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August 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!

OWL Workshop

Oct. 5th, 2015 08:13 pm
ginlindzey: magistra laeta (Ginny)
So today my LOTE department has a special trainer in doing a workshop.  OWL stands for Organic World Language.  It's tying into a lot of what I've learned at SALVI events (Rusticatio), where we use a mixture of comprehensible input, TPRS, and WAYK (Where Are Your Keys?).  This has been wonderfully high energy (except that I'm having serious problems with my Achilles tendons lately and all the activity is aggravating severely them).

There are many activities or means of grouping that I will steal and share with my SALVI peeps right away. So, with OWL you are always up and moving (at least in what we've seen so far) and either you are in a circle, or you are paired or grouped up in some way.  If she calls out 2, we get in pairs and play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winner dances disco, the loser dances salsa. THEN the instructor actually gives the prompt for discussion. (Topics may be listed on the board.) If she calls out 3, you pose for Charlies Angels (three people, posing with finger guns). If you have a person left out, that person decides the topic (from the list). If she calls out 4, it's for Pirates--two prisoners with wrists crossed, two pirates standing behind doing pirate sort of things. If she calls out 5, it's for Zombies--two people lie on the ground, the other three act like they are eating the two that are down.

All of the goofy activities have a useful purpose besides simply being fun. Doing something goofy with your body lowers the affective filter and thus they don't stress as much over speaking. There's also this reassuring aspect that it's just all play--as all good learning should be.

At one point we were grouped into threes, and then did an activity called Microlab. Each person would have a chance to speak with NO interruption from the other two about whatever the topic was. A little monologue. If that person doesn't fill the whole time, that's ok. Transitions between turns happen when the teacher calls out (in the target language) to raise your hands (both), and then calls the number of the person who is to talk next.  Beforehand, the instructor had numbered each person in the group and then asked all the 1s to raise their hands, then the 2s, then the 3s.  After each person had their turn to monologue, we were given a new question. She assigned a new order (3s then 1s then 2s, for instance), once again asked all the 1s to raise hands, 2s, then 3s. And each transition between speakers was done with "raise your hands" (in the target language).

Any time we start to drift off topic, the instructor immediately gets us back by telling us in the target language to touch our heads, touch our elbows, raise our hands, etc. As the day wore on, we were more inclined to digress, so this was done a few times. :-)

There was a discussion on most learning happening as "brain sparks" at the beginning and end of class with a big sagging wave in the middle, and that by changing the class to a more kinesthetic environment that you create a bunch of little waves and thus more "brain sparks."

Another discussion was regarding vocabulary: FULL, PARTIAL, & CONCEPTUAL.  Vocabulary lists are kept on white boards for her classes, and as students move through and acquire vocab, old words are erased and new ones added.  FULL are words that are internalized. Partial are those that are in the process of being acquired. Conceptual are new words that have yet to work their way into active use.

There is a great emphasis on SOCIAL interaction, and social interaction creating the driving need for language acquisition.  We had discussed that we all experienced ownership of the language when in an immersion situation and had to be able to communicate.  Of course, there was lots of discussion about mistakes being made along the way and that that's how we learn.

I also liked the idea that it's necessary to DEUNITIZE. That is, we shouldn't keep topics separate. We should find ways to connect everything, because the more connections that are made with vocabulary and concepts, the quicker those words are internalized. She did a great word web example with CAT in the middle, surrounded by all sorts of related words; then started taking each of the related words out through their various connections. It was amazing to see all the digressions, and how some of those digressions actually ended up with similar vocab. I wish I had taken a picture.

We kept coming back to the theme that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. Hearing this repeated so many times made me feel very positive about the things I've done with the Phaedrus poems (see previous post). Having the time to set up context, to build upon previous knowledge, to understand the background--all those things I think have aided in our enjoyment of the Phaedrus poems. And it also emphasizes that language doesn't occur with lists of vocabulary in isolation.

Late in the afternoon we were working with ACTFL proficiencies and types of questioning. I really enjoyed the activities we did because if nothing else, it demonstrated to me that understanding exactly the level of questioning I use (novice, intermediate, advanced) is not as simple as it looks.  I was reassured when the instructor said that questioning is the hardest skill to master. Maybe this is why I balk at asking a story (something I know I want and need to do with my 4s at least).

OWL has five goals for students:

  1. to speak L2 exclusively

  2. to not be afraid of the L2 environment

  3. to take risks and break down affective filter

  4. to be able to infer and circumlocute

  5. to participate in and be part of a community.

Anyway, these are only the bare bones of what went on today. I'm afraid that if I don't take time to process all of this now that I will be too busy to do it later.

One thing that keeps going through my mind when I consider OWL, WAYK, TPRS, etc is that underlying realization that traditional methods of language instruction have failed this last century. The US in its paranoia at losing English as its "only" language has meant language study has just not been taken seriously. Our forefathers did not fear learning other languages--English, French, Latin, and Greek. Surely some Spanish too. But too many feel like everyone else should learn English instead of embracing opportunities to learn other languages.  And Latin's out-of-date focus on its benefits for SAT scores has killed us. That, and that it's the ideal language for people who are afraid of the oral aspect of modern languages.  My friend, John Kuhner, just today has published a wonderful article about Rusticatio and Latin's place in the spoken Latin world. The Latin Speakers of West Virginia. This last summer I couldn't afford to go to Rusticatio and I missed it desperately. It is a magical place. But I realized when I saw that list of 5 goals--I missed it because Rusticatio, for me, has been the only place where all five of those goals were in play for me.

When we were asked today at what point did we feel we really owned our language, I fudged it and said it was when I dreamed in Latin at Rusticatio. In truth, I still don't own this language. I can't pick up just anything in Latin and read with total fluency and comfort, though I am far closer now than I was when I got my degree.  To use a WAYK term, I have massive holes in my pocket.  Massive.  But I love this language. I can't tell you why, I just do.  My roommate asked me last summer what I would do if I could have my dream job.  I'd still teach, but significantly fewer hours, for higher pay so I could get out of debt.  LOL.  And I would find time to be a student.  I think in a past life I must have been a Roman. I can't explain any other reason for why I do what I do. Why I obsess over pronunciation, why I abandoned my moderately successful AP Latin program for level 4 to do what I'm doing now. And to constantly be questioning even now what I am doing.