Latin Criticism: Two Broad Categories

Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about Latin shaming in what’s turning out to be a quasi-annual public discussion on Latinity (i.e., quality of Latin). In 2020, the discussions concerned Latin spoken in the classroom as well as published works. This year, I’m told the focus is on novellas, which might have something to do with their proliferation. After all, in February of 2020 there were 52 books. Having doubled that number to 113 as of last week, and going from 18 author voices to 26, there’s a lot more different Latin being written now. Different Latin must lead to more opinions about that Latin. Granted, I haven’t been a part of these public discussions myself, but word gets around. Perhaps the 2023 panel on what it means to teach students to actually read Latin has spurred the latest round of things-Latīnitās. I have no idea for sure. Suffice to say that Latin shaming still plagues the profession. Instead of full-out shaming, though, this post sticks to general criticism. In my experience, there are two broad categories of criticism: that which matters, and that which doesn’t…

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mȳthos malus: convīvium Terregis: Published!

An obvious nod to Petronius’ Cena Trimalchionis, yes, but this is not an adaptation, by any means. In this tale, Terrex can’t get anything right during his latest dinner party. He’s confused about Catullus’ carmina, and says silly things left and right as his guests do all they can to be polite, though patience is running low. With guests fact-checking amongst themselves, can Terrex say something remotely close to being true? Will the guests mind their manners and escape without offending their host?

41 cognates, 56 other words
2600 total length

I cannot say this is my last book for good, but it’s the final Pisoverse novella I have planned. It’s probably my most comical book, too, which feels like a nice way to wrap up the series. The novella also fills a gap between the highest word counts of my Beginner level and the few narratives at Low Intermediate. Wordplay is certainly a highlight as Terrex makes up words, though still within conventions of Latin word-formations (see Errāta Terregis screenshot in the slideshow). Anyone with some familiarity with Catullus should get a kick out of Terrex’s blunders, too. In sum, this book is entertaining, for sure.

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  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Pisoverse Novellas: Author’s Top Picks

Not every book is a home run, and that’s fine. As educators, we can’t please everyone, nor should we aim to. Those who do tend to spend very little time in education, anyway. They burn out, and so do students. This concept applies to novellas for sure, and how I’ve come to let go of trying to write (and find) the most-compelling texts in existence. Instead, and more importantly, most novellas available provide lots of reading options for the beginning Latin student, below- or at their reading level, on a range of topics. This is the point, and this is sustainable. Of the 113 novellas on my list, probably half realistically can be read by most students in years 1 & 2, half of the rest in year 3, and the remaining ones in year 4+. They’re not all home runs, and that’s fine. With a strong independent reading program in my school for the past years, I’ve observed that there will be at least one book that each student really gets into, and the rest is input they have mild to strong opinions about. That’s a victory.

But what books tend to appeal to all?

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Low-Prep Doesn’t Always Mean EZ

Like usual, it took me a matter of minutes the other day to create the next day’s class agenda. Oh, you wanna know the trick to that? There are lots of them, but it all starts with a good grading system and ends with the basic Talk & Read format. Then, I try not to plan too far out knowing that something ALWAYS changes last-minute, and about 20% of our weeks aren’t even the typical schedule to begin with. I have a rough idea what’s coming up in following weeks, but never anything set in stone. Printing much ahead of time? Forget it. I’ve recycled WAY too many reams of no-longer-relevant activity sheets to know better. Anyway, I felt good about the time spent during my planning period, and had a solid idea of how class would go. The plans were simple and straightforward.

Yet, why was I exhausted by the end classes today?!

It turns out that low-prep isn’t always as easy as it seems to carry out. The good news is that it doesn’t take much more effort to avoid a draining class. In this post, you’ll find a list of the best low-prep AND low-energy-demanding activities generated from my input-based strategies & activities and how to get texts lists. Those lists have also been updated with the “EZ” code showing low-energy-demand typically required to carry them out.

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Abbi Holt’s Wisdom On Sustainable & Equitable Teaching

Abbi Holt had a great thread sharing a 6-year progression of practices that have made even teaching through a pandemic tolerable! Here it is with some commentary on why you should look into doing similar things, if not the very same…

Why This Works? #1
Not only is moving slowly and steadily a more responsive approach to teaching learners in the room, but reducing grading is crucial in carving out space for everything that positively impacts teaching and learning.

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Mārcus et scytala Caesaris: Published!

Marcus has lost something valuable containing a secret message that once belonged to Julius Caesar. Even worse, it was passed down to Marcus’ father for safekeeping, and he doesn’t know it’s missing! As Marcus and his friend, Soeris, search Alexandria for clues of its whereabouts, hieroglyphs keep appearing magically. Yet, are they to help, or to hinder? Can Marcus decipher the hieroglyphs with Soeris’ help, and find Caesar’s secret message?

20 cognates, 30 other words
1400 total length

After last month’s Star Diaries right on the heels of Poetry Practice and Olianna published just before the school year, Mārcus et scytala Caesaris is now available, leaving just one more book left in the latest production schedule.

