So, I mentioned some time ago that I was going to start working on learning Spanish with the tweens I co-school. I mentioned that I didn't want to do a traditional curriculum because they are already a couple of years into Latin and it seems to me we could save some time by exploiting what they already know. Once you have learned any second language, after all, you are alert to many of the things you need to know in order to learn another one, and there are so many points of contact between Latin and Spanish that it ought to be a fairly easy transition.
I know enough French and Latin, and have picked up enough knowledge about Spanish from various attempts to teach myself, to score 12 out of 12 on this BBC Language quiz ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/gauge/ ). Can't speak it at all, and would like to do better. After quite a bit of research, I decided to work with the kids using my own method -- the one where I teach myself, and I bring them along.
I have two sourcebooks, one scholarly and the other popular.
The scholarly book is Frederick Bodmer's The Loom of Language, http://www.amazon.com/The-Loom-Language-Approach-Languages/dp/039330034X , which blew my mind when I found it in the library. The author comes at it with the perspective of one who was deeply involved in the "international language movement," inspired by an optimistic belief that eliminating the language problem would do away with misunderstandings and, thereafter, all wars would cease. Clearly his vision did not play out, but the way he thinks about language-learning is jaw-droppingly insightful. Plus the book has a decent amount of background information in linguistics, and all sorts of useful word lists and tables which make it really useful, at least if you are setting out to learn a Romance language or a Teutonic language. The writing itself is crisp and clear, if dated.
The popular book is entertaining and somewhat incredible (in the sense that I am not sure he is telling the truth about all of his polyglot experiences). This is How to Learn Any Language http://www.amazon.com/How-Learn-Language-Barry-Farber/dp/1567315437 by Barry Farber. It has some tall-sounding stories, but also some solid-sounding advice on how to tackle a new language: First, get a basic grammar and read about five chapters. Then, get a phrasebook, a magazine or newspaper (one copy of one issue) in the target language, and some audiotapes (or the modern equivalent) and start working your way through the text a paragraph at a time. He has some tips for how to design an efficient flashcard system, how to use spare moments to study, and how to use memory-association visualization, but the main thrust is to attack the language through multiple channels at once: auditory, text, and speech, and also grammar study.
Since his first piece of advice is to learn a little grammar, that is where we are starting: one quick lesson a week, with a little bit of practice making sentences.
Lesson one was conjugating regular verbs ending in -ar -- those are very much like the verbs of the first conjugation in Latin. I picked "hablar" (to speak) as a model verb, not "amar," because I did not want to muck up the "amo, amas, amat" in Latin class. So I gave them about three dozen verbs, many of them derived directly from Latin verbs they know, and we practiced making sentences with those for a week. I had them translate from English to Spanish and Spanish to English and Spanish to Latin and Latin to Spanish.
Lesson two was the irregular verb "estar," one of the two verbs that translate "to be," and then using it to form the present progressive tense -- "I am speaking," "Estoy hablando" -- with the three dozen regular verbs. The kids liked that Spanish has this construction that they are so familiar with in English and that is missing in Latin.
What was great about it was that we could jump right in without having to explain about why verbs are conjugated, or how it can be that you do not need to use a subject pronoun, or what person and number and tense mean. The same recitation of the same meanings in the same order: hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, hablais, hablan. There are some differences to get used to, like the appearance of informal and polite forms of address, but most of it is comfortable already.
Now the only hard part will be not letting my excitement at starting a New Thing crowd out the important work we are doing in intermediate Latin. I have four more weeks till we finish one of our history books, and when that happens we will open up a block of time I can devote just to Spanish -- till then I am itching to move ahead. I have a few more books on order, so at least I will have to wait till they get here.
By the way -- if you, like me, ever decide to use phrase books as part of language learning with kids -- take the time to read the Amazon reviews first and then to "look inside." I was all set to buy the Lonely Planet phrase book for Latin American Spanish when I happened upon a review warning parents that the book is not for the kiddies, as it contains explicit material in the "Romance" section. I had enough trouble with the kids yesterday translating "specta virum in equo retinae" as "look at the man in the queen's horse," which they found hilarious, and I can hardly blame them, but I do not need to burden them yet with phrases like "Touch me here!" or "Faster!" or "Sorry, I can't get it up" or "I never want to see you again."
Although it did make for an amusing image of someone trying to consult his phrase book in the heat of the moment. Or more likely sitting alone on some hostel cot, studying up optimistically so that, if things go well, he won't look like such a loser tourist.