Saturday, October 27, 2018

Putting Latin in the Ears of your Students

Over the past few weeks, I have had some great conversations with Latin teachers both in person and online regarding using spoken Latin in their classrooms. These teachers considered themselves to be traditional teachers who had never experienced active Latin before or never had Latin come out of their mouths for the purpose of communication. For these teachers, to even consider using spoken Latin with their students was a scary experience and was something which they had opposed for years. Somehow, though, they decided to start reading sentences aloud from their textbooks to students and asking students comprehension questions in Latin about what they had just said. These teachers reactions? Wow, their students were able to respond in Latin and enjoyed it! As a result, these teachers have come to the conclusion that it is important to bring in some degree of active Latin to their classrooms, even if they are not experienced in speaking Latin, because having students hear Latin really helps in the acquisition process.

I can completely relate to this, because for the first twelve years of my teaching career I was vehemently opposed to the use of any type of active Latin. My primary defense was "What is the point in speaking Latin if our goal is for our students to read Cicero" (and I hear this defense A LOT). However, my opposition to active Latin was mainly because I had not learned Latin with a spoken element, had never spoken Latin before, and had never experienced Latin as a living language. In other words, my opposition was actually based on my own fears and inabilities, rather than on actual research. However, after attending my first Rusticatio in 2010, I realized that we traditional Latin teachers were leaving out such a HUGE component in the acquisition of Latin by not speaking the language.

But why speak Latin in the classroom? According to Nancy Llewellyn from her article "Why Speak Latin?":
All those of us who teach have known or have taught a few outstanding students who could read extremely well and yet do not speak. But for every one of these, how many others have we lost? How many talented kids have we seen quitting after only a few weeks, or getting bored after a year or two and moving on to something they can internalize and really make their own, such as Arabic, French or Spanish? What we call the traditional method can work tolerably well for the 50% of our class which is composed of visual learners (indeed, extremely well for the top 2% of these), but what about the rest? What about the auditory and kinesthetic learners, whose primary learning modes are so rarely and scantily addressed? 
Let me also say that just speaking Latin in class in and of itself does not lead to language acquisition. If done incorrectly, it can impede student learning and just leave learners frustrated. For spoken Latin to be effective, it needs to be comprehensible. This is achieved by:
  • establishing meaning in L1. Write the Latin word with its definition in English on the board, and point and pause. Do not make the assumption that meaning is obvious through the use of gestures, pictures, etc. Gestures and picture can help create visual cues for learners, but establish meaning in L1 in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page. I can speak from personal experience where Latin speakers have tried to establish meaning of unknown words for me in L2, and all it did was result in frustration for me and not wanting to speak to that person. Just tell me the #%@$ meaning in L1 so that I can move on! I can only imagine what my own students would feel like if I were to do that to them.
  • speaking slowly. Annabelle Allen, whom I absolutely ADORE and RESPECT, says, "If you (as the teacher) are not bored by how slowly you are speaking (to students), then you are not speaking slowly enough." I can tell you that my affective filter SKYROCKETS whenever I hear advanced Latin speakers speaking so fast that their Latin sounds like just one long word to me. Although you may be a fast processor when hearing the language, remember that most learners are not.
  • remembering the level of your listeners. If we are being realistic, we will remember that although we may have Latin 3 students, they are actually only 3-year olds in the language. Do you personally speak to 3-year olds like Cicero?
So if you are new to speaking Latin and are a bit hesitant, here are some ways in which you can put some Latin in the ears of your students:
Let me end with this: you do not have to be a master Latin speaker to use active Latin in your classroom; you just need to be better than your students. Yep, you are probably going to make mistakes, but that is okay. Most likely, your students will not catch the errors, and you can always correct yourself - I correct myself all the time. it is perfectly okay to have a script! If someone tells you that you must speak Latin perfectly (and that includes pronunciation) before you begin to do it in the classroom, then I will tell you that you will NEVER get around to speaking it, because you will never be at that level of perfection. I do not always speak perfect English, and English is my mother tongue!

Years ago, I told Rose Williams, a veteran Latin teacher in Texas, "I need to apologize to that first group of Latin students whom I taught, because I had no clue what I was doing." Her reassuring reply to me was, "But even though you were probably just a few pages ahead of your students in the textbook, they still loved you anyway." To those of you who are hesitant to speak Latin in your classroom because you do not think that you are good enough, let Rose's message be my message to you.

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