Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spoken Latin in the classroom

The core tenet of CI is that kids need comprehensible input to acquire language-- a LOT of it. As Latin teachers we traditionally only provide input in written form, and it's rarely if ever actually comprehensible. So how can we deliver more input? By speaking Latin... a LOT. Terrifying! Right?

Well, yes. It's hard. But we've got to do it. I'm going to say right now that I'm really very weak. We've done classroom commands and stuff but I hardly ever use them. We do attendance in Latin now, but that's limited to "adestne Marcus?" "adsum." etc. When I'm doing a story or PQA, I speak Latin, but I pretty regularly break into English, and very few of the kids use Latin beyond sic, non, and adsum. One of my goals for next year* is to really push the spoken Latin and use it whenever possible.

Oh wait there's the rub. "Use it whenever possible." There are two huge constraints on this before we even worry about the kids' use of English. The first is the teacher's ability to speak, and the second is the kids' ability to understand.

As Latin teachers, we are usually pretty horrible at output. Most of us never even take prose comp courses, and forget about speaking practice. I posted previously about how to improve your spoken Latin (tl;dr: the answer is get more comprehensible input yourself!).

What about ensuring that the kids can understand you? You can read Cicero to them all day and they won't acquire a damn thing. You have to make sure that the input you provide is truly comprehensible. How do we do that? More under the cut.

Scaffolding: when you're speaking to the kids, scaffold as much as you can. Scaffolding can be anything from having useful conversational phrases on the wall/board, pointing & pausing to words written somewhere in the room, using gestures (TU :points: estisne laeta? :ridiculous happy face:), using circumlocution to clarify meaning ('dedit' est 'dat' sed heri, non hodie). It's May and I'm still sometimes pointing to the quid sign above my board when I ask a "what" question. They all know most of the time, but why leave it in doubt?

Set yourself up for success: Make sure they words they know first and best are the ones you need to talk about stuff you need to talk about. Get those question words up in your classroom & keep them there all year. Make sure they know sedete! if you're planning to do classroom commands, but make sure they also know "NULLA TELEPHONA!"

Repeat, repeat, repeat:  If you have to say it and gesture it nine times, don't get frustrated- it's all input. That being said, if they don't understand after two or three times, find another way to say it.

Use your high achievers: If you ask the whole class a question and get crickets, try asking just that one kid who you know understood. The other kids will pick up on what you mean by listening to that kid's answers. And if that one doesn't get it? Definitely time to rephrase.

Watch your middle achievers. The furrowed brow of a B student tells you nine million times as much as the mildly bored expression of an A+ kid. If you see that look of mild panic on a B student, smile specifically to them and check in in English.

Watch all your kids' eyes, actually, especially the slow ones. This is basic TPRS- teach to the eyes. It's easy to forget when you're focused on your own Latin output.

KISS: You know what this means. Keep it simple for your OWN sake, too. If you're tangled in your own words, you're not paying attention to the kids.

GO SLOW. No, slower than that. SLOWER. If there's such a thing as "too slow," why not make it your mission to find it? The kids will let you know if it's too slow, but an awful lot of them will never let you know it's too fast.

Embedded questioning: I just made up that term. It's essentially backwards circling. If you ask a question and get nothing, use a simpler question until you get something, then try going back up again. Example- assume gesturing for nose, size, 'no', etc.:
T: Iosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus est. discipuli, cur est Iosua solus?
Ss: ...
TIosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus estCur Iosua nullos amicos habet?Ss: ................
T: Iosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus estHabetne Iosua amicos?
Ss: non?
T: bene! Iosua amicos non habetIosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus estestne ei nasus parvus?
Ss: non!
T: est nasus Iosuae parvus an maximus?
Ss: ....
TIosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus estestne nasus Iosuae maximus?
Ss: sic!
T: est nasus Iosuae parvus an maximus?
Ss: maximus! (some will say sic/non, others will say "big" in English, one or two may say parvus, others will say nothing at all-- but a few will say maximus)
T: bene! nasus Iosuae MAXIMUS estIosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus MAXIMUS esthabetne Iosua amicos?
Ss: non!
T: beneIosua NULLOS AMICOS habet quia ei nasus MAXIMUS est! discipuli... :SLOW AS HECK HERE: habetne Iosua ... nullos amicos... quia ei nasus... PARVUS... est...?Ss: non! (and a few will by this point go "NON! MAXIMUS! MAXIMUS!")
The first question I asked is a problem because it doesn't even relate obviously to the sentence before it. Sure, it does if you think about the meaning, but they may not be at that level. Try again- repeat the core structure of the sentence "nullos amicos habet." Still nothing, probably. Try again with a yes/no or either/or question. If the either/or is too hard, ask them each part of it individually, then ask it again as an either/or. Then build back up to a longer question.

