Monday, November 25, 2013

Some Things Old, Something New — Day 6

Three girls were missing today because they were part of the One-Act Play team. And tomorrow, I'm gone. And Wednesday is just weird. And then it is a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving. Hmm... Let's consolidate our gains.

For the first time in a long time we did not sit on the floor and throw the ball around. We have done a good job of taking in new knowledge, especially with our ears, and we are doing a good job of integrating that in a pretty intuitive way with our minds. Taking some hints from the Rosetta Stone series, I felt that now that we have stretched our minds and forced ourselves to kind of figure some things out that tool us by surprise, we needed to integrate that with some other kinds of thinking. Rosetta Stone, being a computer program rather than human teacher, gives you lots of different images connected to very basic sentences or even mere words, to build up an intuitive sense of what this word means. We have done that with the sound, /dɪ'ʃiːpuːlɑː/, now we need to do it for the letters d-i-s-c-i-p-u-l-a. We've got great mental images of us claiming and declaring aloud who we are and what "he is"; now let's get a broader association. 

I made a super simple worksheet: big 16-point font (Palatino, of course), in two columns. On there for them to see written out for the first time were their instructions to begin the class: Surgite! Petitiones? (a questionable use, but I needed a cognate), and Oremus. Next came sic, non, and bene. The other side had Sum ________, Quis es?, and Quis est? Then the ladies got the following: Femina sum. Vir es. Femina est. And the gents' read: Vir sum. Femina es. Femina est. 

What I wanted them to do was to brainstorm and draw their own pictures (Pingite picturas!) of how they would represent these basic statements we have been making. I think it is important that they choose and create the picture that contains the meaning for them. What will stick in their minds? 

I was going to force them to only do this on their own, and not allow them to share ideas or see what the others created, but that would ignore the fact that some people just have better ideas which other people can still connect with. For example: the idea to use the Internet meme "Grumpy Cat" for the word non  was absolutely inspired. 

Here's what I made on the SMARTBoard (horrible trying to draw with SMART Ink on a Word doc!) which was kind of a best of/"easy does it" collection. 

Again, don't judge my stick-figure skills by the relative unprettiness of my "Femina est girl" who nevertheless has the boys all wound up. We could not settle on an overall best way to depict "Who is he?", and we had lots of ideas of how to show our class instructions so I just picked one. Tomorrow I think we will get in groups and try to draw some declarative sentences. Iordana, quis est Kæsa? should be fun to represent, as should Patricus non discipula est; est discipulus. Till then, try to draw your own stick-people pointing at themselves and others. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Should Have Saved Progress — Day 5

Ugh. I had today's update half complete, then I left it up on my phone and did a bunch other things and when I came back to the app, it was gone. Idiota sum! Idiotissima! So I'll summarize.

I wanted today to be mostly review, with maybe one or two new things. So we started with a quick review using Sum Pater; quis es? and then we sent a different colored ball around at the same time and had the main speaker say to a neighbor: Sum vir. Femina es. [The name of the guy with other ball] est vir? We eventually mixed it up by allowing both balls to be passed independently after each turn—gotta keep the students from being able to plan ahead too much! 

The next move was to practice the conjunction aut (or). The balls moved along regularly, but you could claim anyone's attention with a Salve, Patricus! and hopefully get a Salve! back before inquiring about the other ball-holder Iordana est femina aut vir? Of course, this generated more fodder for our #latinhumor tag. (Be watching for it trending on Twitter, kids!) The next variant was to have the main ball-holder (Latin pilafer?) ask about the other holder: Est Iohannes aut Iacobus? 

Then we went somewhere new:
Es discipula. <I point at Susannula>
Es discipula. <I point at Iordana> 
Es discipula. <I point at Paggia>
Es discipula. <I point at Teresula>
Es discipula. <I point at Kæsa>
Many frown while trying to repeat discipula. 

Ok. Imitamini me: "-la"
Imitamini me: "-pula"
Imitamini me: "-scipula"
Imitamini me: "discipula"
Bene! Bene! 

