Writing for the Novice: Parsing

On Episode 64 of Tea with BVP, Bill mentioned a couple things we’ve heard before, only this time through the lens of parsing (i.e. “moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension”). You’ll note immediately that this definition is different from the Grammar-Translation method teacher prompt of “Student X, would you please parse the main verb found in line 2?” in which the pupil gives the person, number, tense, voice, and mood of the verb, which we all know the diligent student can do, though has nothing to do with the psychologically real comprehension of the sentence in which it was parsed.

First Noun Principle
Novice students* of most languages process the first noun they come across (e.g. “Caesarem” in Caesarem canis mordit) as the agent (i.e. one acting, but not necessarily grammatical subject). The savvy language teacher aware of language-learners’ first noun strategy could respond to this by using word order that avoids the misleading tendency.

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Latin Stories Videos Series: Pygmaliōn

Pygmaliōn is the second video in the series after Mīnōtaurus. I wasn’t familiar with this myth until reading* Ovid with last year’s students. They voted to read it before Daedelus & Icarus, Pyramus & Thisbe, or Orpheus & Eurydice. My personal contribution here is calling Pygmalion “creepy” (i.e. infestus), which was inspired by student comments. I begin retelling the myth after the point when Ovid gives us Pygmalion’s reason for living alone, which downright bothered my students. Misogyny is completely unacceptable, and at an age when image is a sensitive topic, students weren’t comfortable with what the Pygmalion (i.e. Ovid) had to say about the nature of women, as well as how he sculpted a figure “more beautiful than a woman possibly could be.” Go ahead and add that part if you welcome the discussion, which could easily be connected to contemporary advertising industry and its use of Photoshop, as well as the negative social affects, but I kept the story more focused. Here’s Ovid’s Pygmalion myth retold using 31 unique words. The story is 221 words total in length.

1) Class
2) Story (link to Google Doc text found in YouTube video description, but also here)
3) Questions

*I say “reading,” but I definitely wasn’t reading Ovid with ease. I was certainly interacting with the text, reading the notes to establish meaning, consulting the L & S when necessary, and analyzing it closely for themes. After doing all of that in order to create simplified tiered versions for students, I will say that I had a better understanding, yet, as I “read” the poem now, I’m not sure I’m even reading still! Instead, I’m remembering what I translated during the interaction. I think this is what most Classicists do—recall what they’ve already translated, or discussion (in English) in the past.

4th Class, 1st MovieTalk

This has been the 3rd year in a row that I’ve wanted to start the year cold with a story on Day 1, but have bailed. I was even close this year with Von Ray’s No-Travel story script, but it still didn’t happen. I’m thinking that it’s just not my style, which is fine, but it’s already clear to me that my students need to experience something new besides Total Physical Response (TPR), Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA), and subsequent reading activities. Still, a class story via Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a home run for us right now, so I need a solution.


When I saw Von Ray last winter, he mentioned that MovieTalk is the easiest first step to storyasking. He’s right. Even if you have absolute novice students, just narrate at their levelI’d normally wait for more TPR, or Discipulus Illustris to establish a solid foundation of familiar words, but I’ve decided to do a MovieTalk for this 4th Latin class of the year, which is the 4th week of school (i.e. Latin 1x per week).

The Present is one of the 9 animated shorts used in TPRS Books’ Look, I can MovieTalk! available in Spanish, French, and soon—with hope—Latin! I already know that after just 3 classes my students won’t be able to read even the simplest versions of any MovieTalk readings out there, so I’ve created a super simple Embedded Reading for The Presentretold in 3 versions. 

The text doesn’t limit, or represent exactly what I’ll narrate and ask in class, but it does represent a safe amount of language that my students will understand as a follow up reading. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a parallel reading, but I’ll likely ask Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) that stray from the script. That’s a good thing.

You’ll notice that while the word count increases from 13 to 25 from Version 1 to Version 3, the total words figure drops from 71 in Version 2, to 63 in Version 3. Why? There’s less of the recycled exposure to words found in Version 2 because there’s more new information in each version, not just longer sentences, or more sentences about the same information. By the time the student reads the last version, they will have been exposed to the recycled language enough to make repetition less important. I’ve also deliberately used more transparent cognates to support comprehension, and kept the word count low, replacing the classic “there’s a problem” phrase with an already known interjection, “oh no!” I’m still using Picturae images whenever possible, and establishing meaning with English for more abstract words, or possibly ambiguous images (e.g. I couldn’t find a clear image for a generic ball). You’ll also notice that Version 3 has a more typical Latin word order, which students are more likely to be able to read once they’ve understood the meanings of the words in an order similar to English. This is a deliberate strategy for making Latin more comprehensible, and shouldn’t be seen as negative, or damaging. See a February post on Input Processing for more.

The 2 class day (for me, 2 week) plan:
Day 1 = MovieTalk, then Choral Translation of Version 1.
Day 2 (a week later for me) = Choral Translation of Version 2, something else unrelated (like Discipulus Illustris), then Silent T/F Reading of Version 3.

Like Justin Slocum Bailey wrote, Choral Translation is best used sparingly, yet 7 days between classes makes comprehension even more of a priority so that students stay super confident. Also mentioned on the latest Tea with BVP, written input helps students find word boundaries that aren’t necessarily obvious when listening. Knowing these boundaries helps in the search for words, and the search for words—big content words and not their endings—is what novice through intermediate students are doing!