Of all the novellas we’ve read this year in Latin 1, Marcus has been the most enjoyed character and story overall. When I showed students the proof copy of Marcus’ new saga, one class even applauded. That’s the kind of program buy-in we’re building with consistent independent reading (below- or at-level), and that’s why I continue writing these kinds of books. The new Mārcus doesn’t disappoint. As stated in the preface…

“the purpose of including hieroglyphs throughout this book is not to teach the ancient Egyptian language. Instead, the purpose is to introduce students to the alphabet so they can begin to recognize them, not unlike exploring ancient Greek for short unit, as is common in many Latin courses. More broadly, the idea behind learning these alphabets is to introduce students to the ancient world beyond Rome, which tends to get all the attention when it comes to antiquity. So, I hope you enjoy this introduction to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs via Latin!”

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  3. eBooks: Storylabs

The Star Diaries (diāria sīderum): Published!

Not much was known about The Architects—guardians of the stars—until their diaries were found in dark caves sometime during the Tenth Age. Explore their mysterious observations from the Seventh Age (after the Necessary Conflict)—a time just before all evidence of their existence vanished for millennia! What happened to The Architects? Can you reconstruct the events that led to the disappearance of this ancient culture?

60-100 words, half cognates (i.e., 30-50)!
1000-3200 total length

Of all my books, I’m most excited for this one. Why? It’s my first completely new work of speculative fiction. What’s speculative fiction? It’s got elements from various genres, no-doubt SCI-FI, but without certain connotations one might expect, like being a nerdy genre. I like its characterization as “modern mythmaking,” and this book does just that. In diāria sīderum, I’ve created a new culture not connected to ours or the Romans, yet still plausibly within our universe somewhere along some an ancient timeline in the future. In fact, I approached the details of The Architects with intercultural competence in mind. What might their products and practices tell us? How are known cultures similar? How are they different?

I’m not gonna say anything else. Just know that there’s a LOT of details lurking about in this book that a beginner Latin reader could pick up on, especially if they spend some FVR time (Free Voluntary Reading) after you start the first section as a whole class. Besides, it’s a “who-dun-it?” of sorts, with a clear trail waiting to be discovered. Don’t skip the audio on this one, either. Enjoy!

Intro excerpt
Narrātor I excerpt
Narrātor SP-VI excerpt
Narrātor SP-X excerpt

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  3. eBooks: Storylabs
  4. Audiobook

Back To Comprehension Basics: Don’t Speak Latin

No, I haven’t reverted back to the grammar-focused pedagogy of the 90s (and no, not the 1890s, either. Grammar teaching is still the dominant one today, which I predict will hold true for another 20 years). Instead, I’m going to challenge us all speaking Latin in the classroom to do so under just one condition:

Students will understand what you’re about to say.

It sounds too basic, I know, but not everyone does this or does this enough. Hence, back to the basics of comprehension-based teaching, right? So my challenge is now out there. If the condition isn’t met, say something in English, or change what we’re about to say to meet the condition. Of course, this challenge wouldn’t exclude the use of new words. No way. How else would students ever expand vocab?! However, this does mean that we must provide CI by using mostly words students already understand, allowing for just a few new ones during class, and then be sure students understand those new words (i.e., at least tell them what the new words mean in English, demonstrate the meaning whenever possible, and use a picture/realia if applicable).

Speech Rate & Text Coverage
The research of Hsueh-Chao & Nation as well as Laufer shows that a text must have 98% coverage of known vocab (tokens) to have a chance of being read with ease (because even 95% text coverage can get woefully low comprehension scores of 55%!). Well, that’s with texts, when the student able to control the pace and even reread! Speech doesn’t work that way. When we say something, the student can’t control our speech rate. They have to signal us. There’s no 15sec replay. They have to signal us. While we’re working towards training students to self-advocate for comprehension, the reality is that listening to Latin is the MUCH harder mode to process. Therefore, it goes without saying that we should be using 98%+ text coverage in speech. Only speaking the target language in class when students will understand will maximize comprehension. Who doesn’t want that?! Practically speaking, then, I challenge us to all give pause the moment we’re about to say something students don’t understand yet, then do the following:

  1. Say it in English and move on.
  2. Restate using other words students already understand.
  3. Use the new word/phrase, immediately establish meaning, then provide micro-exposure.

This is my term for giving students a little bit of concentrated exposure to what has the potential to be a one-off and out-of-bounds word/phrase. In practice, when a new word/phrase comes up, expect to sit with it for some statements and questions for a minute or two. Yes, a minute or two. This helps keep vocab limited and comprehension high without vocab overload and noise that students start to get used to (i.e., they begin to tune out the input and be OK with incomprehension because there’s so much of it during class).

Consider the alternative for a minute: a class during which we teachers use new words/phrases as a reaction to what students say. That’s basically a translation class (English –> Latin) without much expectation (and hope) that students will ever be exposed to those words/phrases again.

Think of micro-exposure as circling or something if that helps you, too. However it’s understood and whatever it’s called, we must acknowledge that the absence of micro-exposure entirely can result in a ton of vocab and high levels of incomprehension, or some kind of one-off situational experience like the translation class. Only the kids with the best, most freakish memories will absorb all that input, and there aren’t too many of them in class, if at all.

So, are you ready to not speak Latin unless students will understand what you’re about to say? Why or why not?