Can’t Read Greek—Unsurprised, but Angry

I don’t know Ancient Greek very well, despite “studying it” in college, but recently I’ve had the desire to read it (vs. translating, or just knowing about how Greek works). Desire certainly accounts for motivation, which has a positive effect on compellingness of messages read, yet I’ve been having the hardest time with comprehension—the undisputed sine qua non of language acquisition. I began to look into why, and now I’m just angry…

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“Teaching with CI”

I took a cue from Eric Herman and just updated my blog tagline and email signature. Yes, I dropped “teaching with CI,” not because I’ve done a 180 after ACTFL, but because it doesn’t necessarily distinguish our teaching the way it could. “Teaching with CI” is still a good term that has brought like-minded educators together, but most teachers are confused enough over the role of input in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) such that a different way of expressing what we do might be beneficial for all.

Bob Patrick has been saying for a while that most teachers end up providing at least some comprehensible input (CI) even if they have no clue it’s happening. I agree. As long as students understand what they listen to and/or read, they’re getting CI. So, if a grammar-translation teacher can provide CI, even just sometimes, well then I don’t really want to use a term that aligns myself with that pedagogy.

The big difference between providing CI by chance, and knowingly providing CI is attention to the “C.” It’s usually that “C” (along with the “C” for Compelling) which make the difference between a positive and negative language class experience for our students, and certainly the difference between acquisition, and low vs. high proficiency. Our classrooms are different from most language teachers because we focus on making the target language more comprehensible using various techniques, and strategies. This makes the target language more accessible, which leads to acquisition, and also promotes an inclusive classroom environment. That’s really what teachers seem to mean when using the term “teaching with CI,” so we might as well clearly express what we actually do. We make languages more comprehensible for learners, and not every language teacher can say that.

Teaching for Acquisition
Making Languages More Comprehensible

Tea with BVP (9.1.16): Teachers with Low Proficiency

It’s clear that non-idiomatic language (hopefully not with structural errors) has an effect on the mental representation of a student. It would be silly to deny that. Although Bill VanPatten advocates for teachers to have high proficiency levels in this week’s Tea with BVP, he also mentions that we don’t know for certain what the negative impact of exposure to low-quality input is over different periods of time (e.g. K-12 Spanish vs. 4 years of Latin). Regardless, I think we should be asking this:

Does the negative impact of using non-idiomatic Latin outweigh the benefits of an improved experience and inclusion of ALL students in the Latin classroom?

If the answer is “yes” in a catastrophic way, an extreme suggestion would be that all Latin teachers below X proficiency level should immediately resign, or at least refrain from creating and/or publishing materials for students. These teachers should attend the available immersion events (e.g. conventicula, rusticātiō, Living Latin in NYC, etc.), listen to Nuntiī Latīnī and Quōmodō Dīcitur, read as much Latin that they understand as possible, and then get back on the horse when they’re up to speed. A less-extreme suggestion would be that they should simply not teach Latin communicatively.

If the answer is “no,” or “yes” in a non-catastrophic way, then the teacher should still definitely seek out those same ways to improve proficiency, but perhaps with less urgency. They should certainly keep teaching, and we could certainly use the published materials.

Personally, I feel that ANY mental representation of language is more beneficial than what has been going on with Grammar-Translation, and my hunch is that the negative impact is nowhere near catastrophic. Thus, it’s only a matter of time until the teacher’s proficiency improves to a high level, which means that each year students will be exposed to richer and richer input.

Note how the most effective solutions to improving proficiency become an issue of access—the immersion events aren’t cheap, and not everyone has a local Latin conversation group with highly proficient speakers. Teachers with more money and time have greater access to understandable Latin. Note, also, how the issue of access brings us right back to the classroom. A CI classroom is about extending access to Latin to all students—students typically left out in the grammar game. Realize, too, that most Latin teachers, themselves, have been denied access to communicative proficiency, and are doing what they can to improve it.