Silent T/F Reading is new, which I got from NTPRS 2017 (i.e. partners read silently for X minutes, then draw just 2 pics: one True, one False. Swap, then partner chooses correct. Pass to other groups, and partners choose correct. Show a few on document cam, PQA, etc.).

Silent Volleyball Reading (3rd hour of Latin)

For me, paired translation activities a) are not speaking activities, and b) have a purpose similar to what Justin Slocum Bailey juuuust wrote about Choral Translation, with confidence building as the primary one. This is week 3 of school, which is also the 3rd hour my students have listened to and read (i.e. received input) in Latin.

Today, I used a new update to the classic ABBA paired translation activity I’ve always known as Volleyball Translation (i.e. the role is tossed back and forth like a volleyball “pass”). This comes from Jason Fritze at NTPRS, and I used it with the following text based on events of last week’s class, which includes:

  • Something funny that happened on that day, specific to each class
  • Details from an Either/Or TPR activity
    • sī tibi placet X, surge, et consīde Pompēiīs (i.e. Pompēiī = right side group)
    • sī tibi placet Y, surge, et consīde Rōmae (i.e. Rōma = left side group).

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“Getting Students to Speak” & Min/Max Partner Retells

How do we get students to speak the target language?

Provide input.

At least, that’s what no one disputes, though not every teacher does enough of it. The biggest misconception regarding how to get students speaking is based on the assumption that the goal—speaking the target language—must be part of the process. This makes sense, but we don’t have much evidence to suggest this is true, despite how intuitive it seems. In fact, if you want get all Second Language Acquisition (SLA) technical, in 1995 Merrill Swain—herself—called her own Output (i.e. speaking/writing) Hypothesis “somewhat speculative” (p. 125).

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Dr. Ashley Hastings’ original MovieTalk looked a lot different from what we see today from the CI-embracing community. Instead of using short animated clips, frequent pausing, interacting with students via Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA), and reading follow-up texts (actual or parallel), Dr. Hastings would instead played longer segments of feature-length movies while narrating as part of the FOCAL SKILLS program’s Listening Module, “where class time is devoted exclusively to improving the students’ listening comprehension.”

For the CI-embracing community online, there are often MovieTalk requests based on a particular grammatical feature (i.e. “Does anyone have a good MovieTalk for ser vs. estar?”). This practice strays from communicative language teaching, and reflects what Bill VanPatten has said in Tea with BVP about using “new” practices to teach the same old stuff—mainly—explicit grammar, or teaching language for language’s sake (and not some communicative purpose).

Whether your MovieTalk is a partially-communicative Activity lacking one of those communicative purposes, or a fully-communicative Task (e.g. entertainment?), there are two main ways to use MovieTalk:

1) Introduce new words.
2) Use known words.

#1 is completely new to me and I just learned it from Adriana Ramirez at NTPRS 2017, as follows:

  • Adriana BEGINS with a base Embedded Reading (ER), but one that is a longer paragraph, or more substantial than just some sentences. They read this together as a class during the last ~20min of class. There’s no movie.
  • On day 2, students are given the next version to read WHILE watching the clip as Adriana pauses and asks PQA.
  • Day 3 is a much longer final version that students read in pairs (Use any reading strategy you like!).

#2 is self-explanatory, but teachers tend to put too much thought into this one. You can plan ahead as much, or as little as you want to in order to provide input via MovieTalk, assuming you have time later to type up a quick story (either what happened exactly in the video, OR a parallel story using words/phrases from from the video, or both). Want to see how MovieTalk can be no-prep to low-prep using Day 1/Week 1 vocabulary? Here’s an example using just a few words out of the ones you’re likely to use during the first week:

1) est puer.

Wait, do you need this word to narrate an animated clip? Nope. Just use a proper noun!

1) est Jack.
2) Jack est laetus.
3) Jack nōn est laetus.
4) Jack est laetus.

WHAA?! That’s a MovieTalk?

Yes, that’s a MovieTalk…appropriate for Day 1. It has only 3 words, and PQA questioning/interaction using posters in the room could easily provide multiple exposures (e.g. Ubi est Jack? estne Jack Rōmae? Tom, esne laetus? Quis est laetus? estne Magister laetus? sum Magister. laetus nōn sum! nōn sum Rōmae. etc.). Also, the students will love watching a video—for the purpose of entertainment—so if you show more of a video than you normally would because you’re using a small number of words (i.e. sheltering vocabulary), it’s still a huge success given the amount of genuine interaction you can have with so few words. Look at what Laurie Clarcq did on her Day 1! Also, that script above will work with ANY video in which everything begins OK, there’s a problem, then the problem is resolved, which, is nearly every video I can think of. If not, leave out the 4th sentence. Just imagine what you can do with an additional verb, and another word or two!

So, go ahead and try it out! Just go here, randomly select a video, play, then pause when you can say something using the words above (or words you KNOW your students understand, or at least have been exposed to). Challenge yourself to limit what you say! Oh, and if the words that your students understand are NOT in the video, use them anyway with nōn. It’s just as powerful discussing what’s NOT in the video if they understand the language. The power of nōnWhen I tested this out myself, I randomly selected this video, and it was amazing how quickly “laetus” and “nōn laetus” appeared.

p.s. Ask TPRS Books about MovieTalk in Latin. It should be available soon. A lot of Latin teachers have already shared their resources, including scripts to accompany popular videos, but each one in Look! I can MovieTalk! has 2 shorter versions of the story, 3 increasingly complex versions of the main story, and an alternative/parallel story, as well as 5 activities. That’s a lot of target language input!