RSS Feed

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why I’ve changed my mind on Comprehensible Input (but still can’t stand LLIPSI)

Posted on

I used to seriously question the Comprehensible Input method for learning ancient languages, but now I strongly recommend it as fully authentic and the best method for gaining reading fluency and becoming a lifelong learner of ancient languages.

However, I still cannot bring myself to recommend the Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata textbook (LLIPSI) as a standalone Latin course. I understand that it works. And I am glad that many motivated people have acquired Latin through it. However, I cannot bring myself to like it, even when I try as hard as I can.

Let me start with how I had formerly come to reject Comprehensible Input together with LLIPSI. I learned Latin through a reading method with the Cambridge Latin Course. In practice, my teachers taught me Latin through a mixture of reading pleasurable stories, getting us to orally perform the stories, and drilling our grammar with grammar-translation exercises. I was initially intrigued by LLIPSI because I had heard it was a more intuitive and reading-based course than the one I had learnt from, and I believed reading – any kind of reading – was inherently more enjoyable than grammar-translation.

However, when I read LLIPSI myself, or used it as a resource for Latin tutoring, both I and my students found it very hard to endure. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something seemed very unpleasant about the stories. The narrator seemed to dwell on bodily harm in chapter 3 when he wrote the onomatopoeia “tuxtax, tuxtax, tuxtax…” to the sound of a child being beaten (the illustration showed a man with a face wrinkled with anger, hitting the boy on his lap with a stick). The incident was neither funny nor tragic. The boy’s torment simply happened. The tone seemed to lack human empathy, but presented all things, whether good or evil, in clinical detail. Frequently the stories did not follow the conventions of narrative, of motivated characters driving a plotline (such as the stories in the CLC), but instead were written like information dumps, with the story being merely a framing device for saying more words, more horrible words. My dislike of the book’s construction hardened; it grew into a burning hatred the more I wanted to like it, and the more I read of it (except for the chapter on pirates – that was actually very interesting. There actually were a couple chapters in the middle that weren’t too bad).

Meanwhile, I was tutoring a lot of students from a nearby school who had significant gaps in their Latin learning because for a whole year in middle school, a Latin teacher there had taught them from LLIPSI. Maybe this wasn’t LLIPSI’s fault – perhaps the teacher or the students were sloppy, or the class was noisy, or it was because of the sudden change of Latin courses. Who knows? But I certainly did not hear a ringing endorsement of the LLIPSI course from the boys I tutored. They said they were told to “work out the general meaning of the sentence from context” when reading LLIPSI, and be content with not having every word exactly right (as I later learned, this is not how CI should be implemented). I asked them to interpret sentences from LLIPSI aloud for me and they were getting every second word wrong. I drilled them on grammar to fill their gaps, and they learned the rest of their Latin through a mixture of reading and grammar-translation methods – the Oxford Latin Course.

As this was happening, I was reading only ringing endorsements of LLIPSI on the internet from people who supported Comprehensible Input as a learning method. I couldn’t reconcile this with my experience. I came to the conclusion that these internet reviewers were extremely motivated adults who didn’t mind reading stories about boys being whipped, or info-dumps spelling out things like “it is necessary to breathe to be alive”. These self-learners could not access the Cambridge Latin Course or Oxford Latin Course due to the steep price (at roughly $60 per book, the OLC would set you back at $180, while $50 a book for the CLC makes it $250). Their only affordable alternative to LLIPSI was the driest of all textbooks – the extremely dense grammar-exercise courses like Wheelock’s Latin, Jenny’s Latin, So You Really Want to Learn Latin, Latin for Dummies, and so on. Given that choice, I thought, it’s no wonder they supported LLIPSI. I concluded that all the twaddle about Comprehensible Input was people justifying to themselves why they should keep persisting with LLIPSI and making themselves feel like they are accomplishing more than other Latin learners, as a motivation tool to get through LLIPSI.

Fast forward to this year. I recently came across a very well executed Comprehensible Input (CI) ancient language course – Aleph with Beth. This is a biblical Hebrew course taught entirely in spoken Hebrew, with props, gestures, and stock footage of animals, people, and natural scenery. The videos are very simple in some ways and very complex in others. They are not structured as stories, but as an instructor telling you joyfully about the things that exist. As I watch these videos, I feel like I am discovering the Creation afresh. She holds up a realistic miniature horse figurine and says “SUS!”, and now I know, that is indeed a “sus”. She points at two horses together and says “SUSIM!” and I know, yes, they are “susim”. And then I am hooked to the screen. I am mimicking what she is saying. I am asking and answering her questions out loud. I am listening and echoing and acquiring the Hebrew language, and just by paying attention, I am 99% confident of the meaning of the words she says.

