This is a guest post from my father, who was kind enough to write about his experiences learning Latin back in high school. Originally posted 6/3/14.
I officially attempted to enter ancient Roma via freshman Latin class in the fall of 1967. I had casually encountered Romulus and Remus the prior year in what would now be referred to as an exploratory eighth grade foreign language experience. Not all experiences are welcoming. My eighth grade encounter was one of discomfort. We paid tuition, one quarter to attempt readings from a textbook which appeared to have been printed on Guttenberg’s press. We also grappled at matching accurate Latin vocabulary with English phrases. This all occurred in a hot classroom, with tweeting birds on a few blue sky spring Saturdays. When a boy’s heart is out the window, his powers of concentration have met their kryptonite.
It is a safe bet that no reader of this blog has less foreign language expertise than I. Even with that sour milk taste in my mouth, I still signed on to a couple years of Latin in high school. I remember that pair of years fondly. Not due to my expertise but because my instructor was in love. In love with a dead language. At the time, I expected that she was old enough to have once chatted with Romulus and Remus. She had that same face of age that I currently notice in my mirror. However, she had the linguistic soul of a young romantic.
The language experiences of my youth suggest to me that nothing entices linguistic learning like the enthusiasm of an instructor smitten with their subject. My teacher always expected us to eventually drink the Kool-aid and live to love Latin. She was not entirely successful but nor was she a failure. She tweaked our interest against long odds. She paddled upstream against the negative current that our exploratory class had instilled.
If there are any morals to this story, I expect that they are the following. In a first language experience, it may be more effective to partner with a child’s sense of play than to attempt to oppose and conquer it. An ugly taste for one’s subject can be washed away with the proper dose of one’s soul-felt enthusiasm. It is possible to follow language failure with language success. Finally, Rome was not built in a day. It just took me two years of an enthusiastic teacher to finally understand that my Latin text was telling me that Romulus and Remus were Roma’s founders.
Many thanks for his comical yet very accurate post. I hope you all enjoyed!
So this year I came back to language teaching- Spanish specifically. It has been four years since I taught language. In the space in between I had focused on Special Education and getting my Master’s in TESOL. Those experiences have greatly changed the way I approach my language classroom. In my opinion, both have made me better at what I do.
So as I wrap up grading the final papers of the year, I am going to selfishly use this blog post as a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as I dove back into this lovely, crazy field.
- Kids are never too old for puppets. I’ve used puppets in every language class I taught and those included students from preschool age to high school. Here’s the thing- somehow by using a puppet, the kid is less nervous about speaking. It seems to provide some level of cognitive distance that allows them to feel safer taking risks and making mistakes. Other teachers are doing similar things with avatars- if you are interested in this idea, check out this blog post.
- No matter how much I try, I can’t understand why some kids will never understand basic formulas for sentence structures. And no matter how much I can’t understand it, some kids are never going to get those formulas. I’ve got to use work arounds.
- Joining Twitter was the single best decision I’ve made as a language teacher and learner. That scares me.
- Food continues to be a powerful motivator.
- Letting go of some control makes my classroom a better place. It is hard to do and I still require a high level of discipline- but interaction is essential for kids to learn and I’ve seen more students learn from each other this year than ever before.
- The best compliments you’ll get while teaching often come from those you least expect. A student who never seemed to try all that hard said to me “You know for the first time I find myself thinking in Spanish outside of class. I start taking notes in Spanish in the class after this.” That is pretty cool.
- Some concepts are going to take the time they are going to take. The past couple of years this school’s Spanish program has been majorly disrupted. Therefore the students are “behind” where I want them to be for their level and I tend to rush through a lot of concepts. Surprise Surprise- they don’t retain the stuff I rush through. I’ve got to realize that sometimes a little really well is better than a lot half-arsed.
- That said- there is a time to move on and realize exposure is sufficient We went over commands in Spanish 3 this year. In my opinion, due to the conglomeration of rules surrounding commands, this can be one of the toughest topics for students to pick up. It was for this class for sure. They struggled, they moaned, there was gnashing of teeth. Finally we moved on to something else. You know what? It was fine. They got the next concept without issue, they could still recognize the pieces of commands they needed, and the world went back to a relative normal acquisition of Spanish. Sometimes exposure is enough.
- Students put a lot of stock in vocabulary and worry about not knowing enough. I plan to show the video I posted last week in class next year to help combat this. There are hundreds of thousands of words in most languages- you simply can’t know them all. But the right 6000 will go a long way.
- Times have changed SO much in just four years and it fills my heart with joy. When I started teaching Spanish right out of college, the #1 obstacle I faced was students saying “Why the heck do we have to learn this? Everyone speaks English anyway!” I can proudly say not ONE of my students ever stated that this year. My students seem to understand that learning languages is valuable to them in both professional and personal development.We’ve come a long way from a principal who suggested it was insane that I made my students speak the language to a principal who reprimanded a student who continuously complained about me speaking Spanish with our foreign exchange student. (**Important note- I always translated what we were saying so that students did not feel left out or talked about. Not that I should have to.**)
I can honestly say I fell back in love with language teaching this year. I love my job in general because it let’s me pursue both my passions- language teaching and special education. Despite being very ready for a much needed break (yay summer!) I am actually excited about preparing new curriculums and materials for next year.
For now my Polyglot peeps, I must bid you Auf Wiedersehen so that I may grade the 9000 papers waiting for me. (Only slight exaggeration.) If any of you teach, I’d love to hear your reflections as well. Students, feel free to share the best or worst strategies your teachers have used. Meanwhile, keep that language groove going!
(Who doesn’t love hitting the sample music buttons for these things at Wal-mart and Target? 😉 )
Original Article Posting can be found here. Originally posted 05/26/14.