Establishing Meaning: Confusion

Step 1 of TPRS is “establish meaning” to show what a word/phrase means in the target language (TL) before using it to co-create a story. The most efficient and effective way to do this is by using a native language (L1) common to all students (e.g. “fēlēs means cat“). In TPRS, we write the TL on the board, underline it, then write the L1 below in a different color. We refer to this throughout class by pointing and pausing.

Establishing meaning is also Step 1 for anyone providing comprehensible input (CI), regardless of the method or strategy.

If this step doesn’t occur, teachers are providing input (I) that might not be comprehensible (C). Although there’s some role that noise in the input plays (Incomprehensible Input?), it’s clear that acquisition doesn’t happen with high levels of that noise. This is why no one—NO ONE—disputes that CI is necessary; it’s the sine qua non of acquisition, which is why establishing meaning is so important.

Still, there’s been confusion over establishing meaning, and that confusion has to do with purpose…

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Communication: Definition & Clarification

Recently on Twitter, Tea with BVP caller extraordinaire, Longinus, as well as some Inclusive Latin Classroom folks, got me thinking about the definition of communication. What follows are terms I’ve been using for a while (almost entirely unoriginal), clarified by Bill VanPatten on Episode 68 of Tea with BVP.

Communication isn’t only speaking:
Communication is the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning. We interpret when we read, and express when we write; no speaking necessary.

Two people are usually involved, but not required:
If I write a note (expression), and place it in a drawer, but then the apt. catches fire (yes, we have renters insurance), there’s no possible way for anyone to read it (interpretation), or ask me about it (negotiation), even if that was my intent. I most certainly expressed my ideas, there just wasn’t anyone around to interpret them.

In Latin, reading—though not to be confused with translating—is the primary form of communication. ACTFL modes of communication are helpful, here. Reading is one-way, and Interpretive (i.e. interpretation), but someone had to write what we read…at some point (i.e. two people involved). That person who wrote what we read is also one-way, and Presentational (i.e. expression). Neither of these become Interpersonal (i.e. negotiation) unless there is interaction between two people, and this interaction doesn’t have to take place in person. This is why Bill VanPatten refers to communication as “expression, interpretation, and sometimes negotiation of meaning.” Both the writer and reader engage in acts of communication, it’s just that their role is different.

Timing (i.e. real, or asynchronous) & Perspective:
Ovid wrote something (expression) a couple thousand years ago that I can try to read today (interpretation). There has been no interaction between us, eliminating the possibility of negotiation. However, if I write an adaptation of Ovid (expression), and then send it to John Bracey, a couple things could happen. John could star the email, forget, and never end up reading it (no interpretation, just my expression). Or, John could read it (interpretation), and send back some notes or questions (negotiation). This interaction between us would be delayed, but still the same process communication-wise as if we were in person. Now, if I also star and forget about that latest correspondence from John, however, neither negotiation nor interpretation occur. This doesn’t change the fact that John expressed ideas and attempted to negotiate with me. That is to say, from John’s perspective, he still engaged in communication, but it was only one-way without my involvement.

Communication as a concept, not as verb “communicate:”
Although I’m engaging in the act of communication by trying to read Ovid (interpretation), one could hardly say that I’m “communicating with” Ovid anymore than Ovid is “communicating with” me, or us as a society. Ovid certainly expressed meaning, itself communication by definition, but in the absence of real time interaction and negotiation, or even delayed negotiation of meaning over letters, we are not “communicating with” each other.

Someone correctly brought up the fact that the idea of “communicating with the ancient world” isn’t possible. Classicists use this phrase, referring to relating to [certain] ancient people’s ideas (expression) by learning more (interpreting) about the past, and making connections to our own lives, but this ends there as far as communication goes. There is no possibility of interaction (negotiating) with ancient authors. When we read about the past, communication is one-way.

