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October 2017


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So I've been reading a fair amount of Latin this year.  Fair amount for me.  Pleasure reading. Latin.  NOT A LOEB. Not rereading favorite Catullus poems or Martial epigrams, not rereading favorite passages of Vergil. Harrius Potter et Lapis Philosophi, Winnie Ille Pu, Commentarii de Inepto Puero, etc. Reading QUANTITY.  Reading for FUN.

And yet.... yesterday morning, as I relaxed on my apartment balcony with one cat on my lap and another at my feet plus my copy of Domus Anguli Puensis, I had this thought:  was I truly acquiring language, was I truly benefiting from all of this input I've been so proud of? After all, I have been reading WHOLE BOOKS of Latin, not a chapter here or a chapter there from an ancient work, or only  x number of lines intensively. I have been letting go of needing to know everything even though we Latin teachers/students have always been about every single detail. I've been enjoying the story. But... I had to ask myself to be honest--was I acquiring more language?  I'm not sure.  But I felt that nothing was leaping into my active use from having seen multiple instances in context. <sigh> Once again I'm on the slower learner's track, I thought.

I feel like I'm always on the slow learner's track. I'm at a workshop for my GT/gifted & talented update today and thinking about the difference between gifted & talented versus high achiever. I'm the high achiever that can occasionally be GT. In college, I was a top Latin student, making A's in all of my classes, but no one encouraged me to go to grad school. (Yes, admittedly still a sore spot.) Then again, I myself didn't think I was grad school material. Why?  Because it took me HOURS to prepare my Latin assignments for class.  I didn't know about Dexter Hoyos's Rules for Reading, or metaphrasing, or any of the reading tools that are in my toolbox now. I was decoding; painstakingly considering every word, every case, every item as something that was part of a secret code. I would be surrounded by books--grammars, dictionaries, translations--to help me get through it all. Latin was not for me a language that I could read fluently. It was work. But I was up to the challenge.

All the reading methods I incorporate now have made me a much better reader. A few years ago I audited a Caesar class at UT and I know I was probably the top reader in class, always being fully prepared for our intensive sessions (long reading assignments), scoring well on quizzes and tests, and producing probably the top paper for the class.  By golly, all of my focus on improving my reading skills had truly paid off in an academic setting!

Then earlier this year Justin SB pointed out that using the Rules for Reading and all the rest are nothing more than coping strategies.  I didn't want to hear it, but I knew it is true. These rules still have their place, I truly believe, as they do help you to read texts above your true level of proficiency. And when we are in academic situations that make us force students to leap frog into reading Latin that is way above their comfort zone, we need coping strategies. (Can you say AP Latin?)

So is that part of my problem--that I'm still using coping mechanisms? I don't think so. I don't feel the grammar/structures of what I am reading or even the vocabulary is above my proficiency level except... except I think we have to be VERY CAREFUL on how we identify proficiency levels especially for Latin readers when almost all of their life with Latin has been about HOW TO TRANSLATE IT INTO ENGLISH. That is, there is a difference between something I can, when I read it a time or two, TRANSLATE versus something that I can read and not think twice about. I know for a fact that Latin teachers in general think that our students read at a much higher proficiency level than modern languages--but I think we are dead wrong. No one is reading Vergil in their comfort zone. Taking 15 minutes or more to "read" (translate! decode!) one long sentence of Caesar is not true reading. But I suppose that's another discussion for another time.

HERE'S my problem: I realize that unless I'm really concentrating on hearing the Latin words in my head or reading aloud, my brain is still translating. I'm having a very difficult time turning that off. I think I'm doing fine because I'm reading left to right (not hunting the verb or decoding), and moving along at a comfortable even if slowish rate. But here's what I realized I was doing.  This sentence came up this morning: '"eamus quia Dies Iovis est," dixit.' Before I could hear myself say the words in Latin in my head, my brain already shouted out, '"Let's go because it is Thursday," he said.' I didn't just see the Latin and move on; my brain had to shout out the English.

(I'm also aware that I'm noticing vocabulary, analyzing it, thinking about how it is getting used--why censeo and not puto? why decerno? why ominor? But analyzing isn't the same as acquiring.)

How do I turn off my English translator?

Yes, ok, I think I *have* to start reading everything aloud. But maybe there's some other language learning trick I don't know about. When I tweeted about it, language experts (Krashen! Gaab!) both said it (the reading) just needs to be HIGHLY COMPELLING.  Hey, I'm finding this compelling, I'm engaged, I want to read more... but my English translator won't turn off. Maybe modern language learners do not have this problem to the extent that Latin learners may have (because there are significantly fewer of us teaching using Comprehensible Input), but this may be a problem that is not being addressed, a problem that is slowing down able students in ALL LANGUAGES.

And you know what else I think? This English interference issue is part of the reason why I haven't progressed as much as I would like with spoken Latin. I have attended numerous SALVI immersion events (mainly Rusticatio), but I'm still nervous anytime I see someone from Rusticatio because I struggle with small talk, and always feel like I don't know enough vocabulary to reply satisfactorily. I feel like I'm always starting over, at least to a certain extent. My last summer at Rusticatio I figured out at least one thing I was doing that was detrimental: on breaks I would often go off on walks by myself and my thoughts would be in English. To correct this, I made myself talk aloud to myself when on walks--the things I would see--and sometimes I would practices Rassias style things: papilionem video. quis papillionem videt? ipsa dico me papilionem videre. quis rogat? ipsa rogo quis papilionem videat. Maybe it would have been easier if I had just stopped going for a walk on my own! Maybe there should have been a buddy rule....

So, I don't know what else to say. I think ENGLISH really impedes my Latin learning, and yes I am still learning. I've always thought that this is one thing that makes me a good teacher. Yes, I'm totally enthusiastic about Latin and all the rest. My students respond very positively to my class and I want my high achievers to bypass me on their way to greatness. But I also have deep empathy with the struggler, especially the bright struggler who maybe doesn't get why he/she is lagging behind peers. So I'm not afraid to identify and analyze my weaknesses.  For me, right here and now it is about how to turn off my English translator when I am reading. And I bet some of your students have this problem too.

interesting article

Date: 2016-06-12 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]