How We’ve Been Wrong About Latin Word Order

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…

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90% Target Language Use? How About Your Message Count…

Forget that 90% figure (i.e. 90%+ of all the language provided by the teacher as input-provider should be in the target language)…How many messages are you providing? I did a quick search for Latin lessons:

Here’s the first Google hit for “Latin lesson” with 2 messages, the first recurring 3 different times. The second Google hit contains 0 messages. The third Google hit contains 1 message.

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Texts from First Week/Class

This year, I see my 3 sections of Intro Latin just once per week, but the typical beginning-of-year activities don’t include much reading. Focusing on TPR for the first 10 hours, for example, just won’t work with this schedule. In order to maximize input, reading must be part of their Latin experience from the start, and the texts I give must be hyper-comprehensible. In my last post, I shared the text I’ll project and read to diēs Mārtis (i.e. the Tuesday Latin class) next week.

Today I got thinking more about maximizing the input through reading. It doesn’t have to stop there in class, but I have to be smart about reading assignments for home. I shouldn’t hand them the exact same text and say “go home, read this, and tell someone what it means/write an English summary.” That’s the kind of artificial assignment that feels like busywork, and it is! Let’s face it, students already know the information in there, and would just be reading for reading’s sake which is practicing language for language’s sake.

We need a parallel reading.

I could make something up, but I don’t know the students well enough yet to gauge what they might find compelling. Instead, I’ve combined the texts from the other two sections to give as a reading assignment (e.g. diēs Mercuriī students will get a text with the interests of diēs Mārtis, and diēs Iovis). Here is what diēs Mārtis students get to take home and read (click for Google Doc):

After I project and read aloud the primary text in class, students will have read just under ~500 words of Latin (216 + 269) by the end of their 2nd Latin class! That’s no small sum, and there’s no way this would be possible without a student-centered focus on compelling messages (i.e. what students like, and how that differs or is similar to others), and sheltering vocabulary—in this case focusing on the one verb we used in the last 15min. of the first day class, placet.

On Sheltering
The primary and parallel texts include what appears to be completely unsheltered maxed-out vocab that many of us avoid (i.e. 28 unique words after 1 class?!). Aside from the most important, most frequent words in these texts (e.g. placet, est, et, nōn, quoque), the rest of the unique word count is comprised of “icing words.” With only one verb other than esse, the compellingness of these texts is going to come from the different interests. I have no expectation that students will acquire these words. Some will, but that’s not the point. The point, and purpose of this communication, is to learn something about each other (and it just happens to be in Latin). Besides, most of the icing words are transparent due to the images, and/or obvious cognates (i.e. mūsica, televisiōrum, telephōnulum, colōrēs, mathēmatica, pictūrae, flōrēs, planētae), adding very little to cognitive demand. Comprehension should be quite high for these texts.

Besides, the icing words will not interrupt the flow of students reading, and have a better chance of acting as those hooks to hold their interest. Contrast the texts above with the 22 unique words in the Ecce Romani textbook’s chapter 1 first reading passage of 61 total words in length, in which very few words are used more than once.

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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Syntax Synonyms: Don’t Fear the Subjunctive

The subjunctive is usually regarded as a more advanced grammatical concept, the very mention of which can give students crippling anxiety, but EFF that—it’s not.

To begin with, in a grammatical syllabus, the subjunctive is simply unnecessarily delayed. In Lingua Latīna per sē Illustrāta, for example, it doesn’t appear until chapter 28 of 35, and in Ecce Rōmānī not until chapter 42 of 68. Given enrollment figures, it’s clear that most students don’t even encounter the subjunctive before dropping Latin in conventional programs! The reality of language and communication (yes, reading is a form of communicating—interpretation), however, is that the subjunctive is much more frequent, and can actually be less difficult to process!

What the…?!

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Textbook Stories: Embedded Readings (ER), and Recycled Readings (RR)

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of parallel stories. Recycled Readings (RR) is my new idea on improving textbook stories known for not providing enough repetitions of new vocabulary. To create a Recycled Reading (RR), just add a parallel character, and recycle the vocabulary from the original as you compare. In the example below, the bold text is my parallel character—Katy Perry.

Ecce Rōmānī – I (Two Roman Girls)

ecce! in pictūrā est puella, nōmine Cornēlia. in pictūrā nōn est puella, nōmine Katy. Katy est puella Americāna quae in L.A. habitat. Cornēlia est puella Rōmāna quae in Italiā habitat…etc.

This isn’t a panacea—the textbook still introduces TOO MUCH vocabulary TOO SOON, but at least now there are more repetitions and something to relate to—instant Personalized Question & Answer (PQA) material. In addition to Recycled Readings (RR), I’ll be creating Embedded Readings (ER) for each chapter using a parallel story. You can read about what I learned at NTPRS about ERs from Michele Whaley, (co-creator of Embedded Readings), here.

So, my plan is to ask a class story, read those parallel stories I shared in the last post, then read the Ecce Rōmānī parallel ERs, and finally look at the RR. From there, we might actually read the original Ecce Rōmānī text, or just move on. I’ll update the document with each chapter throughout the year:

Click here for Ecce Rōmānī Parallel Stories (ER & RR). Feel free to make a copy (under “file”), and change the details to suit the interests of your students.