This is going to sound strange, but I never considered myself a “gifted with languages” person or a “language lover”. I liked Latin specifically, and then Greek specifically, and then got into self-teaching Hebrew through a grammar method. Each time, there was a lot of hard work and joy mixed together, but it was worth the hard work because I then got to read ancient texts in their original languages. Most of the time the real payoff for my efforts would come months or years down the line.

Aleph with Beth is inherently engaging from the start. It does not feel like work, and it is not boring either. It respects you and doesn’t condescend, but it also takes as much time and joyful repetition as you need to learn each word and structure one at a time. After watching the videos my brain feels tired, but while watching them, I feel energised.

I have been inspired by Aleph with Beth to work CI strategies into my Latin teaching practice, with very pleasing results. I might share these strategies in more detail in the next few blog posts, but in summary, I have been showing CI Latin videos from ScorpioMartianus that were adaptations of LLIPSI. I have also implemented the 7-step-Ranieri-rereading method with a variety of year levels, from total beginners in year 7 to our final year classes in year 12 studying Vergil’s Aeneid. I have made a vocabulary flash card set for my year 9 class with only pictures and prompting questions (eg. a picture of a book with the question, “quid est?”) so that students see the picture and have to orally answer the question by saying the target vocabulary word. I have been rewording grammar explanations to be more about using Latin phrases to explain other Latin phrases. All of these things have been immediately showing good results – students internalising and recalling the vocabulary, reading prepared stories at the speed of speech, understanding even complex grammatical constructs without first having to force them into an English pidgin.

I was so happy with the results of CI strategies that I felt that I should pick up LLIPSI again and see if it actually makes sense as a course now. I liked the LLIPSI adaptation videos by ScorpioMartianus. I liked Aleph with Beth. I respect Luke Ranieri as a very capable instructor, and he recommends LLIPSI as the best Latin course ever made. Surely now I can actually put aside my prejudices and finally like LLIPSI.

I read a few chapters again and think “Dear God, I really hate LLIPSI. What is wrong with me?”

The position I am left in is this: I love Comprehensible Input, and I can’t stand LLIPSI.

And now I think I know why.

When you watch Aleph with Beth, Beth sits in a clean and bright room. She holds one prop in front of her. There are no distractions. She shows you the concept – a horse. She asks what it is. Then she says it is a “sus”. She repeats “sus” a couple more times, gesturing to this new discovery. Later in the lesson, a video (or two, or three) of a horse galloping across a field flashes brightly on the screen. After our eyes register this, she says “sus” again, but I am already starting to say “sus”. She asks her assistant – her husband Abram – to show her “sus” from among several other animal models. He points at it and is praised, or else he points at the wrong animal and is gently corrected.

In Aleph with Beth, you are shown the concept before learning the word for it. You see a horse and then are told it is “sus”. You are shown 3 or more images of the same thing. The props are lifted up, and you see her tangibly interact with them in three dimensions. You have a very vivid image of the thing that is being talked about.

When I read LLIPSI, it feels like I’m seeing about 20 new words per paragraph. Some of these have pictures somewhere else on the page. But what predominates is the text itself. You are supposed to read the text first and then use it and your intuition to work out the meanings of the unknown words and structures. Some of the glossed definitions are written in other Latin words. Sentences with new vocabulary are just as long as sentences with old vocabulary.

The problem here is that LLIPSI tells you the word first, which at first is nothing but a set of letters, and then you have to exert effort to find the meaning. Aleph with Beth shows you the actual thing first, and only then do you learn its name. In Aleph with Beth, the meaning comes before the language.

I find that this mimics the process of a child acquiring terms in their first language, especially in what I have seen of the Montessori style of education. First the child is shown a set of wooden cubes arranged according to size. They pick up a bigger one and feel its greater weight, then pick up a smaller one and feel its lightness. Only after that experience are they eventually taught the words “big”, and “small”, gradually moving to “bigger”, “biggest”, “smaller”, “smallest.” The meaning precedes the terminology.

A second practical problem I find with LLIPSI is the printed format of its question-answer dialogues inside of the main chapter stories. For example, a paragraph could consist of the following sentences printed together:

Num Crēta oppidum est? Crēta oppidum nōn est! Quid est Crēta? Crēta īnsula est. Num Sparta īnsula est? Sparta nōn est īnsula! Quid est Sparta? Sparta oppidum est. Rhēnus quid est? Rhēnus est magnus fluvius. Num ōceanus Atlanticus parvus est? nōn parvus, sed magnus est oceanus.

In a video, these questions and answers work well, because you don’t see the answer right next to the question. You have a moment, however brief, to interpret the question and start to say the answer, before the narrator actually gives the answer. But when you read this, the answer is already there. I find I skim through these written questions and answers very quickly and without much motivation, but when the same dialogue is presented in a video format, I try to get the answer before the narrator can. I find a similar thing with my students when I show them CI videos: a number of them will try to say the answer out loud ahead of the narration. It’s a thrill to beat the narrator. It is no joy whatsoever to have to read an answer printed inline next to a question.

