Your Program: Basing it on Acquiring Latin (3 of 3)

Look, I don’t want to have to say it, but I have to say it…you need to start speaking Latin.

It’s true that the universally agreed-upon sine qua non of language acquisition is Comprehensible Input (i.e. understandable messages one listens to, and/or reads), which could, theoretically, be limited to ONLY written messages, but don’t stop there when basing your Latin program on acquisition!Why? Written messages are static, yet your students are dynamic. This means that well-written resources might not be effective, either by lack of interest, or INcomprehensibility. So, it doesn’t matter how long you spent rewriting Caesar using fewer unique words so that first year Latin students could read part of it—IF—your students didn’t understand the words you chose, or had no interest in reading about the Gallic War in the first place! Seriously, nosce discipulōs suōs!

Although Justin has had much more to share on the matter elsewhere, speaking is the most versatile tool at your disposal in order to provide CI. In fact, aside from potentially falling flat, well-written resources aren’t even guaranteed CI. Texts are Input (I), for sure, yet the extent to which they are actually Comprehensible (C) is mostly up to you, the language expert. Speaking Latin allows you to adjust, and personalize that input, make it compelling, and keep messages IN LATIN, instead of opening up discussions in English, resorting to the familiar lecture ABOUT Latin, et cetera.

I understand what it’s like to have no idea how to speak Latin, and I found myself in such a situation years after graduating cum laude with a degree in Classics. More recently, I’ve witnessed a university student unable to utter the word for “three” (i.e. trēs). This can be quite damaging to the Classicist’s psyche—but it’s not their fault, and it’s not yours either. It’s not your fault. Fault could be traced back to the 1500’s, but what’s the point? Get yourself to an immersion event in order to start speaking Latin comfortably, listen to podcasts, and go from there.

Fun vs. Compelling
There’s a difference between having fun in Latin class, and be compelled to listen/read must-know messages in the target language because of intrigue, problem-solving, or high-interest situations. I’m not going to pretend that Latin classes have never been fun, but take a minute to think about your favorite “fun activities.” Now, evaluate the extent to which they align with language goals. Do any of them REQUIRE communicative competence in Latin? If not, those “fun activities” are actually just breaks from what is likely grammar, and most definitely a disruption to input. To be fair, many “fun activities” COULD be done in Latin, but usually aren’t, and even then usually require a higher proficiency level than students (and many teachers!) possess.

The importance of compellingness is sometimes ignored—a grave error when basing a program on acquisition—and speaking Latin is the best way to make something more compelling in the moment. After all, we should be able to acknowledge that students pay more attention to things they find interesting while very few people study language for its own sake. Most students use language (i.e. communicate) in order to learn, build, create, entertain, and socialize, as Bill VanPatten stated on Episode 42 of Tea with BVP, so activities in class should have a greater communicative purpose that students find compelling.

To Consider
What are your students interested in? Think about this. It’s February—if you’re unable to come up with more than just a few items students wrote about on some interest inventory earlier in the year, or something YOU taught from the curriculum, you need to start communicating with students to find out who they really are, and what they find compelling. If it’s done in Latin that they understand, you’ve begun to base your program on acquiring Latin!

Summary for Basing a Program on Acquiring Latin
1) Stop grading & assessing the identification, manipulation, and/or production of forms.
2) Begin grading & assessing for meaning.
3) Start speaking Latin.
4) Find out what your students are compelled to listen to, and read.

Once your program is based on acquiring Latin, the next steps are building skills used to make Latin more comprehensible, establishing a safe learning environment, and using a variety of novel activities and tasks as modes of delivery for input. The majority of teachers I know who have embraced teaching Latin for acquisition are in the process of these “next steps” which represent true life-long learning. You can expect to obtain significant support from the Inclusive Latin Classroom contributors on such steps in future posts.


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