We're halfway into our school year and I thought I'd report back on an idea I had earlier that gathered some interest in the combox. A little more than a year ago I wrote:
The Memoria Press Latin programs that we are using -- Prima Latina, Latina Christiana, and First Form Latin -- all have a component that examines Latin-derived words in the English language. It has seemed like a bit of a waste of time, sort of an afterthought, and we really haven't used it much at all. But what if instead of learning about Latin-derived words in English, we looked at Latin-derived words in Spanish? What if we studied Spanish as a specimen of late Latin -- very late Latin? What if learning Spanish became an extension of our Latin study?
All the beginner's Spanish programs start from scratch. But we're not starting from scratch: we're starting from a few years of Latin. Why can't we build on what they know already? After all -- a great deal of the effort that English speakers have to make, when they learn their first Romance language -- we've already been through that. Verbs are conjugated. Nouns have gender. Adjectives can come after nouns. Adjectives agree with nouns. And we've already talked about tense, and principal parts, and negation and interrogation... a lot of concepts that take up time grasping for the first time have already been grasped. They just need to know how to do in Spanish what they already know to do in Latin.
I wrote here, a little later, about teaching pronunciation lessons based on Latin pronunciation:
I made a little chart of Latin words and Spanish words that are their cognates and that demonstrate the differences and some of the similarities between ecclesiastical Latin and Spanish pronunciation rules. For example:
- In Latin gens (tribe), the g is pronounced like English /j/. In Spanish la gente (race, nation), it's pronounced with a throaty /h/.
- In Latin hora (hour), the h is pronounced as in English. In Spanish la hora, it's silent.
- In Latin signum (sign), the gn is pronounced as in English "lasagna." In Spanish el signo, the g sound and n sound are distinct.
- Vowels are similar: A: pater/el padre (father), E: cena/la cena (dinner), I: vita/vida(life), O: oculus/el ojo (eye), U: mundus/el mundo (world) and aqua/agua (water).
So I figured I would work my way down the chart with the kids. The emphasis is on similarities and differences between ecclesiastical Latin and Spanish. I thought maybe Hannah, who knows more about linguistics than I, could talk to the kids a little bit about consonant shift and things -- why filius became el hijo, why pax became la paz.
But I am taking seriously the need to hear a native Spanish speaker pronounce the words, so I went looking for an online audio dictionary....
H. found a neat article, which I described here, on which I constructed a pretty cool history-of-language lesson. And then here's where I describe how we got started, just before last summer (summer's when I generally experiment with new subjects):
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.
After my few experimental lessons, it turned out to take me approximately one semester to get a very basic Spanish grammar overview into them. I have to tell you, I'm pleased with the results. Let me tell you what I did.
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I have three Latin students in this "class." One's a ninth-grade girl, the other two are seventh-grade boys. At the start of this year they had been doing Memoria Press Latin together for about 4 years; we had finished Latina Christiana I and were about halfway through First Form Latin, supplemented with translations I cobbled together from other sources and some other things I added along the way. So they had had six tenses, two verb conjugations, three noun declensions, and some experience reading and writing Latin.
Here are the lessons I presented. I teach two days a week; on Mondays we did a lesson, and on Thursdays I assigned a written exercise based on the lesson.
1- Pronunciation lesson, focusing on similarities and differences between Latin and Spanish. Saves a ton of trouble as the vowel advice is all about the same, and there are only a handful of consonant differences.
2 - Regular -ar verbs like hablar, "to speak." I presented our verbs, including hablar, exactly as we would learn a new Latin verb: through recitation. Hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, habláis, hablan. We compared it to the first conjugation in Latin. I also gave them a little chart that contained the infinitive, gerund (hablando, "speaking"), and participle (hablado, "spoken"). And I gave them a lexicon of about thirty completely regular -ar verbs and their meanings, including all the ones I could find that are cognates of Latin words they know: convocar and adorar and amar and habitar and laborar and navegar and narrar...
3 - The irregular verb estar, which is one of two "to be" verbs. Again, we recited it (estoy, estás, está, estamos, estáis, están), and I taught the gerund and the participle as well as the infinitive. They learned a little bit about the usage difference between estar and ser (the other "to be" verb), and then I taught the present progressive tense, which uses estar + gerund just as in English: hablo = "I speak," but estoy hablando = "I am studying."
Three lessons in and already two ways to speak about what is happening now!
