Cognate Over Classical & Translation Shaming

High frequency vocab? Yes, of course, although one’s context and goals are important considerations. This posts looks at why we might choose cognates over the kind of vocab more frequently found in unadapted ancient Latin (i.e. Classical Latin), and how that decision can be inhibited by a bit of elitist baggage.

What’s the best reason to use cognates? So the learner who doesn’t read outside of the classroom can understand Latin—in class—more easily. Cognates increase the likelihood of comprehensibility. Even given the range of learner vocabularies in English, the likelihood still increases. That is, there’s more of a chance that a Latin to English cognate will be understood than the chance that a completely unrecognizable Latin word will be understood. Of course, students still misunderstand cognates all the time (re: Mike Peto’s “béisbol” routine), but that’s not the point. The point is to make Latin more comprehensible, and cognates help. N.B. the only cognate-use claim here is a greater likelihood of comprehension. This has a pedagogical impact, to be sure. Choosing cognates over Classical Latin can create a learning environment more like what English-speaking students in Spanish classes experience. Why does this matter? There’s no enrollment problem with Spanish classes—something we cannot say about Latin programs.

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I shared the following picture of my language library to the “iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching” Facebook group to share how reading novellas has increased my Spanish and French proficiency:


Now, the books circled in red are either mostly-unadapted ancient Latin containing support (i.e. some words defined—in Latin—in the margins), or Latin translations of books unintended for the language learner (e.g. The Hobbit, or Harry Potter). These represent more than half of my current extensive reading options for Latin—the others nearby not circled being 10 novellas with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary published within the last three years. Sheltering vocabulary has had a positive effect on my Spanish and French proficiency, so I got thinking about the effects of reading unsheltered Latin…

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“Either/Or” PPT

Here’s a new, reaaaaaally useful PPT inspired by Linda Li’s “Like/Dislike” activity I saw back at iFLT last summer. The concept is simple—slides have two images you can use to ask an “either/or” question. That’s it, no words, so you can say anything you like. Oh, and click the question mark in the corner to jump to a random slide (after prompted to “Enable Content” for Macros upon opening the file).

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