**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**
The DCC frequency list is often consulted for choosing which words to use when writing Latin for students. It certainly makes sense to use ones they might encounter over and over again vs. those they might not, but *how* frequent are these frequent words? In particular, I was curious what a student could probably read having acquired the Top 1000 words on DCC’s list. Here’s some quick background…
It would take a proficient Latin speaker about 7 hours to read Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō—in its entirety*—at a slow pace (i.e. half the average reading speed).** For comparison, a proficient English speaker reading at the same pace would take over twice as long to get through The Hate U Give (~15 hours). One of these texts is level-appropriate, and now commonly used in 9th grade classes along with 4-5 other full length books and many other short texts throughout the year. The other is nowhere near level-appropriate, yet commonly used in 11th or 12th grade classes as roughly half the year’s focus—certainly not in its entirety—with selections comprising just 13% of the full text. It should be clear which is which, and any K-12 teacher who says their students read Caesar is being as truthful as today’s outgoing president, who has mislead and lied over 29,000 times in office.*** Yet if not an outright lie, the claim of reading Caesar is still highly misleading, and should be addressed ASAP…
Right now, I’m filling out our department wishlist request form for next school year. There are 81 novellas, and 10 textbooks for AP (five Caesar, five Virgil). The total cost of novellas is $691.91, and the total cost for the textbooks is $710. The $710 would cover five students enrolled in AP. The $691.91 will fill my FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library to include everything currently published, as well as build two additional libraries in other teachers’ classrooms, covering all Latin students at our school.
This all got me thinking of some big questions.
- When funds are tight, who do they tend to go to?
- How many Latin programs would choose to fund the five AP students over the rest?
- What does the decision to offer AP really cost a school beyond the $93 exam fee (i.e. teacher training, materials, etc.)?
- Given what we know about AP Latin, how much time, effort, and money should be allocated?
- How do we place value (beyond $) on different classroom materials?
- Which materials provide the most purposeful CI?
- What’s essential? What’s extra?
Anyone who knows anything about Latin will agree that the language is SOV (Subject-Object-Verb). In more friendly terms, this means that Latin how Yoda speaks resembles it does. This common understanding is just one basic assumption that drives a lot of decisions and discussions. Yet, how certain are we that Latin is as SOV as we think…
- Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō, Liber V (i.e. just book 5, though there are 8 total) has 2900 unique words, and is 7400 total words in length.
- All 4 current “Pisoverse” novellas combined have 233 unique words, and are 8445 total words in length.
- Regardless of any definition of “reading” that could possibly exist, successfully reading one of the above is an impossible task for nearly all high school students, and extremely unlikely for the remaining handful.
- The unique word count of 108 in Pīsō Ille Poētulus—the highest of my novellas—is too high for some students to read easily. That’s with just 108 words, let alone 200, let alone 400, let alone 800, 1600, or the 2900 in Caesar.
- Most students will fail to read anything close to this excerpt of just one ancient author (traditionally considered “easy Latin!”) that has 26x the vocabulary of a novella some students can’t yet read easily.
- At most, high school students receive 4 years of input (5-6 if middle school Latin?). Given that some students in years 1 and 2 might not be able to read Pīsō Ille Poētulus easily, it’s clear that realistic expectations for reading are much, much lower than we think.
- Students will be more successful reading copious amounts of Latin containing words they are familiar with.
- Sheltering vocabulary has the greatest impact on providing contexts with more familiar words.
- Students would benefit from reading more novellas under 100 unique words.
Why novellas? Read more, here.