You Can’t Speak Latin in Here, This is Latin Class!

ACTFL recommends that 90% of all class time should be spent providing comprehensible input in the target language. This recommendation encounters resistance and hesitance from many traditional modern language teachers, so you can imagine the response fromĀ traditional Latin teachers. A typical grammar-translation Latin classroom includes closer to 0% target language usage than it does 90%. In fact, it is not uncommon for an experienced Latin teacher to have NEVER spoken unrehearsed Latin in or outside of the classroom. The first time I ever attempted to communicate with another human being in Latin was in front of a class of 7th graders 3 years ago! I was terrified of speaking in Latin because it was totally new to me. I had no prior affection for speaking Latin and actively avoided opportunities to do so. The only reason why I started speaking to my kids in Latin was because I learned how human beings acquire languages. This knowledge, however, didn’t make conducting class in L2 any less scary. So I have decided to make this post an FAQ about teaching class in the target language with special attention paid to the fears and concerns of Latin teachers. I hope this helps.

How do I teach grammar concepts in L2 with novice level students?

The short answer is simply to stop spending class time teaching explicit grammar to novice level students. If the goal of the class is language acquisition, then explicit grammar will not move your students any closer to that goal. Fortunately, our professional organizations are well aware of this reality and thus strongly discourage direct grammar instruction.

How do I get to 90% when I feel like I am awful at speaking my language?

This concern is especially pressing for Latin teachers, who often have very little experience speaking in L2. Oddly enough, I think that our relative lack of proficiency might actually be an advantage. A major feature of teaching with CI is limiting vocabulary. Since our vocabulary is already so limited, it is perhaps easier to “stay inbounds”. You can have great conversations with your students while only using a tiny handful of words.

What’s the point of teaching students to speak Latin?

It is not possible to teach someone “how” to speak another language. According to SLA research, Krashen in particular, speech is just a byproduct of comprehensible input. It doesn’t matter what one intends to do with the language they acquire, the language acquisition process is the same. If our students acquire Latin, speech will occur regardless of our intentions.

How will my students spend 90% of their time in the target language at the novice level?

In the CI classroom, students have access to tons of materials that will help them stay in the target language without forcing spontaneous output. Classroom posters with short responses like “yes”, “no”, “I can’t believe it”, “you’re confusing me”, “awesome”, etc., can be made available to students at all times. Access to these posters will give students a simple way to communicate in L2 without any prior acquisition.

What about my shy students who are already reluctant to speak in L2? Won’t this make them go further into their shell?

This will definitely happen if the teacher forces the students to output before they are ready. This will also occur if the teacher is speaking in a way that is not comprehensible to all students. The students will speak when they are ready and comfortable. I speak to both of my young children in English without the expectation that they match my level of output. When I talk to my 6-month-old son, I am not expecting a response, but that doesn’t mean that I stop talking to him.

What about the AP Latin exam? Why should I waste valuable class time talking to my students in Latin when there is no speaking or listening on the AP exam?

Do you know what else isn’t on the AP Latin exam?

  • Declining nouns.
  • Declining adjectives.
  • Declining noun and adjective pairs.
  • Verb synopses.
  • Verb conjugation.
  • English to Latin translation.
  • Listing principle parts.
  • Diagramming sentences.
  • Changing adjectives into adverbs.
  • Writing in Latin.

Can’t we do higher level work with our students if we are not restricted by the target language?

I can write a blog in English about teaching Latin. I most certainly could not write a blog in Urdu about teaching Latin. In a GT classroom, L1 is the primary language of instruction. In a CI classroom, L2 is the primary language of instruction. How much high-level work a student can do in L1 is meaningless to us as language teachers. We should only concern ourselves with what our students can do with L2.

What if I am just really nervous about switching from 0% to 90% target language use?

You have every right to be nervous! Try a minute or two here and there. Go slowly, be nice to yourself, and work your way up gradually. Honestly, most Latin students receive little to no comprehensible input over the course of their Latin careers. If you give your students 1 minute of Latin a day for an entire year, that will be WAAAAAY more than they would have had otherwise.

– John Bracey


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