So, Susannula est discipula. Paggia est discipula.
Iacobus est discipulus. 
Sic. Susannula est discipula; Iacobus est discipulus
Est discipulus <point at a guy>; est discipula <point at a gal>; est discipula <and another gal>.
Quis est discipula? <At least half the ladies hands tentatively.>

But what is it?! Guys/girls—yes, but what does it mean?! What's discipu—whatever? 
Ah... Discipulus es... discipula es... discipula es... <point to me> Pater sum.
Wait, what?
Oh "student" 
Like "disciple" then?
Yes, yes! I mean, Sic! Bene bene bene! 
So... female student, male student, and Father? 

Susannula est femina et discipula.
Sic, sic. Susannula est femina. Susannula est discipula. ...Susannula est femina et discipula.
Oh, ok! 
Iacobus est vir et discipulus. Sum vir et pater. 

They quickly went around saying they were this kind of gender and that kind of student. Easy. Then we wrapped up by me asking three bonus questions:
Est possibilis esse femina et discipulus? 
Est possibilis esse vir et discipula?
Est possibilis esse pater et femina?

They answered all correctly. Did you? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Steps Forward, Steps Back — Days 3 & 4

Tuesday we priests had a Clergy Study Day. Wednesday was a good and bad day for Latin, but I had no break in which to write anything. Thursday was mostly good, but the afternoon was my day-off and I felt particularly lazy. So now I'm catching up. 

The Tuesday away gave me a chance to plot our next moves.  Wednesday, after reviewing, I started pointing at the young ladies in class one by one declaring Es femina. Es femina. Es femina. The ladies nodded along as I pointed to a guy and said Non es femina, but when I said Es vir there was a collective head-snap and murmur from the gals, including the whispered objection, "What? It's not like 'masculu', or something?" But they quickly acquiesced to the unpredictability of cognates. They had an easy enough time with Sum vir. Non es femina; es vir. Est femina.

There are some who really get it and will even vary the exercise a bit to break up the circle's monotony. This can really help us grow in real comprehension. Teresula had the ball, tapped Paggia on the shoulder and said straight-faced  Teresula sum. Sum femina. Es Paggia. Es vir. And before we could even chuckle, Paggia suddenly turned to her with the most shocked face, and with the ageless female tone of "oh no you di'n't!" said Nooon!! And as we started laughing, she added, still aghast, Non sum vir! I paused the class to say, "Ok, that was great. Granted, Teresula was intentionally, factually inaccurate, but we got it. Language happened! She made a joke. Paggia obviously got it—and thank you for that reaction—and we got to follow."

The step backward came when I wanted to take our newfound sexes and couple them with our names: our first chance for a predicate nominative. Up till now we'd just used our three copulae and attached them to people's names alone or their genders alone, but the great leap in language (both millennia ago and in every baby's development) is when you can start linking things to things. "Bobby is boy." Cæsar imperator est. L'état?—c'est moi! 

So, I announced Vir est. Es femina. Vir est Iohannes. Some nods, some confusion, and at least one "Wait, what?!" Thinking of how Rosetta Stone keeps giving more examples, I continued: Vir est Iohannes. Vir est Patricus. Femina est Kæsa. Femina est Susannula. The jury was still divided. I flipped it; this way is easier, right? Vallicus est vir. Iacobus est vir. Nope, same results, but now the "getters" were getting impatient and wanted to explain in English what the sentence meant. I was a little torn. I generally don't break up help, but I didn't want to lose the intuitive part and the struggle to get there. But the problem was clear. Through my teaching, properly I think, sum/es/est by induction rather than translation, some had figured out more uses for it, but others still just saw it as a personal tag. Which it is, but humans advance when they realize they can use (especially the third-person tag) to link things together. 

