“Active Latin:” Confusion & Clarification

If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.

A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…

  • …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
  • …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
  • …students had to speak and write Latin.
  • …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
  • …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.

**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**

When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.

Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…

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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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Active Latin vs. Acquisition of Latin

**See this more-recent post on “Active Latin”**

Justin Slocum Bailey has just written an excellent article about speaking Latin. Though related, my post is about the implications of using the term “Active Latin” as it pertains to classroom practices.

I’ve long felt weird about that term. After synthesizing my thoughts, I now believe that most teachers who use the term to describe their teaching (as informed by Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research) are actually using something closer to “Productive Latin,” which might not lead to language acquisition at all.

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Why Your Language Teacher Failed You

I have WordPress set to automatically post to Facebook, which means many of you reading this aren’t even language teachers. Allow me, then, to explain why you don’t know the language you studied in school (unless, of course, you were lucky enough to have spent time abroad, or to have found yourself exposed to the language in some meaningful way, thus, correcting decades of misinformed pedagogy still pervasive today)…

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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

A New Curriculum Map

**New iteration of the Curriculum Map as the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) Updated 2.4.18**
**More recent post on USING the New Curriculum Map**

As stated in its introduction, this New Curriculum Map is designed to reconcile Second Language Acquisition (SLA) principles with planning demands that exist within the current educational landscape. It is part theory but 100% practical. I hesitate to call it a “CI Curriculum” because I agree with Bill VanPatten from Episode 23 of Tea with BvP that some people think that CI is a strategy used to teach the stuff they’ve been teaching all along (e.g. explicit grammar rules, cultural facts, purposeless paired activities, dialogues, etc.). This is wrong…totally wrong, in fact. In an age when educators prefer an “eclectic” batch of “tools for the toolbox,” CI can’t be considered one of them along side others. CI is an absolute requirement for language acquisition. The only thing that’s debated is exactly how much of a role output plays in language acquisition, and for some, it’s null. No theory of language acquisition disputes the need for understandable messages (= CI).

Furthermore, a call from Ellie Arnold during this past week’s Episode 24 of Tea with BvP was right on topic, and Bill confirmed that a curriculum based on targeted structures (i.e. phrases that contain parts of the language’s grammatical structure) will lead us “off track.” That doesn’t mean we can’t plan for a class with targeted structures in mind; it means that we don’t want to write ourselves into a corner by prescribing targeted structures as part of a curriculum.

Without further ado, you can access the New Curriculum Map here. If you have another idea for the organization of Latin vocabulary Tiers, either based on frequency or preference, treat the document as a template and add your own vocabulary. If you teach another language, use your own frequency lists and/or the English equivalents as a guide. Enjoy!

3.31.16 Tea with BvP Takeaways

I’ve been following (and calling into) Bill VanPatten’s Second Language Acquisition (SLA) show since its debut last Fall. I’m proud to say that I have the honor of being the first SLA Quiz winner. Yes, it’s on my CV, and yes, the first prize was a branded bag of teaI edit the episodes so busy people who don’t have an hour to listen still get some nuggets of wisdom. This past week’s episode was important. I had to listen to the show again (even AFTER I edited it), as well as send Bill VanPatten two or three emails to clarify a few points. Here are some takeaways with major implications for teachers who facilitate acquisition in their classrooms:

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