Saturday, November 28, 2015

Comprehensible Input is Always Active Latin, but Active Latin Is Not Always Comprehensible Input

I know that my title sounds like a geometry maxim, e.g., a square is always a rhombus, but a rhombus is not always a square. The point of this post is not to offend anyone but is more of an effort to define terms. 

When Latin teachers hear the terms Active Latin and Comprehensible Input, I think that most assume that they are one in the same. The truth is that they are and yet, they are not. Both do involve the use of oral Latin in the classroom for the purpose of language acquisition, but Comprehensible Input is a specific and deliberate form of Active Latin. 

To me, the use of Active Latin means facilitating Latin as a spoken language in the classroom for the purpose of communication and of teaching. Under that umbrella definition, Comprehensible Input definitely fits that description. There are, however, many Latinists out there who think that because they are using active Latin in the classroom, then they must be implementing Comprehensible Input too. The truth is yes, but also no. 

The difference, however, between the two is that I equate active Latin many times with full immersion and forced production of the language. That is not to say that teachers are not achieving success with this approach. The issue is that in many instances full immersion can turn into submersion, which results in frustration for the learner and in a "survival of the fittest" classroom mentality. I myself have experienced this type of submersion at numerous spoken Latin events, and yes, I can attest that frustration and a doubt of one's abilities are the results. In his Comprehensible Input theory, Krashen states that when one's affective filter/stress level rises, learning ceases (for those of you familiar with "Where Are Your Keys?", think "full").   

In Comprehensible Input, full immersion can be implemented, provided that it is 100% comprehensible for learners. This can be achieved through using known vocabulary, limiting vocabulary (but not grammar), establishing meaning of unknown vocabulary and structures (yes, though the use of English!), and bathing learners' minds with understandable input (comprehensible input + 1 is the goal). In other words, Comprehensible Input is deliberate. Output and production of the language are never forced but are viewed as natural results and overflow of input.     

For those Latin teachers with little to no experience in speaking Latin, the use of CI/TPRS allows for the use of Active Latin through the delivery of understandable messages in Latin without having to be a fluent speaker. Even though I have attended Rusticationes for the past six summers, I would probably say that I am an Intermediate Mid/High speaker of Latin.  (maybe even an Advanced Low on a very good day), and I am happy with that.

So for those of you who do use oral Latin in your classroom, would you say that you are implementing Active Latin or Comprehensible Input? What benefits do you see in either approach?


  1. Excellent distinction, Keith.

    I attended various Latin immersion experiences and then tried to replicate the pedagogy I observed in my own classroom. That kind of forced language production didn't work. I am convinced that I benefit from those Latin immersion weeks because I am ACTIVATING my own knowledge of the language system. My students didn't have that knowledge, so the strategies employed during Latin immersion events were ineffective in the classroom.

    Active Latin is for the highly motivated and fast processors, Comprehensible Input is for everyone.

    1. Omnino tibi assentior! In her welcome speech on opening night of Rusticatio/Biduum, Nancy Llewellyn always makes a point of saying that we Latinists possess a passive knowledge of Latin and that an experience like Rusticatio allows for that knowledge to be activated. Like you say, our students do not possess that knowledge yet.