Ask Me About Speaking Latin

latinThe weekend of November 22-24, we celebrated the 2013 ACTFL Convention & World Languages Expo in Orlando, Florida. It was, as always, an exciting and energizing weekend of professional development, with some outstanding language educators sharing their knowledge and experience. Bob Patrick, a teacher from Atlanta, GA attended as a Teacher of the Year nominee, and I myself was honored to give the Best of Northeast presentation. If you happened to be at the Orange County Convention Center that weekend, you might have seen us. We were wearing the “Ask Me About Speaking Latin” t-shirts.

For a long time, the relationship between Latin and other languages has been somewhat strange when it comes to education. In most colleges and universities, Latin, along with ancient Greek, is taught in a separate department. In middle and high schools, however, it is thrown in with the World/Foreign Languages department. The classicists (and therefore the Latin and Greek teachers) have their own conventions and conferences. On the other hand, of the thousands of language teachers in attendance at ACTFL, less than 200 were Latin teachers. (A dozen of us were there in our “Ask Me About Speaking Latin” t-shirts, leading at least one person to refer to us collectively as the “black-shirts.”) When it comes to actual teaching, Latin is frequently held to a different set of rules – even the ACTFL standards grant a partial exemption for Latin.

However, the conversation between Latin and the other languages is changing. As Caroline Kelly remarked in her session on Proficiency Assessment in the Latin Classroom, not so long ago, you could have counted the number of Latin teachers at the ACTFL convention on two hands. This year there were more than 160, including a Teacher of the Year candidate. In classrooms around the country, the definition of a Latin classroom is constantly evolving, being redefined. Ideas such as comprehensible input, target language instruction, proficiency assessment are no longer as unusual to the Latinists as our not-as-dead-as-you-might-think language seems to everyone else.

“Ask Me About Speaking Latin” is an invitation to participate in this changing conversat
ion, both to Latinists and to teachers of other languages. Throughout the conference I had a number of people take me up on my challenge. Many were teachers of modern languages, some surprised that Latin teachers were even at the convention. Others had colleagues who teach Latin, and were intrigued by the notion of using it actively in the classroom. Some of the Latin teachers had heard about speaking Latin, but hadn’t tried it themselves.

If Latin education is to survive in the 21st Century, we must discuss its relevance in a modern classroom. By relevance, I do not mean “applicability,” as the term is so often construed. What will you be able to do with Latin? To what end, other than the enjoyment of Latin literature, will it be turned (we all know the list – better SAT scores, mastery of English grammar, word derivatives, etc.)? Instead, I ask, how do we make Latin meaningful to students? As we strive, as we all do, to be better teachers, we do ourselves a disservice if we do not engage ourselves in the larger discussion of language education. Whatever method we use to teach Latin, whether we choose to speak it or not, we can benefit by learning from or colleagues teaching other languages. They, in turn, can learn from us. In the years to come I look forward to Latin having a greater part in the discussion, and to speaking with teachers of all languages at both language conferences and classics conferences.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s ACTFL convention a truly fulfilling professional experience. Congratulations, again, to Bob Patrick, for being the SCOLT Teacher of the Year, and for so admirably representing all Latin teachers in the field of language education. Et, si umquam mecum velis colloqui, ut de Latine loquendo me roges, tibi adsim.

Reproduced with permission by Jason Slanga, Latin educator with Baltimore County Public Schools (MD).