Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, part 2

The following post is part of a series.

So while this concept of communicative tasks is very appealing to me, the bigger picture for me is this: about what is it that I actually want students to communicate in my Latin class in the target language? What is my end goal for them in terms of communication? Do I want students to be able to communicate about themselves and others in Latin (like Can-Do statements)? Do I want them to communicate about a particular text in Latin which they have read?

If I were to ask Latin teachers (and even modern language teachers about the Latin classroom) this question, I would get an array of answers all across the spectrum, everything from "What? Why should we speak Latin? There is no value in it if our goal is for students to be able to translate Cicero" to "I do use spoken Latin via CI/TPRS, but my goal is still for students to read Cicero, not to converse with each other in Latin" to "Why are we NOT speaking Latin and teaching Latin like a modern language?! Latin is only viewed as a dead language, because Latin teachers treat it as one!" The question resonates for me, because I understand everyone of those responses. Honestly, I think that I am still trying to figure all of it out myself too, or rather, where do I fit in the debate.

If you have read my About Me page, then you know that I was once one of the biggest advocates AGAINST any type of spoken Latin, so I can relate to (though disagree now with) the argument of those who see no value in speaking Latin. For six summers, however, I have attended Rusticatio, a weeklong Latin immersion "camp," where I spoke and conversed only in Latin. I am probably only an Intermediate High conversationalist in Latin, but gosh, I love the Rusticatio environment, Latin-only setting of courses/activities, and just hanging out on the maenianum (back porch) conversing in Latin with other like-minded and similar-abilitied folks. (Click here for a video piece which Al Jazeera International broadcast about Rusticatio). So for me, I completely understand the concept of treating Latin like any other modern language. As I have commented before, following my first Rusticatio, I was incredibly BITTER that the idea of speaking Latin had been kept from me in my schooling years, because suddenly it was like a whole part of my brain had been activated. I finally saw Latin as more than just a read language.  

Quite honestly, I do not think that the world language community itself as a whole knows what to do with treating Latin as a spoken, communicative language. John Bracey, a fellow CI Latin teacher in Massachusetts, called into Tea With BVP, asking Bill Van Patten what he thought about spoken Latin being used in the classroom. Surprisingly, Van Patten did not seem to openly embrace the idea - he was not opposed to the concept but at the same time, he did not seem to praise it either (for the record, Van Patten did take Latin in school - I suspect under the grammar-translation method). Instead, he said that it all came down to goals for individual Latin teachers, so he kind of side-stepped the issue. 

Essentially, it does come down to goals. This summer, I am going to be working on what I would like to incorporate into my curriculum regarding student communication. When addressing my goals, I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I do not have anything concrete in terms of communicative goals at the moment, but here is what is shaping them:
  • My classroom will continue to be a Comprehensible-Input based classroom. Output will be the result and overflow of input.
  • Based on survey results, my students want to know more conversational Latin beyond salve and mihi nomen est ________. My favorite comment from a student: "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself." Students wish for Latin to be personal. 
  • As students will continue to read stories in my class, these will also serve as topics for communicative tasks.
  • I do not like the idea of isolating Latin solely to the classical period, as Latin spans the ages. When we keep Latin stuck in the 1st century in terms of its usage and setting, then indeed it is a dead language. Languages change and develop, and the same must apply to Latin if we wish to view it as a living language. Apparently, this was an issue even in the 16th century, as Erasmus wrote a treatise called Ciceronianus addressing this. 
  • I cannot let tradition dictate what happens in my classroom. Over the years, I have had Latin 1 students complain to me that I had not "taught" them Latin, because they did not know all of their declension endings, all of their verb tenses, and how to conjugate verbs like their friends at other schools. That saddens me that my students would feel this way, considering what they were able to do with the language compared to their friends, who only know about the language. This means that grammar will still be covered but just not in an explicit manner.
We shall see where this goes...


  1. Your last point is compelling. It hurts to hear a student say "you haven't taught us" or "we haven't learned anything." Students seem to prefer linear curricula. In other words, the classic argument of whether you can "learn" language or "acquire" it. Legacy methods vs. research-based CI. What saddens me is that while CI might win the day in a generation or two, at the moment we are struggling against a system in which, like it or not, CI is viewed as less rigor and more fluff. Yes, we can remain confident that we are correct, but it is no comfort when bright students think the class isn't serious. Thank you for posting. Always good to read others' struggles (as well as successes).

    1. Thanks for the comment. And most likely, when we language teachers were students, we were the ones who loved the liner nature of traditional language teaching (I know that I did) and were attracted to the "rigor" of explicit grammar!

  2. I really like the way you've laid out the landscape of communication in Latin teaching. I hope you'll post more about what your eventual goals are and your thought process regarding how you settled on them.

    In my parts, there is a strong current of "why would anyone need/want to communicate in Latin?" And also there is the very real issue of perceived "rigor" coming from both administration and from students. I am trying to think in terms of explicitly aligning my goals with the national standards, but that still leaves a broad range of possibilities.