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ginlindzey: At ACL (Default)
ginlindzey

June 2017

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If you are going to a SALVI event / Rusticatio this summer or perhaps something with Paideia, I would like to offer some advice from a game teacher but mediocre speaker of Latin.

That is, my true conversational skills have a long ways to go (though my pronunciation is solid).

I have attended, I dunno, 4 or 5 Rusticationes and a couple of Bidua. While I am a bright person, even a creative person, I am not a natural when it comes to languages. Whatever instincts others have to make picking up languages a natural act, I seem to lack.

In fairness, my first several Rusticationes were--to me--a vacation with my intellectual family and away from the emotional turmoil that was my home life. These people *got* me--my obsession with Latin and all that comes with it. While in the sessions, I was totally focused. However, out of the sessions I could and would be alone with my thoughts--my English thoughts. Thus I might well have been in a 24/7 spoken Latin environment, but my brain was not tuned into Latin 24/7. I was cheating and for the first several years I didn't even realize it. And just like when our students cheat, it was impeding my true progress.

I was busy trying to learn techniques and things I could gradually add to my classes which focused on ways to work with literature in the target language. I felt I was making great progress with teaching my students how to truly read Latin in ways that I had never learned. Now I wanted to enhance that with spoken language because I did and do understand that it helps to build that mental representation. However, I didn't really work on small talk. That is, I could manage to say what I needed to say with some thought, but I didn't practice it. I'm not the type to stay up late drinking and chit-chatting, so there were things I also missed out on. I didn't think they were important at the time, but now I see that they were.

This year I made a big push to incorporate significantly more comprehensible input in my classes. Ok, admittedly, the year didn't quite end that way, but I mentally have been building a list of all the things I would do differently with the students, much of which stems from having a clear understanding now of how I inadvertently undermined my precious, limited time at Rusticatio. So here are five specific suggestions that I suggest you take to heart. I am betting your progress will be significantly more substantial than mine if you do.

1) Try never to go off on a walk, etc, alone. If you do, talk to yourself out loud, describing everything around you. Try to incorporate anything that was presented in a session.

I tried doing this at my last Rusticatio and it did prevent me from taking vacation time in my head in English. I enjoy nature watching, and would compose Latin haiku in my head during my walks or make observations aloud and then transform that observation into an indirect statement or indirect question. Sometimes I would then turn it into a conditional clause.

2) Work your small talk. Can you, with the ease of habit, say where you are from, where you live now, where you went to school, how old you are, how many levels of Latin you teach, etc etc? Can you ask those kinds of questions with the same ease?

My problem in great measure is that small talk bores me. I'd rather get into a meaty conversation on an interesting topic or try to tell some really funny story. But the basics are important if you really want to develop that mental representation of the language. There are phrases that I have internalized in Latin that I say with an automatic response--like when someone sneezes--so automatic that I have to think to say such things in English now. But when you ask me where I'm from, I spend too much time thinking through exactly what I want to say. What's important here is not necessarily that you can talk the small talk but that you are developing that mental representation, that automatic response. Plus these can be the building blocks for "same conversation" (see below).

3) Learn how to "hunt" language, and "hunt" every moment you can.

This is a WAYK (Where Are Your Keys) technique, and somehow the first couple of years that the wonderful and marvelous Evan Gardner was at Rusticatio, I missed the session on the full explanation of WAYK, let alone understanding how to "hunt" language. In fact, it wasn't until the Rusticatio Pedagogy camp that I really learned how to hunt, and not until the last day. I remember having the absolute best and most enjoyable and educational lunchtime discussion on lids on drinking cups/bottles. (Did the lid screw on? Just push down? How does it compare to a salt shaker lid? The lid on the coffee thermos?) There's an art to it; part of it involves understanding how "circling" works. And it sure beat a table full of tirones trying to figure out some small talk.

For more on WAYK language hunting, go here: WAYK Language Hunting

4) Practice "same conversation." This is when you take something that you would say every day, for instance, starting with the smallest version possible, and add to it a little bit at a time.

The example I was given was about morning coffee. The conversation started something like this: "Is the coffee ready?" to which each day a little more was added: "Is the coffee ready? Did you prepare it?" "Is the coffee ready? Did you prepare it? Is it French roast?" etc. I'm sure I'm not remembering this quite correctly, but you get the picture.

I learned about the value of this on one of the last days I was at my last Rusticatio. It had never occurred to me before to build upon a conversation in such a way, even though this sounds completely obvious. And in thinking about this now, I realize in my own teaching this year one of the things I missed out on were opportunities to incorporate and build upon "same conversation"--but I intend to target this next year.

For more on WAYK "same conversation," go here: WAYK Same Conversation

5) When you read Latin, read it aloud (or aloud in your head). Don't let your English translator kick in. Shut it down by reading aloud.

If you are a natural language learner, if you already have other spoken languages under your belt, you probably don't need these hints. You probably naturally intuit how to go about activating your Latin. I myself clearly am not a natural linguist, but a good student. And admittedly sometimes I need things spelled out to me, which is ok. It's ok because it helps me to understand and deeply empathize with what so many of my students go through with language learning.

If you are just nervous about all the vocabulary you don't know, there are materials I made for Rusticatio that I believe are still in use which you can find on my website.

I'm not going to an immersion workshop this summer, sadly, but I am thinking of all of these things as I prepare for incorporating more spoken Latin into my classes last year. I hope you find these hints helpful. Please feel free to share with any tiro at a speaking event this summer!
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