“Teaching Elementary Latin in Colleges and Universities”
a Latin Pedagogy Panel
at CAMWS 2003
in Lexington, Kentucky
Participants in this panel offer a variety of approaches to teaching elementary Latin to college and university students. They examine the pros and cons of several different textbooks. Advocates of both traditional and reading methods are represented and offer practical tips for the classroom.
Moderator: Tom Sienkewicz, Monmouth College
Many universities and colleges do not have a high density of students with the desire or ability to go beyond the first year of Latin. This puts first-year Latin is an awkward dilemma: how to teach a Latin without crushing the casual student's spirit with knowledge that will be useless to him/her. And, to make things even more difficult, how to do this with Wheelock, whose sole purpose is to prepare the mind for advanced reading.
While not claiming complete success, I have developed an approach to the Wheelock's chapters that most students find interesting and valuable. The vocabulary is approached in a backward fashion, from English to Latin whenever possible, and the sentences are put to use not as ends in themselves but as models for composition. The extended passages are preceded by a brief “pre-reading,” in which difficult words are parsed, new constructions are analyzed, and the background of the passage explored.
This method, if such a dignified word is appropriate, more nearly squares with language instruction as a humanities objective for the general student. It also spares the instructor the unrelenting tedium and despair of force marching students through the same sentences year after year in the full knowledge that most of what they have learned will evaporate a few weeks after the end of the year. In the presentation, I will demonstrate my “back-to-front” approach.
The text is
the core but not the only, or necessarily the most important, aspect of the
basic Latin course. Some combination of culture, writing (on tests and
informally), memorization, and recitation as well as a combination of
teaching methodologies are essential to our program¹s mission. The dosages
of these elements of the course, as well as the degree to which material is
presented according to deductive or inductive methodologies is, we hope,
responsive to student language acquisition preferences.
As is the case with many secondary school Latin programs, the Classics departments at most colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure to maintain or, ideally, to increase enrollments in their Latin and Greek courses. Although many factors contribute to the success of a thriving undergraduate Latin program, I believe that the choice of an elementary textbook can influence enrollment statistics. Traditionally, many departments have chosen textbooks such as Wheelock’s Latin (Harper Resource), Latin: An Intensive Course (University of California Press), or Reading Latin (Cambridge University Press), and they have committed the professors and the students to completing in two semesters a complete overview of Latin grammar. Recently, however, many college programs have switched to series that are more popular at the secondary school level such as Oxford Latin Course (Oxford University Press), Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge University Press), and Ecce Romani (Prentice Hall), and they have decided to devote three semesters to the basic grammatical overview. Although at first I was hesitant to endorse the latter three textbooks as appropriate introductions to Latin at the college level, I have found that my department’s decision to use the Ecce Romani series as our elementary text has resulted in an overall positive student response to first-year Latin and in greater student retention after the completion of our two-semester foreign language requirement.
This paper will outline my suggestions for effectively using Ecce Romani at the college or university level. Over the past few years, I have developed several strategies that make this series challenging for my college students and that ease their transition from adapted passages to authentic Latin texts. I admit that there are still drawbacks to making this series the foundation of a college program; nevertheless, I argue that my decision to use Ecce Romani as our beginning Latin text has resulted in significant increases to our enrollments at the elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels and that my students are more than adequately prepared to tackle authors such as Ovid, Catullus, and Cicero after three semesters of study.
The first goal of the Standards for Classical Language Learning makes clear that “reading is the first standard and the key to communicating with the ancient world” (7). At the same time, the second standard of the communication goal emphasizes the importance of listening and speaking as tools to improve students’ knowledge of Latin. Yet many teachers are unsure how to incorporate oral skills into their beginning language classroom or even if it is worth it. This paper briefly explains the advantages of integrating listening and speaking skills and offers some practical activities to use in the classroom.
Why use listening and speaking activities in the classroom? Researchers and teachers point out that students learn in different ways. Some are better at analyzing discrete elements (field-independent learners) while others are better at seeing the big picture (field dependent learners). Others prefer to learn through stories, examples, and anecdotes to get a sense of the whole (comprehension learners) while others prefer to move methodically through a series of steps to get an understanding the big picture (operation learners). Finally, some prefer to work with others (collaborative) while others prefer to learn on their own (individual). Listening and speaking in the Latin classroom provide a wider array of opportunities for students of various learning styles.
Listening, because of the speed of the discourse, forces students to focus on meaning and chunks of information, and Latin word order. Furthermore, as students listen, they must rely not only on their linguistic knowledge, but also on background knowledge and context for comprehension. These same skills help students become better, more fluent readers. Listening activities work best if students are prepared through pre-listening activities such as vocabulary or grammar review, providing cultural background, or advance visual organizers. Students can then respond to listening activities, using a taxonomy created by Lund, through doing (e.g., TPR), choosing (putting pictures in order), transferring (drawing), answering (completing a set of questions), or extending (create an ending). I will provide examples of each based on the Oxford Latin Course.
Speaking is useful because it provides students opportunities not only to express themselves, but also to use the language productively, thereby reinforcing vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. Interviews with a predetermined set of questions allow students to focus on specific information using a limited array of grammatical forms. Scripted role-play and drama offer other opportunities to create meaning with set parameters. Story-telling provides another way for learners to develop skills of extended discourse. Finally, short presentations about a particular topics offer students opportunities to share information they have learned about Roman culture or about themselves. Once again, I will share examples of each activity that can be used with the Oxford Latin Course.