Live Teacher Revives Dead Language

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!  

Loving Languages or A Wordy Romance

If I had to blame someone, I guess it would be Muzzy.

Those simple commercials with the green, furry, and friendly monster where the girl just a wee bit older than myself spoke perfect French?   They managed to ignite a fire. 

It started off innocently enough.  I’d go to the library every week in the summer and check out dozens of books and among them would be something language related.  Which language didn’t matter really- some weeks it was American Sign Language, others it was Spanish, on more than one occasion it was Japanese.  We lived in a small town and therefore the language learning options weren’t exactly plentiful, but I made my way diligently through what WAS available, poor pronunciation be damned. 

Then came an ACTUAL language class- high school Spanish I.  I found out languages weren’t a simple “take Spanish word A and replace English word A” process.  They were living, breathing organisms complete with unique grammatical structures and nuances of inflection and pragmatics and different body language and more!  I’d always loved grammar (I was that weird kid who LIKED diagramming sentences) and the complexity of my passion just endeared it all the more to me.

My language list was growing out of control, seemingly headed for a heartbreaking crash.  In my late teenage years, I knew I wanted to speak over half a dozen languages and that that number would likely only increase with age.  But I lived in a small town with a small library with only one shelf dedicated to foreign languages (ASL among them) and almost none of those came with grammar explanations or pronunciation tapes.  Surely it was all a pipe dream…

Enter “The Internet.”

Thousands…. Millions of free resources at the click of a button.  Entire websites and databases dedicated to learning languages.  Soundclips and video and native speakers to practice with- I had entered linguistic nerdvana.  Languages I had never heard of suddenly became “must haves” on my list to learn and I gave myself over to the notion that speaking 15 languages before I died was no longer impossible, though possibly improbable.

So here I am at age 29 with a list of 2 mastered languages, 2 in-progress languages, another 8 must-learn languages, and a few more on the “well if I get time…” list.  I have a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education and a Master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) which really should be called a pedagogic linguistics degree.  I’m a polyglot, a linguist, a lover of foreign tongues, and an admirer or accents.  And I want to offer whatever help I can to others like me.  Because while the vast number of resources now available to us linguaphiles is incredible, it also can be intimidating and overwhelming.

The goal of this blog is to help equip our kind with knowledge to wade through the resources and find the ones best suited to our task.  It is also to hold discussions and even rants about language learning and cultural competence and all the myriad of concepts that play into it.

I’m not a believer in “experts.”  I’m a believer in a shared community of learning and resources.  And I’m a believer that learning each others’ languages is the best way to start learning each others’ hearts.

Muzzy stole my heart with a few words in French a long time ago.  Which language has stolen yours?


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/03/14.