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. 

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