Cards on the table: Why I am so strongly opposed to grammar-translate

I seriously struggled with Latin when I was in high school. I had an absolutely amazing teacher (I realized that both then & now as I go through my teacher training courses), so I know that that definitely wasn’t the problem. I got nearly straight As in the class, so clearly I was doing something right. But when it came time to translate a chunk of Latin, I seriously had no idea what was going on. It was like I was solving a giant puzzle and I had to figure out what setting of all the variables produced a sentence that made some sort of sense – just by itself! Not even in context! I ended up with complete word salad and was  super inventive with rules. I saw Latin as a series of rules I had to manipulate until something vaguely comprehensible emerged – sort of like a proof in Logic. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Latin was a language that people acquired and manipulated with ease and grace—and without needing an advanced degree in linguistics! Continue reading

Why Should We Teach Our Students Latin?

This was originally written for a class, but I think it also belongs here. I hope you enjoy:

Latin is a language,
Dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans;
Now it’s killing me!

Latin, though a vital part of Western curriculum for the past 2000 years, has lost significant ground in the classroom over the last century. The schoolboy’s poem I have quoted above explains why: No one speaks Latin anymore, and now that nearly all literature, science, and philosophy are to be found in English, Latin is defunct[1], or at least it is perceived to be so because it is not a living language[2]. Continue reading

Why do we teach Latin and what role does Grammar play in it?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot over the past year and is one of the main reasons why I have left my MA program at Villanova to obtain my Teaching Cert at Ursinus. To address the first question, I want to teach Latin is because it opens students up to a field that offers a level of interdisciplinary study difficult to find elsewhere. It can add depth and breadth to any student’s interest: Let’s say you’re in 10th grade and like your science classes – not only will studying Latin expose you to some of the history of science and eventually enable you to read the texts in the original version (and yes, you do get a lot more out of a text by reading it in the original) but you can also use science to study the Classics. Continue reading

Pedagogy and Perseus: Does ‘No Dictionaries’ offer a better solution?

I had just headed over to Perseus to look up a Greek verb (I thought it looked like a 3rd s. pres. ind. m/p contract verb, but I wanted to double check because verbs are definitely a weak point for me). Since Perseus parses things for me, I use it as a crutch all the time (horrible of me, I know). On the home page, there was a link to this article. It doesn’t say anything most of us who use Perseus don’t already know, but it does make some valid points about the pedagogical aspects of letting Latin students use it. I know when I was learning Latin, I produced horrible horrible word salad largely because when I was in a rush, I would use the click and scribble method to get my translations done on time. Actually, it wasn’t until I started using Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina  as a summer study tool in college that I started producing anything coherent and started reading Latin in any sort of natural way (that being said, my high school Latin teacher was an absolute star and deserves every teaching award they give).

Anyway, two years ago I started tutoring (insert shameless plug for Elite Tutors Online, Inc.) and I was introduced to No Dictionaries. It does face some of the same problems as Perseus as far as short definitions go, but I like it because it encourages you to read the Latin more naturally, and it requires you to think about the grammar (i.e. I wouldn’t be able to cheat on the verb form I was looking up with Perseus). However, whenever I’m stuck on a bit of Latin, I still find myself running back to Perseus so I can see what the ‘answer’ is, even though it might be incorrect; at least it would be a plausible mistake I wouldn’t be ashamed to make in class.

Though this blog normally has a somewhat linguistics bent to it, I have to admit that I’m really more interested in Second Language Acquisition and the teaching of non-spoken languages. I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on the pedagogical merits/faults of either of these two online tools and what they think might offer a better solution.

Also, go check out this blog, where there are two articles (that I am aware of) about online tools for Latin students:

Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge

Life’s been a bit dull since I handed in my thesis (which went very well!), but it was broken by the pleasant opportunity to give a tour of the Cast Gallery (the most visible part of the Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge).

The Cast Gallery is nestled above the foyer of the Classics Faculty and is really pretty awesome. I have to admit though, ‘pretty awesome’ was not how I first thought of the Cast Gallery. I think my thoughts Continue reading

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

Finishing my thesis and viva means that I now spend obscene amounts of time reading silly things on the Internet. It also means that I spend many of my nights out having fun and then I write my blog while hungover the following morning. In short, I apologize for another post about a linguistic point from a humor site.

This is an article from from 2007: 9 Words That Don’t Mean What You Think.

It lists 9 words that are extreme or very visible examples of relatively recent semantic shift (except for #1, irregardless1, which my spell check doesn’t even correct…). Of course, semantic shift is a known phenomenon, and once the change is Continue reading

Grad Schools. Go to them.

I read this article from PhD Octopus just now and was reminded of a post I made a while ago lamenting my decision to pursue an MPhil. I was instantly worried that someone, somewhere, might have interpreted it as ‘grad school sucks’ (I’m fairly certain it didn’t come off that way, but the internet is a magical place…) Lest anyone think that my current frustration with academia should be translated as ‘don’t go to grad school’, I would like to clarify that I made a decision that wasn’t right for me and that I think my frustrations with academia are not that it exists and people want to do it (that would be silly), but that academics often don’t try to show their worth to their fellow citizens. Academia and Grad School certainly generate research and students who are worth quite a lot to their fellow citizens; I think it’s the lack of outreach that has caused the ‘anti-intellectualism’ that is creeping in to our (dare I say it?) politics and mentality. And hey, if you’re the lucky person who manages to get paid to study Greek Vowels for the rest of your life and you love every second of it, then I think you’ve probably done well.

This is a good article, and I definitely encourage those who feel the calling to absolutely go to Grad School. (I hope at least 5 people twitched at the use of a split infinitive there. Call it masochism, but I find it helpful to intentionally (here I go again) defy prescriptive rules that I sill find myself trying to correct.)