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. 

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