Fast-forward a day. A student was gone Wednesday, so we reviewed both to fill her in and to get ourselves back to the split we'd hit yesterday. Again we hit it. Oeneus est vir was lost on some. I didn't pause; I wanted to try to demonstrate it more. It was messy. But then I got a gift in a slight error. Iordana had said to me Sum Iordana...sorry...Sum Iordana femina. Es vir. Est vir. She felt she had done something slightly off, but her procedural "miss" opened the door to explain the grammar. "You're ok. Actually it's cool, because you told me: 'I am—sum, Jordan—Iordana, a woman—femina.'" And I wrote this on the board. 

I had avoided writing anything yet because I have a few students with some reading disabilities for whom keeping up with the irregularities of English pronunciation is hard enough, and to throw Continental vowel sounds in there really messes with them. I wanted them to hear and think them correctly first. But I had decided the visual of x = y was more important. Identifying people is nice, but we want to equate. 

I explained, "This was where we got stuck yesterday. Up till now we've just said 'I'm this. You're that. He's that.' But we want to say more. We want to tell you about so-and-so. We want to join his name with a job or role or relationship." This helped, I think. We practiced things like:
Vallicus est vir. 
Femina est Susannula. 
Quis est femina?
Es vir?
Est femina? 
Teresula, es femina? 
Kæsa est femina?
Iohannes, quis est vir? 
Iordana, quis est Patricus?  

Finally, to mix things up in the last five minutes I added: Est Iacobus vir aut femina? The standard three-way split ensued: those who nod, those who stare, those whose faces belie total confusion. Again I said, Est Iacobus vir AUT femina? Now I was ok with someone saying, "It means 'or', right? 'Is he a man or a woman?'" Yes, good. How about this then: Quis est? Est Vallicus aut Patricus? We did those till the bell. 

At this point, I'm more excited that they like playing these games and delight in asking each other, "Is John a woman?", as they giggle like third-graders. If my students will talk Latin smack to each other in the hallway, and pop off Idiota! when another purposely wrong-genders them, then I'm loving it. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Surprises and Successes — Day 2

When I say "success", it should be read with a grain of salt, because our vocabulary is less than twenty-five words right now. But the "surprises" are all the more real for that. 

We had a four-day weekend because our girls played through and won their first state volleyball tournament in 20+ years. So we started off today reviewing what we did the first day.

I tossed the ball after saying Pater and the catcher said his name, when it came back to me, I straightened up and announced Pater sum before tossing it on and hearing Iordana sum. What was cool was to watch Vallicus, who wasn't there last time, catch on quickly. When we switched to Pater sum; Iacobus es, Vallicus caught on as we went around a few times, but then he asked, "So what are we saying?" Here was the testing moment for me. If I believe that the key is to learn through induction and almost intuition, rather than an x = y translation, than I had a choice to make here. I said, "Sum is just the way of saying it refers to you, and es is saying it refers to the person you're talking too." My path is chosen. 

They also wanted to confirm that it didn't matter if the name came after or before the es/sum. I confirmed it didn't matter. Some of them have different preferences of order, which I think is good. They are probably making different mental associations and carving different neural paths as opposed to just tagging it "this word means 'I am'." And because I keep saying sic and bene as they go, they wondered if there's also a "no". Of course. And they really like saying the sharp, Italianate sic and the tight, round non. 

And then came the part that was jaw-dropping beautiful. I said: Now this is going to be hard. Pay close attention. Pater sum—I proclaim and then I turned to the girl on my right and said to her—Susannula es—and then I pointed back to the boy on my left, but still said to the same girl—Oeneus est. She took the ball, and imitated the progress: Susannula sum; Kæsa es; Pater est. Then Kæsa got them all too, then Iordana, and on and on, back to Oeneus. All got it. What you've got to know though is that this is a very mixed group: some also take Spanish 4, some are here because they got tired of Spanish, and two have never taken a day of foreign language. Understand, some of then struggled to say their own Latin name as they went, but every last one got sum, es, est, and this on the first time they had ever heard est. I told them this was incredible. I knew that if I had given them a conjugation chart, some would have been lost to Latin forever. I told them I had been starting to fight back a lump in my throat and almost a bit of a tear as they went, because they had just picked up cold a new word (one sounding incredibly similar to es) and a whole new piece of foundational grammar. 

Teresula came in just then, and as I got her a name-tag they kept going. She hopped in quickly because she's good with languages, but when she finished her turn she whispered "What is this? Est?" She's good with the paradigm-type learning so I just whispered, "The third person". At the end, they asked what that all was. One wondered if it changed because of boy vs. girl. Nope, luckily. Again, I faced the big debate, but I had already made my choice. "Sum is just for me <fingers arc around me>. Es is for <pointing to my immediate neighbors> those I talk to. Est is for anybody I talk about <pointing out at them>. You do this in English with am/are/is, but you do it instinctively." 

One final cool success. Before introducing est, I had done a round asking my neighbor Quis es? and after she said Susannula sum, I gave her the ball and she did it to her neighbor. Later, when I got the ball back, I said, Pater sum, and I turned to Oeneus and asked Quis es? and after he answered me, I asked Quis est? while I pointed across the way. He paused, but then said Patricus est. I agreed, and threw Patricus the ball. But when it came back to Oeneus, he stumbled...kind of. He said Oeneus sum but instead of asking me Quis es? he simply said Pater es and then asked Quis est? as he pointed. Notice what happened: he had gotten the drill "wrong", but his error had resulted in a perfectly conjugated, factually accurate statement. Of his own. The association of "my co-speaker" and es had melded. And the less that he, or any of them, could explain of why it was right, the better. A third grader can't explain why "he am tall" and "you is smart" is wrong, but she's got it. Real knowledge, no chart. I'm thrilled. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Failure + Confusion = Awesome — Day 1

Disclaimer: This is an anomaly. Future posts definitely won't be as long and probably won't be as humorous. 

Today was the first day of real live Latin. Up to this point, we had started our prayers with the Signum Crucis and I may have said an occasional word in Latin for fun, but today it was necessary to announce early on that things were changing. I answered Sic to bathroom requests, commanded Surgite! to ready us for prayer, and queried Petitiones? to gather our prayer intentions. 

Theory break: What is learning a language like for a toddler? Confusion. And how should we describe life when you're immersed into the land of a foreign language? Failure. Likewise the M.O. of any good language class is going to be a lot of confusion and failure...and it is through that struggle that we learn the language. But I think some foreign-language teachers think that means that their job is to hit you on Day 1 with a sonorous wall of alien words and think that somehow that's just going to soak the language into your bones. By contrast, just giving them one-word answers in a foreign tongue is still bewildering, but the difference is that it is a small enough obstacle that you might yet be able to figure out what the word means. Two kids today just nodded and smiled when I gave the strange reply Sic to their bath requests, but when the third one looked very confused and asked, "What?", another kid, not previously involved in the conversation, said, "Go ahead; that must mean yes," because he had seen the others have this conversation. They already had their Latin names, so I just pointed at myself saying Pater enough times (as opposed to saying Iohannes and Paggia when pointing at two other students) that they got my name. Then I grabbed the first of a stack of "Hello, My Name Is" stickers, held it up high and declared Hoc est signum! as I started passing them out. 

The other victim of confusion and failure has to be the teacher. Having mastered spoken Latin enough, or pausing in the moment long enough, to have the book-perfect words to instruct a class is both an invitation to disaster and a false lesson about language. How do you survive in a foreign country? With the present tense, non-agreeing nouns and adjectives, a few prepositions and numbers, and lots of humility. We may laugh at the stereotype of the tourist saying " us, thank you?" but, dagnabit, that scared Asian man just got a bucketful of meaning conveyed in a real English sentence on the streets of New York. So, as the teacher you have to demonstrate proper Normandy Beach language survival technique: move constantly, use hand signals, and don't stop repeating instructions for even half a second: 

[Warning Not a single Latin phrase in the next three minutes as I passed out the name tags was completely accurate and I don't care a lick.]

Signum. Signum. Signum. 

What do we do with this?

<I spin back around and write Pater on mine with a Sharpie and hold it up.> Pater. Pater. 

So, "potter"??

No. Er, non. Nomen. Nomen in signum. 

Nohmum? I don't... 
So you want us to...
No, oh oh, name? Our name?!

Sic, sic! Nomen tuum. 

So, our full name? 

O! Pennas. Quid vultis? 
<Hold up four Sharpie pens, but I realize I've never learned the colors in Latin. Good thing I was nerdy and stared at the "Heraldry" section in the World Book Encyclopedia a lot as a kid and they use same words in bishops' insignia descriptions. No idea what language it is, but whatevs... Anyway, I apologize now to all the Romance Languages for what happened next>

Umm... Vert? Vert. Qui? Qui vultis? Ok, pro te. Next. Azula. Azula? Qui? Sic. Et, uh uh Gules? aut uhh rubio...rubicum? Ok. Bene. Et finalemente... uh umm uhhhh negro yeah neyyygro... Quis? 
<Sure enough, to everyone's laughter, the lone black kid shoots his hand up to claim that pen.> 

So our full names?

Non. Primus. Primus nomen. 

I don't...

Nomen tuum. Iohannes... Iordana... Teresula.... Nomen tuum <point> scripsi <motion> in signo <point>. 

Like this? "Teresula Murifex Maxima"

No...non. Prima. Primum nomen. Solo. 

You mean... 

Primo. Primo. Et magnum. Scribere magnum. Magnus nomen et solo primus. Scribo magnum. MAGNUM. Mahhh-gnum. <Trying to make arms alternately flap "big" and stretch "tall"> 

Ok, first names really big then?


I need another sticker then. 

Bene. Bene. Optime. Ok. 

And then we? 

Imposuit signum cum nomen tuum in pecatore. <thump thump>

Put them on our...
...pectoral muscles!!

Sic sic! Bene. Optime. 

<peel, peel, thump thump> 

<Thinking, "Alrighty let's get this going."> 

Surgite omnes! <big upward hand motions>

Decedite tabalulas!*** <big dividing-the-Red-Sea motions>

Considite omnes! <gentle sit-down motion>

Formate circulum!* <circular arm motions accompanied by a "Was this hard for you in kindergarten too?" look. 

A big dang ugly mess—that's what the last three minutes were. But you know what? We got there. We were in a circle, seated in the floor, with our big clear Patricus and Oeneus and Kæsa tags on our chests. Language is what you can do with it. 

Now, not everybody could say everybody else's name. Heck, not everybody could say their own names well. So I just started off by pointing around the circle with them repeating everyone's names...or close enough. Here was a good time to announce to them the two cardinal rules of learning a language:
1) Nolite timere! As John Paul II taught us all, "Be not afraid!", and as Amy and Sara, two former students who now work as Spanish teachers say to their kids, "No tengas miedo!" They were the ones who showed me you have to beat home a sense of fearless experimentation when teaching a spoken language. You never improve if you're fearful of saying it wrong. Which brings be to...
2) Latinglish happens. And it should. That tourist who is surviving day-by-day isn't speaking pretty Italian. He's cobbling together every bit of any language he's ever heard trying to find out where that next train is heading. Frankly, for most high school or college students, Splatin happens more often than Latinglish. I use Spitalofranglish when I try and speak any Romance Language. 

What we did was actually super simple. I said Pater and threw the ball to someone. They figured out, sometimes after checking their shirts, to say their own name and throw the ball to someone else. After two times around, we changed it to catching the ball and saying Iacobus sum. Next game, the student had to catch it, announce herself like before, and then look at a person and say Susannula es before throwing it to her. The last major variant was for Jordan to throw the ball to Dallas who would explain upon catching it Iordana es; Vallicus sum. The slightly Rosetta Stone™ moment came when I'd have them switch the order of their name and the linking verb: Sum Vallicus. In time, I hope they will intuit that sum and es are just markers to say "this name attaches to me; that one goes with you." 

Results: ten people spoke nothing but Latin to each other for 15+ minutes, practiced pronouncing their own and other's names, and got a little feel for the copula. 

*** 2013 First Prize, Worst False Cognate In A Dead Language

* Yeah, not really how you say "make a circle"

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rosetta Stone: Latin

As I begin teaching my second year of Classical Languages here in Hastings Catholic Schools, I figured I should try to record a bit of what I'm doing.  This is mostly because I am unorganized and won't remember it next year. The year-long class is really Etymology with a touch of Greek and a chunk of real Latin. And that's what really moves me to keep a record of this year: I'm breaking in inventing on the fly a new method for teaching First Year Latin and I think some manner of journal may be good. If it works, I'll use this as a blueprint, if I fail, well then we have a record of the disaster.

What is it that scares off newbies (especially if they don't have a prior reason to say "By Jove, I'm going to learn Latin!")? I think it's the whole idea of declension (and the accompanying fluid word order).

No matter how many times we say, "You do this already. You already say "he, his, him" and you use 's for possession," when we slide them a pile of 5-7 cases of femina, it turns into just Crack the Code rather than a living language. On the other hand, you can't go full immersion, because it's not really a day to day language. So, stealing some ideas from Rosetta Stone, and springing from an intense debate in a seminary hallway about what "declension" actually means, I'm looking to delay learning whole paradigms of a declension, and bit by bit adding cases while getting sentences going before we learn them all.


WARNING- Don't worry about bad grammar at first. Latinglish happens.

1. Get your Latin names.

2. Call each other by them. A lot.

3. Learn sum, es, est and use with names.

4. Add pronouns. Maybe. (I'm not sure if they'll just make a mess. They are unnecessary and may tempt people to decline because English declines its pronouns.)

5. Learn sumus, estis, sunt.

6. Learn some roles and relationships for predicate nominative fodder.

7. Add those to the names, making Nom-copula-Nom sentences. (Modern kids don't learn English predicate nominative, adjective vs. objects well anymore. Take advantage of it, but make them note these are equals: Jack is a friend; the friend is Jack)

8. Add some 1&2 dec adjectives. Teach basic agreement.

9. Now, and only now, change your words. i.e. Actually decline them, break them up, chew them up Mama Bird style and spit them out. Violà, Genitive nouns. Notice the comparison to 's. I'm sticking with 1&2 dec only here.

10. More predicate nominative and predicate adjective sentences, but throw in nouns in the Genitive.

11. Substantive adjectives belong somewhere around here...

12. Now introduce the Accusative with zero explanation. Let them feel why you changed it, and notice the ubiquitous -m. (Literally, all this will be just in the singular.) This is the Rosetta-ey moment. Actually intuit the difference between an object and a subject.

13. Now talk about how we use word order to explain things. "Bobby bite puppy" ≠ "puppy bite Bobby", and "Bobby puppy bite" requires context.

14. Practice practice practice. You've got building blocks galore.

15. Introduce Dative. Get a couple objects and have people throw and give them to people while others describe it.

16. Introduce the names of all the cases and show the standard paradigm while you introduce the Ablative. Just 1st declension for a day or two, then show the 2nd declension's paradigm.

17. Now you can worry about plurals, the 3rd declension names we may have slaughtered recently (you can always give the correct 3rd Genitive along the way and just say, "It's an exception") and, of course, normal verbs.

What we've done is introduce cases by the backdoor, made people think about what language does (universal syntax), and created an intuitive link between certain letter signs and their roles (-a & -us, -am & -um, a lone vowel ending to indicate Ablative...)

Addendum: if there's one thing I'd overemphasize—both for grasping Latin cases and helping their English grammar—it's that the predicate nominatives (whether names, pronouns, roles, or substantive adjectives) stand up as equals, while we must bend, twist, and reshape our nouns to talk about doing something with those same kind of things, even though they all happen in the predicate.

I think we get killed on that in English (he/him, who/whom) because we don't teach well today that "I am the king's good servant" has no object whatsoever despite there being four words in the predicate.