I feel like the video adaptations of LLIPSI have achieved what LLIPSI in itself has struggled to do. The course cannot be blamed so heavily, as it is a remarkable thing to have held up over 50 years. I think the greatest problem is the physical limitations of a book format: there is a limit to how many repetitions of words and pictures can fit in a printed book without it starting to seem wasteful to the environment, but a video series can take its time on repetitions of minute details one by one, and show a thousand times as many images in the same period of time.

For those who are currently using the LLIPSI, I would personally recommend listening to an audiobook of the passages (anything people have read aloud of it on youtube or elsewhere) and would encourage you not to be ashamed to look up a translation of LLIPSI in your native language to ease the process of initially comprehending the text, if necessary. Re-reading the Latin while re-listening to LLIPSI passages would certainly be a good reinforcement for the target language features, even if the meaning was initially found through your first language.

I greatly look forward to seeing more comprehensible Latin videos being made, and I would also like contribute to this effort by making some CI videos of my own. I have seen the results of well-implement CI methods and I cannot endorse them enough.

Getting better at teaching scansion

Posted on

scansion4

Previously, I had taught the scansion of dactylic hexameter by giving a lecture of the whole system then getting students to have a crack at it with a copy of Latin text – and with no macrons printed either.

(I quickly learned not to use the opening of Aeneid 1 as the starter material, because line 2 is so aberrant – you could go hundreds of lines without seeing an –ia ending turn into a –ja like that! It’s awful! If I do use the opening of the Aeneid for learning scansion, I tell students to skip line 2, and all the while it stares at us awkwardly on the board.)

Now I’ve just introduced scansion with my year 11s, who are translating a section of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and I’ve worked out a way to make the first introduction to scansion less of a lecture, and more of an intuitive workshop.

icarusanddaedalus_painting

Icarus and Daedalus – our set passage from Ovid, and perhaps a metaphor for how students feel when they first see hexameter scansion. [source]

My goal in this session is not to give students a step-by-step formula for answering exam questions – not yet. My goal is to bring them to understand scansion from first principles.

Continue reading →

Five reasons why Latin should be taught in schools

I learned Latin in high school, I loved it, and now I’m a private tutor for high school Latin. But when I tell people what I do, the question that so often comes up is this: Why should schools still teach Latin?

I’ve heard many answers to that question over the years, and while they are good reasons, a lot of them involve things which have personally not affected me greatly. Latin is the mother of the Romance languages, so it should have been easier for me to learn French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. But I have not yet studied those languages, so I haven’t had the chance to benefit in that way. Latin appears a lot in law, but I’m not a lawyer. A lot of medical terms are Latin and Greek based, but I’m not a doctor. Some Catholic masses are conducted in Latin, but I’m not Catholic. I can read the species names of many animals, but I’m not a taxonomist.

So does that mean Latin has been wasted on me? Or on many students, for that matter?

Far from it. I believe that Latin is an excellent force for good in education. It’s more than just a party trick, or a hook to memorise technical vocabulary, or even a roundabout way to improve your Romance languages. Latin offers so much more.

1. It’s a language subject taught like no other

Continue reading →

Ovid’s mini-Aeneid: a hidden gem

aeneasandfather

A man great in war, second to none in piety,
Aeneas, oppressed by the hatred of hostile Juno,
Seeking Italy, went astray on Sicilian waves…
Ovid, Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, I.1-3

It’s not every day that we stumble across a beautiful, hidden gem like this work. In my head I call it the mini-Aeneid, because it is the only surviving poetic summary of the Aeneid which truly captures the epic proportions of the work in miniature. Ten lines of epic verse (dactylic hexameter) are dedicated to each of the twelve books of Vergil’s Aeneid – no more, no less. The work hits the highlights of action in each book, but sensitively, without being carelessly brief.

In honour of the work and the huge amount of creative energy that went into it, I’ve written the first publicly accessible English translation of this work (as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have any published English translations). Click here to read the Latin text alongside my English translation (link opens a small pdf document), which comes with its original preface – and as extra goodies, a set of monostich or single-line summaries of the books of the Aeneid from a separate author.

This work should properly be called Ovid’s Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, or in ordinary words, his ten-line poetic summary of the Aeneid. Tune in below for a quick summary of what we mean by ‘arguments’, the history of the work, and a discussion of why I am persuaded that the ten-line summary is a genuine work of Ovid and not a spurious attribution.

