Anyone wanna place a bet as for next year will hold? So, 2021-22 was a big calibration year for all sorts of reasons, and it’s taken me until right now to actually identify how much the schedule has negatively impacted first year language students. But I have a solution…

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Writing Challenge #3: Description

As we’re winding down the month’s writing challenges, let’s recognize that over just a couple weeks, contributors produced nearly 3,000 words of Latin for the beginner. These short stories share some themes and common vocab. Not bad at all! While sheltering vocab is not everything, it’s most things, but let’s add something onto keeping word count low, shall we? Descriptions. Among other uses of description, a character’s quality or how they do some action becomes an instant question for students: “are you also like the character?” or “would you do things the same way?”

So, Challenge #3 is to write a highly descriptive short story using as few of the following core verbs and function words as possible in order to focus on description:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

For Challenge #3, there will be an overall unique word limit (excluding names, and different forms of words). Also, don’t forget about referring to the cognate list for adjectives, and don’t forget to make adverbs from them!

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 15 words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 25 words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 35 words

Here’s the link for Challenge #3. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

Pīsō senex et sempermūtābilisyllabī: Published!

Piso has grown old. For years, people have been telling Piso how to write his own poetry. They’ve wanted it to sound like the legendary poet, Vergilimartivenallus, widely considered the GOAT, but Piso doesn’t take suggestions from those who don’t write any poetry of their own. Besides, that would change Piso’s verses into something they aren’t—someone else’s. He’s got plenty of advocates, anyway. But the mob persists, and keeps trying to get Piso to change how he writes. Mysteriously, the more Piso tries to write in his own voice, the more things start to get a bit…Strange.

18 cognates, 26 other words
800 total length

Who wants satire? I do, I do! You should know that no hexameter was harmed in the writing of this novellula (<– that word is even in the subtitle). In fact, we skipped the meter [almost] entirely. That’s basically it. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae, and/or a personal favorite, diāria sīderum, there’s some stuff in here for ya. So, let’s welcome another <50-word tiny little book to the collection.

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs