For several years now, a growing number of Latin teachers who are using Comprehensible Input as their mode of teaching Latin have created the following mission statement as reminders for themselves and as starting guidelines for those new to this work.
Our aim is to make the acquisition of Latin possible for all kinds of learners. In order to do that, we affirm that Latin is a language like any other with its level of inflection. We affirm that anyone who wants to acquire ability in Latin can do so if offered an approach which employs principles of best practice in language acquisition. We acknowledge that most Latin teachers, like most language teachers, are themselves “four percenters” who enjoy questions of linguistics, grammar and philology. While these are fascinating disciplines of their own, they are not language acquisition, and they interfere with acquisition whenever and wherever they are substituted for best practices.
Principles of Best Practices for Acquiring Latin:
- It is impossible to prepare students to read the great Latin lit in 3-4 years. But it is possible to give them basic reading facility AND an enjoyable experience of reading Latin, which may encourage them to continue study, in school or on their own.
- Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
- Latin teachers are not normal and Latin is not different.
- Students only make progress acquiring ability in ANY language, including Latin, when they receive regular and constant understandable messages in the target language.
- One of the quickest ways to deliver an understandable message in Latin is to give an English equivalent for a new word or phrase and then continue delivering messages in Latin.
- Language acquisition, including the assimilation and understanding of grammar, according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously. Direct instruction involving translation, grammar explanations and drills do not help students acquire Latin. While they may be useful in advanced stages of acquisition to develop editing skills, they really interfere with beginning and intermediate level students.
- In particular, error correction does not have any significant influence on acquisition, but tends to put students on the defensive. Moreover, it encourages students to focus on the form (grammar) of the Latin and not the message, thereby inhibiting acquisition.
- Vocabulary must be sheltered (limited) while grammar structures must not. (e.g. from the beginning, teachers can use nouns of any declension, verbs of any tense, mood, etc as long as they are delivering UNDERSTANDABLE messages with limited vocabulary).
- “Four percenters,” both students and teachers, will interfere with their own language acquisition by their desire to focus on grammar study, translation, and language control. We have an obligation to help them (and ourselves) stay focused on principles of acquisition, namely, receiving understandable messages in Latin.
- Reading Latin is to be distinguished from translating Latin or speed translating. In true reading, the student acquires the ability to understand the written Latin without the interference or help of English. This most often develops in stages. The experience is likened to ‘seeing squiggles on the page and seeing a movie in one’s head.”
- Reading Latin only advances acquisition when it is interesting and just barely above the student’s current ability. No textbook currently in use in the US provides those kinds of readings, and so teachers are obligated to create and edit readings to fulfill this requirement.
- Production, of any kind, does NOT advance acquisition.
- Production (speaking and writing) happens when the individual is ready to produce and not a moment before. The individual will produce at the level he/she is capable of and will advance at his/her own pace. The only thing that will increase the individual’s ability to produce higher levels of Latin is to receive regular and constant understandable messages in Latin.
- A growing number of Latin teachers have experiences at immersion camps like Rusticatio and Conventiculum. These have been a huge help in demonstrating to teachers how operating in the language is different from translation and beneficial to their deeper understanding of Latin. However, these immersion camps are largely populated with four percenters, and the immersion experience there cannot and should not be mistaken for Comprehensible Input or delivering understandable messages in Latin in the school or university classroom. Immersion camps can be as stressful or more so than the traditional Latin grammar-translation classroom.