Continue reading →

Homer grabs you by the ears

For years I’ve been trying to get myself to read through the whole of Homer’s Iliad from start to finish. And lately I realised how to do it in the most painless way possible: I plugged in my earphones and listened to an audiobook of Homer’s Iliad on my half-hour daily bus rides to and from work. I was all the way through in about a month or two.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841. (Source)

Listening to Homer on audiobook worked well for me, and I strongly recommend you take advantage of this audiobook format. As Classicists we’re prone to take reading for granted as the default method of absorbing literature. But it is good to remind ourselves that Homer’s great epics were probably passed down orally for centuries before they hit pen and ink. And even in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, most Greeks would have considered listening to be the default way of experiencing Homer, and would not have seen the Iliad or the Odyssey primarily as ‘books’ to be read silently off the page in your head.

But listening to Homer on audiobook does not just give you the fun of feeling more authentic. It offers a better aesthetic experience, too. As I will explain below, many of Homer’s characteristic literary devices are much better suited to the aural format than to the print book, and so listening to Homer rather than reading him gives you a better appreciation for Homer’s art.

Continue reading →

Saint Patrick in his own words

Posted on

saintpatrick1

Today is Saint Patrick’s day. And yet for a long time, all I had associated with this saint was his holiday, drunken green-clad revellers, the Irish, leprechauns, and a story about snakes. He was more of a cartoon figure than a man, a cheesy one-dimensional character not really much more credible than Santa Claus.

But then some months ago I stumbled across his Confession, a fifth century work in Latin. (Here’s a free English translation, and here’s a Latin version.) I didn’t know any of his writings had actually survived. The Patrick of the Confession was a refreshing change from the Patrick of legend. It was a window into a world I had barely glimpsed before – the life of an early British missionary in Ireland.

Continue reading →

Saint Nicholas through the Ages

"Sanctus Nicholaus, Nautarum Protector" (Saint Nicholas, Protector of Sailors) Mosaic of St Nicholas in Westminster Cathedral in London. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew http://gcaptain.com/maritime-monday-dec-twentyfourth-twentytelve-christmas/

“Sanctus Nicholaus, Nautarum Protector” (Saint Nicholas, Protector of Sailors), Westminster Cathedral, London. (Source)

How did a Saint from Western Turkey become an elf-Lord driving reindeer around the North Pole? The journey of St. Nicholas through time, space and cultures has transformed this pious bishop of Myra into Santa: a secular, round-bellied, cheerful caricature of modern consumerism. How, exactly, did he get from there to here? And does anything of the original Nick remain in our Mr. Claus?

Continue reading →

The Melitan Miniature Dog: The most popular lapdog in antiquity

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 - 435 BC (Source

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 – 435 BC (Source)

There is something so disarming, so human, about reading that the ancient Greeks and Romans kept dogs as pets – not just as hunting hounds, but also as tiny companions. The Melitan, while it is not the only kind of miniature dog mentioned in surviving texts (a “Gallic miniature dog” was named once in Martial’s epigrams),[1] it is by far the most the most prolific miniature dog in artistic depictions and literary sources.

Continue reading (4,382 words) →

My dearest subscribers,

Fished Up Classics will soon be known under a new name, Found in Antiquity.

The new site mascot. The old one, by the way, was taken from the Anchovy page on Wikipedia.

The new site mascot. The old one, by the way, was taken from the Anchovy page on Wikipedia.

It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe the long term gain will be worth today’s hassle. It feels scary, in a way, like I might be starting all over again. Has it only really been 4 months since I began this blog?

But I do feel much better about this new name. It makes more sense to me at first glance. If I mention the name to strangers or lecturers, I don’t have to hold my breath and hope they understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with fishing or eating fish or hooking things on fishhooks. It sounds silly, since most people who heard the name didn’t think of that. But I really did get sick of having “Fished Up” at the start of the title.

I’ve also taken this opportunity to buy the domain name, “foundinantiquity.com”.

Within the next few days or so I will also purchase a 301 redirect service, which will smooth this transition phase considerably.

Hold tight, update your bookmarks, and I’ll see you soon with another post – a post about Melitan or “Maltese” miniature dogs in antiquity!

Orpheus and the Can-can

How on earth could the Can-can dance have anything to do with the myth of Orpheus?

I’m sure you’ve heard and seen the Can-can before, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 150 years, here’s a demonstration:

The Can-can was a type of bawdy Parisian dance popular in the nineteenth century, and it could be performed to a variety of musical settings. Now this is where the classical connection comes in. The most famous tune for the Can-can, the one shown above, was written in 1858 by Jacques Offenbach for his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. The dance was originally titled the Infernal Galop and was first performed (with the famous tune) by actors pretending to be the Olympian gods and Orpheus’ beloved Eurydice.

Australian production of Orpheus in the Underworld. Picture by Lisa Tomasetti (Source) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/music/orpheus-in-the-underworld-returns-more-fun-than-before/story-fn9d2mxu-1226588535775

Australian production of Orpheus in the Underworld. Picture by Lisa Tomasetti (Source)

Continue reading →