Partially- or fully-communicative:
Things get more complicated from here, but the definition of communication still holds up. An activity lacking a purpose yet focusing on meaning is partially-communicative. Most teachers spend their time doing partially-communicative activities in preparation of a few fully-communicative tasks along the way. Personally, I don’t bother with tasks/Tasks, and find them awfully close to performance-based assessments, the juice of which tends not to be worth the squeeze.

A- in Conjugating, D in Comprehending

**UPDATE 9.28.17** Episode 65 of Tea with BVP, entitled “Does Instruction Speed Up Acquisition,” confirms much of what’s in this post.

I just looked up the 3rd person plural future active indicative form of habēre—or—expressed in a more comprehensible way, I just looked up how to say “they will have.” Before I looked it up, though, habēbunt didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t sound right because I haven’t received enough input of that word. I also haven’t received enough input of other words with the same ending in different contexts. If I did, I’d have a better chance of being able to extract the parts during my parsing (i.e. moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension), and wouldn’t have had to think about how to express “they will have.”

No one dare say that I didn’t study my endings, because I totally did. I got an A- in paradigms. I knew them forwards and backwards, UK and North American order, too! That was after I got a D in comprehension the first time I took Latin because the pace was too fast, and my memory insufficient to learn Latin. Or so I thought…

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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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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.

MovieTalk.

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.).

MovieTalk

**Updated 7.31.19**

On June 24th, 2018, Dr. Ashley Hastings asked teachers to stop using “Movie Talk” if they’re targeting vocabulary with the intent that the student WILL acquire what we repeat. Why? It’s antithetical to Hasting’s MovieTalk, as well as Krashen’s theory. If you do that, all it Clip Chat or something. However, the natural repetition from the movie itself, or intent to make oneself more comprehensible (but not cause acquisition), is spot on, and approved under the term “Movie Talk.”

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.”

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Tasks

On Episode 61 of Tea with BVP, Bill explained Tasks a little bit more. He said that Tasks are usually longer term goals, but also added that level-appropriate and input-based Tasks could be given right away. They certainly could be given right away, but they’re also unnecessary. Considering how hard it is to get multiple concrete examples of Tasks, the amount of planning that needs to go into an assortment of Tasks makes me want to set up a retirement countdown timer and hope it goes by in a blink.

Bill uses the terms “Exercises, Activities, and Tasks” to categorize what we do in class as they relate to communication. Exercises are drills, practicing language for language’s sake, which haven’t been shown to significantly contribute anything to a student’s acquisition or learning experience other than anxiety and frustration for most, so I don’t recommend spending any amount of time on them whatsoever. Instead, the majority of time would be best spent on Activities and Tasks, and there’s one major difference between them…

A Task is an Activity that has a purpose.

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Writing for the Novice

Writing texts for the Novice isn’t just about novellas. It’s about making Latin more comprehensible, whether typing up class interests to read, editing a student’s ending to a class story, or creating tiered versions of unadapted ancient texts.

Sheltering vocabulary is the most important step of writing for the Novice. As Bill VanPatten mentioned on Episode 61 of Tea with BVP, the Novice student needs multiple encounters of words/phrases as input that repeat throughout.

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Why Novellas? Why “Shelter Vocabulary?”

The new Latin novellas, first published in September of 2015, have been written with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary so the novice student can read Latin confidently after knowing as few as 40 words! This sheltering provides frequent exposure to Latin’s core vocabulary—even more so than textbook narratives, or unadapted ancient texts that seldom repeat words. Why novellas? Why shelter vocabulary? Novellas provide high-frequency repetition for the novice student.

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High-Frequency Verbs

Someone asked the “Teaching Latin for Acquisition” Facebook group for a list of the top 10 verbs in each of our classes—if we had to make such a list. There were only about 10 11 comments, but many teachers probably use similar verbs and just didn’t have anything to add. What I find interesting, though, is that across the lists from only 10 11 comments, there were still 38 44 different verbs in total!

The verbs that were most common  between everyone who chimed in were:
be (6 7)
want (5 6)
see (4 5)
be able (4)
be quiet (4 )

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