Are you looking to teach Latin—not just about Latin—in a way that capitalizes on research about language and the brain?
Getting started with this heroic, exhilarating work can be overwhelming. LIMEN orients you to the many sources of support available to help you get (and keep) going!
Click the titles below to view details of the four essential categories.
Click here to open the LIMEN FAQ page.
...of second language acquisition (SLA) applied to Latin
1. Start with these highly accessible articles:
- "Teaching Latin to Humans" by Justin Slocum Bailey. Read
This quick read summarizes the issue of developing the two faces of linguistic competence (“Mental Representation and Skill”) in ourselves and our students, presenting the practices involved as essential to honoring both the Latin language and the learner.
- “Making Sense of Comprehensible Input in the Latin Classroom” by Bob Patrick. Read
The section “What Is Comprehensible Input?” (pp 109-112) summarizes the five pieces of Stephen Krashen’s Comprehension Hypothesis and begins to apply them to the Latin classroom. (The rest of this thorough article addresses Practices [see below], including lesson plans, activities, teaching techniques, and assessment.)
- "The Implications of SLA Research for Latin Pedagogy: Modernizing Latin Instruction and Securing its Place in Curricula" by Jacqueline Carlon. Read
Professor Carlon ties the updating of Latin pedagogy to the survival of Latin in schools, presents some major areas of SLA research, suggests several applications for Latin, and offers two sample lessons. Although it's not always clear how the lessons relate to the "Acquisition Principles" and "Instructional Applications" that Carlon has just outlined, this article is important as a respected classicist's bold "call to arms...at a critical juncture in the history of Latin instruction" (p 113)
2. If you want more...
...proceed with the following, remembering that any principle about learning and teaching any human language applies to learning and teaching Latin:
- Bill VanPatten’s video presentation “What Everyone Should Know about Second Language Acquisition”; the bottom of the linked webpage provides suggestions for further reading.
- Stephen Krashen’s website. Good starting points are “Second Language Acquisition: Theory, Application, and some Conjectures” and “Applying the Comprehension Hypothesis: Some Suggestions.”
- Bill VanPatten’s article “The Two Faces of SLA: Mental Representation and Skill.” See also this video summary of the article, which many teachers have found useful not only for themselves but also for departmental discussion.
3. If you want a lot more...
...read one of these survey textbooks:
- Susan Gass, Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course (4th ed., 2013). I am partial to this one because its predecessor (Gass and Selinker 2001), hot off the press at the time, was the main text for my first course in SLA. This thorough update is big--648 pages--but highly readable.
- Patsy Lightbown & Nina Spada, How Languages are Learned (4th ed., 2013). This one is a bit thin for me (253 pages, index and all--no idea why the amazon description says 304), but it is very popular.
- Lourdes Ortega, Understanding Second Language Acquisition (2008). Often praised for its accessibility.
When reading a survey such as these, keep in mind that their topical and/or historiographical format can give the impression that all strands of research, and all the results, are equally significant. You'll need to engage in further reading, practice, and conversation to get a feel for what applies most and works best in your classroom.
For a regular, manageable, dose of SLA applied to instructional settings, you might consider subscribing to Eric Herman's Acquisition Classroom Memo. A year's subscription costs about what one of the above textbooks costs and comes with Eric's educated and practical commentary, as well as access to a member forum.
...that take the theory into account
- Providing compelling messages in Latin that your students can understand.
- Creating or seizing opportunities for students to engage in meaningful Latin-using tasks and interactions.
1. Providing compelling messages...
...consists mainly of speaking to your students in Latin they can understand and providing them with texts suitable for Extensive Reading. For Novice and Intermediate readers, the Latin pickings are slim, but that’s changing. (See Materials below; see Resources below for ways of improving your own Latin.)
You don’t have to be an experienced speaker to start using powerful techniques for helping your students develop their Mental Representation of Latin. I recommend this sequence, moving from "beginner" techniques to advanced ones:
- Try these baby steps for working simple Latin communication into your classroom routines.
- Learn the basic technique of Circling sentences from a text. The text doesn't have to be Golden Age literature. It can be a passage in a textbook or a three-sentence story you write. This article includes a scripted classroom interaction in Latin with commentary, introducing Circling and ways to expand from Circling.
- Extend and consolidate almost any classroom interaction or text with the incredibly simple, deceptively powerful Write & Discuss.
- Introduce student-completed Quirky Scripts that you can return to again and again.
- Whenever you’re reading with your students, try some of these pre-reading, reading, and post-reading activities compiled by Keith Toda.
- Incorporate Good Idea / Bad Idea into your routines.
- Generate Latin Q&A from pictures, including Optical Illusions, pictures of interesting inventions, and other quirky pictures. Don't hesitate to script your questions--even fluent speakers do this when they're getting started with strategic question-asking.
- Generate Latin interaction through concrete items in or near your classroom, as in Rando Mitem or How to Use Your Windows. Again, don't be afraid to script some questions.
- As soon as you're comfortable with Circling in general, try Circling statements about your students.
- Make Discipulus/a Illustris or a similar activity a regular feature of your class.
- Try Asking a Story.
- Try MovieTalk with one of these or another short film
- Incorporate low-prep, scalable, repeatable lessons such as Quirky Skills, Not Today, or Mystery Box (more ideas under Resources below).
- When you're comfortable enough with your own Latin (see Resources below for how to get there), begin class by chatting in Latin with your students about anything that is of interest to them--current happenings at school, pop culture, what they are looking forward to, etc.
- When you and your students can handle it, provide "non-targeted comprehensible input" by means of lessons such as Quirky Feature, Quirky Extended Feature, or Frivolity Is the Mother of Invention.
- Anytime you are interacting in Latin, you and your students can use techniques from Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) to maximize comprehension, engagement, and efficiency. These techniques are tough to understand or incorporate, let alone master, without live training, but I include them here because many of the techniques, as well as the overall mindset of WAYK, have become integral to my teaching.
Remember, comprehensible input is not a method; it's a type of language: messages a particular learner can understand. If you can say something in Latin that your students can understand, then you can boost their Mental Representation of Latin. If you can talk about something students find compelling (see Materials below), then they'll keep listening and their Mental Representation will grow like crazy.
2. Creating opportunities for meaningful Latin use...
...consists mainly of
- having actual Latin conversations with your students.
- capitalizing on situations in which students can and want to have Latin conversations with each other.
- students’ reading Latin texts of your and of their choosing (see appendix on Extensive and Intensive Reading). See how one successful department is using student choice and its members' areas of expertise to create an exciting, text-based, thematic curriculum.
- students’ creating Latin products such as poems or stories (whether as presentational language or as Timed Writing).
- students’ using their knowledge of Latin to solve a problem they want to solve.
See Bob Patrick’s “Making Sense of Comprehensible Input in the Latin Classroom” and the Resources below for many more ideas about classroom practices.
...supporting the practices
1. The best "materials"...
...for the face-to-face element of any language class are the students themselves—their lives, interests, activities, and ideas. Interacting about these things can happen informally, but you might have an easier time with a preset activity such as Circling with Balls or a formal system such as Discipulus/a Illustris. As long as you are speaking naturally (sheltering only vocabulary, not grammar), Circling when necessary, students will hear tons of instances of high-frequency features of Latin that they will encounter in any text they read.
2. Non-linguistic material...
...such as pictures (including optical illusions), quirky inventions, current events, students’ real-life skills, mystery, random items, short films, and even the view from the classroom window are all good generators of Latin input and conversation, as long as they are interesting enough to hold students’ attention per se or through the personalization that you create through questions. The linked descriptions include questions you can ask to provide CI at any level using these materials.
3. Reading material...
...is crucial in any attempt to acquire a written language. The shortage of texts that Novice and Intermediate readers can consume at a rate measured in chapters or in dozens of pages, rather than in lines, is the single greatest obstacle facing anyone who wants to learn Latin. (Here's why.)
This is starting to change—check out Tres Columnae Project, Mille Noctes, and this growing list of recently published novellas—but we need thousands of such texts if learners of all levels are to read the several thousand words a week recommended by the Extensive Reading Foundation. Here is a thorough explanation of the principles involved; here is a simple explanation with special attention to Latin and lots of linked resources.
Traditional graded readers and textbooks with continuous storylines exhibit three major problems: not enough text at each level before the difficulty increases, too much vocabulary*, and lack of interest value for most students.
In the absence of sufficient texts suitable for Extensive Reading, Embedded Reading is a valuable practice in Latin courses. See Operation Caesar for Embedded/Tiered versions (not yet edited) of many of the passages on the AP syllabus.
Related: Appendix on Extensive and Intensive Reading.
*more precisely, lexical density, i.e., the number of discrete words relative to the total word count
4. Audio and video...
...in Latin and suitable for novice and early intermediate students is scarce, though there is quite a bit for advanced learners and enthusiasts. (See the Latin audio and video pages on this site and the embedded Google Doc in the Resources section below.) Check out Jessie Craft's Roman Minecraft videos, which impressively combine Latin input and cultural information.
...for personal and professional development in Latin and pedagogy
1. Resources for developing your teaching skills
- These blogs by Latin teachers.
- Other teachers’ sites on the Links page—remember, anything you can do in another language, you can do in Latin.
- The Facebook Group Teaching Latin for Acquisition.
- The Facebook Group Latin Best Practices: The Next Generation in Comprehensible Input.
- These 10 Essentials of any language program.
- The post Preparing a Lesson vs Preparing Yourself.
- Carol Gaab's thorough description of TPRS®, with a plethora of principles and practices, as well as a sample lesson sequence. Useful even for teachers who do not rely on TPRS, which is one of many ways of providing suitable input to students in the early stages of acquiring a language.
- This epic collection of handouts with tips on language teaching techniques and other aspects of language teacher life. (Though the page is titled "TPRS handouts," most of the material can be used with any method. Some of the links are broken, but most work.)
- Susan Gross's articles and handouts.
- This detailed explanation of many techniques used in TPRS. You don't have to try everything or agree with everything--try whatever intrigues you and keep whatever works!
- Pedagogy Rusticatio, hosted by SALVI (Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum—the North American Institute for Living Latin Studies), featuring five days of focused training and guided practice in a particular teaching system, applied to Latin by expert practitioners.
- Twitter, especially the hashtags #langchat, #latinteach, #loqlat, #iknowitscompelling.
- The Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) technique glossary and resource page.
- Local, regional, national, and topical conferences for all (not just Latin) language teachers. Latin teachers are attending these in increasing number, with great benefit to both the Latin teachers and the teachers of other languages. Especially recommended are the International Forum on Language Teaching (iFLT), the National TPRS® conference (NTPRS), Express Fluency, Comprehensible Midwest, and TCI Maine, New England, & Beyond.
- Classics conferences with sessions on research-informed Latin pedagogy. The American Classical League (ACL) Institute, the Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS), and the Classical Association of New England (CANE) usually feature such sessions, as do many other regional and local conferences.
- Other teachers’ classrooms. Here are 7 good reasons for teachers to visit each other. Here are 3.5 more.
2. Resources for developing your own Latin
- This article about my Latin learning journey, along with the many texts and habits it mentions.
- The principles and practices Jason Slanga shares in this series on developing and maintaining a Latin reading habit.
- Ellie Arnold's "So, Do You Speak Latin?"
- Daniel Pettersson and Amelie Rosengren's Latinitium.
- Local Latin-speaking meetups / cenae Latinae, more and more of which are happening all over the place – check with your nearest classical association, with the Facebook Group Teaching Latin for Acquisition, and at meetup.com.
- These many tips and sources for online content suitable for Extensive Reading and Listening by Intermediate+ Latinists. I recommend viewing this doc directly in Google Docs or, if you click on a link in the copy embedded below, using Ctrl/⌘-click to avoid a vortex of fun-house windows:
- Latin-speaking conferences/retreats/conventicula (only events held in the USA are listed) :
- Rusticationes and Bidua Latina hosted by SALVI
- Conventiculum Lexintoniense
- Conventiculum Dickinsoniense
- Conventiculum Bostoniense
- NOTE: The SALVI events are basically house parties held in Latin, with both guided and spontaneous Latin interactions, touted for their friendliness to beginners (though there is also Rusticatio Veteranorum for more advanced speakers). The various Conventicula are based at college campuses and are a bit more academic; participants have greater contact with the English-speaking world, e.g., at restaurant meals.
Appendix: Extensive and Intensive Reading
Extensive Reading and Intensive Reading are worthwhile for their own sakes and have valuable, but different, roles in a language course:
- Extensive Reading is consuming large quantities of highly comprehensible texts. Besides being enjoyable if the texts are compelling, it is a powerful way of building one's Mental Representation of and overall comfort with the language.
Extensive Reading may be the only way a person not living in language immersion is likely to develop a broad vocabulary (including awareness of usage, register, collocations, and connotations), real-time processing of sentence structure, and a sense of what is normal in a language and what isn't. Here is a video explaining this. Here is a series of articles about developing a Latin Extensive Reading habit.
- Intensive Reading is interacting with a small amount of text for the sake of literary analysis or to complete a task (e.g., identifying the details of an argument). Like Extensive Reading, it can be highly enjoyable if the text is compelling. It can provide a type of literary pleasure and depth of insight that Extensive Reading does not. Ideally, it is done with a text whose "face value" meaning can be understood after a single pass; the Intensive Reading process then takes the reader's understanding or enjoyment of the text to a deeper level through attention to how the text accomplishes whatever it accomplishes.
Because Intensive Reading involves a low volume of text, it can be a good way of exercising readers' analytical skills, but plays only a very small role in improving the reader's knowledge of the language. It should therefore be used sparingly until learners have a fairly thorough Mental Representation of the target language.
NOTE: Many Latin programs involve either only Intensive Reading or neither type of reading. Deciphering or translating a text with the help of lexical and grammatical aids, for instance, is neither Extensive nor Intensive Reading. If one goes back through a text many times after deciphering it, so that one eventually has the experience of understanding it in real time without recourse to another language, those final rounds of reading-with-understanding do boost one's Mental Representation of the language. This is how most people alive today who can actually read Latin as Latin got there, but few students do this, and it is generally less efficient and less enjoyable than Extensive Reading.