That actually speaks to something important: Don't expect them to be able to repeat back to you "Iosua nullos amicos habet quia ei nasus maximus est." It will never happen. Maybe one of the really high kids will get to "nasus maximus" but it'll be one kid and the others will be lost and unhappy that they don't understand and possibly even angry with the other student for being a "try hard." We don't need those feelings in the room. The point isn't to get them to repeat what you say. The point is for them to understand what you say and be able to communicate that they understand.

I think I haven't done too good a job saying in what situations I use Latin versus English, so I'll give a rundown of times you could use Latin, although I don't usually do all of these:
  • attendance
  • hello, how are you, what did you do this weekend, etc. (build up complexity over time)
  • announce the day's routine & transition from activity to activity in Latin (this means you need Latin names for all your activities...)
  • classroom commands (get your pencils, paper, write in Latin, write in English, read two pages etc.)
  • Latinize everyone's names (Kaitlin = Ketlin, Ketlinis or Ketlina, ae, or Katarina... give em some options) so you don't interrupt your flow with sudden, jarring English. (I've also heard kids in other language classes complain about the random TL names they get- "My name's not Pablo!!" so I like to keep it connected to their real name. Oh and of course a Chris is going to respond better to "Cristopere!" than "Pablo!")
  • TPRS activities generally can and should be done in TL once you've established meaning
If you use spoken Latin in your classroom, tell us what YOU do in the comments! :)

* This is a bad habit of mine. "Next year..." Why not now?! I don't know either.


  1. Great post! This is my biggest challenge, hands down. Classroom directions (get out your homework, pick up a handout) are written on the board in Latin: translated for 5-6 grades, not translated for 7-8 grades; all TPRS activities (fabulae ridiculae, circling, etc) are entirely in Latin; micrologues/dictatio entirely in Latin; most classroom commands in Latin; hello/goodbye/how are you in Latin; lots of questions about stories in Latin (but not all, depending on my purposes); simple history lectures about a known topic previously read about in English are in Latin. But even with all that, I'd say we're MAYBE, at BEST, 20% in Latin. CI doesn't mean immersion, but the more we speak the better they get. I feel you! --Michelle

  2. Great write-up, Ellie!--honest and helpful, as always.

    In case you're interested, the doc linked below ("Six Ways to Find Your Latin Name") is one I give my students to help them come up with Latin names.


    My students are under no obligation to come up with a name quickly and Latin nicknames frequently arise based on what happens in class and then become prominent. The examples in this doc are all from a recent class.

    When I promise students, in the blurb at the top of the doc, that having Latin names will help them learn Latin faster, I'm referring to the fact that everyone's having a Latin name creates tons of occasions for students to hear case endings in meaningful contexts, besides cutting down on code-switching. These are the reasons I became convinced of the value of Latin names in class, even though I used to be against it because preferred names are important and people don't generally change names just because they're operating in another language.

    1. Thank you so much for that doc, Justin! Those are great resources. I completely agree with you on how using their names helps with learning the case endings. We sing the case endings without words, but if I want to show how they actually function, I find the kids listen wayyyy better if I'm declining "Trever, Treveri, Trevero" than "puer, pueri, puero." (The other, less noble reason I prefer Latinized real names is that I put so much effort at the beginning of the year into learning real names, and it's hard to then switch to some random thing they pick off of a worksheet.)

  3. The 90% is about target language (not class time), so the kids need to be included.

    - 90% of what you say is in Latin
    - 90% of what students read and listen to is in Latin

    When students speak during class, 90% of their utterances are in Latin (but they won't be speaking for 54min in a 60min class = 90%), and what they hear you say is 90% in Latin.

    I think the best mindset to have about target language use is realizing that you must make things comprehensible, which most efficiently is done using English, and must quickly explain grammar in English when a kid asks as a "pop-up." Other than that, just use the target language (i.e. don't fret about those English moments, and you will likely meet your 90% goal).