4 - Regular -er verbs like comer, "to eat." I taught this lesson just the same as Lesson 2, but keyed to the second conjugation in Latin: Spanish deber is the exact cognate of Latin debere. I explained that what we call the "stem" in Spanish is short one vowel -- for example, the Latin stem of debere is debe-, with endings -o, -s, -t, -mus and so on, but the Spanish stem of deber is deb- and the vowel is considered part of the endings -o, -es, -e, -emos and so on. And I gave them more words for their lexicon -- about ten completely regular -er verbs.
5 - Irregular verb haber, the helping verb for the perfect tense. I taught it like the other verbs (he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han), and then showed them how to use it with the past participle to form the perfect tense (como = "I eat," he comido = "I have eaten, I ate.") Also habiendo comido ("having eaten...") and haber de comer (to be supposed to eat, to "have to eat.")
6 - Regular -ir verbs like vivir = "to live." Compared the conjugation to the two other families of verbs. Added a dozen more verbs to their lexicon.
7 - The irregular verb ir, "to go." Voy, vas, va, vamos, vaís, van. I built on that to teach the immediate future construction, ir + a + infinitive, which is very much like English: vamos a decidir = "we're going to decide."
Seven lessons in, and they have one way to speak of the past, two ways to speak of the present, and one way to speak of the future. (And in case you're wondering, they were doing fine on the exercises, except that they kept forgetting to add accents.)
8 - Direct object pronouns. We recited them in the same pattern as verbs (singular - 1st, 2nd, 3rd person; plural - 1st, 2nd, 3rd person): me, te, lo/la, nos, os, los/las. This came with a lesson on word order. The usual order is S-V-DO just in English: María lava la toga. But when a pronoun replaces the direct object, it comes before the verb: María la lava. And when the verb is an infinitive, gerund, or command, the pronoun is attached to its end: María debe lavarla, Maria should wash it; María está lavándola, Maria is washing it; Lávala, Wash it.
9 - Irregular verb dar, "to give." I taught this with a long list of idiomatic expressions that use dar, like dar la hora, "to strike the hour," dar un paseo, "to take a walk," and dar a conocer, "to make known." I used this lesson to introduce the idea of idioms that don't translate exactly, and the technique (from The Loom of Language) of learning to think in the target idiom -- to get it in your heads that whereas English speakers "take" a walk, Spanish speakers "give" one; that English clocks "chime" or "strike" the hour, but Spanish clocks "give" the hour; that in English you "make something known," in Spanish you "give to know" something.
10 - Reflexive and reciprocal pronouns, i.e., object pronouns that refer back to the subject: me, te, se, nos, os, se. As in, El gato se lava, "the cat washes itself." I needed this lesson in order to teach the large class of ...
11 - Pronominal verbs, which have a reflexive pronoun as their object. I felt I had to explain these before we could do any dictionary work, because they get their own entry in the dictionary with the pronoun stuck on the end, and I feared the kids wouldn't recognize them as verbs. For example, llamarse, "to be called, to be named," so that you wind up saying Me llamo Juan, "I call myself Juan," instead of "My name's Juan." I gave them a list, sorted into -ar, -er, and -ir families.
At this point I gave them a dictionary and began using words they didn't know in their exercises, forcing them to look them up.
12 - Irse, "to go away," an example of an irregular pronominal. When you go, you go; but when you go away, you go yourself away.
13 - The imperfect tense. We recited all the forms in all three verb-families. Thanks to Latin, they already know the difference between imperfect and perfect, so I didn't have to get into that.
14 - The imperfect tense and the pluperfect tense. Since the pluperfect is just made by adding the imperfect form of haber to the past participle of the verb (había lavado, I had washed) the two tenses go together quite nicely into the same lesson. Thanks to Latin, they already know what the pluperfect is for and how to translate it.
15 - Dissecting the noun phrase. I presented this lesson as a lecture, after which I gave them an open-notes pop quiz. Here's the gist of it:
- The noun phrase is the part of a sentence that names participants in the action that's laid out in the verb phrase.
- All nouns have gender. They know about that from Latin, and were cheered to find out that there were only masculine and feminine, not neuter.
- All nouns have number.
- Nouns do not have case. (More cheering.)
- Common nouns need a "determiner" such as an article; proper nouns don't. (Here I discovered that they were rusty on the proper-common distinction, so we veered into a general grammar lesson for a while.)
- Determiners and adjectives must agree with the noun in gender and number.
- Adjectives can come before or after the noun, and the placement affects the meaning.
- The entire noun phase may be replaced by a pronoun.
16 - Plural forms. Rules for making a singular word (noun or adjective) plural.
17 - Feminine forms. Rules for making the feminine-singular form of an adjective when they know the masculine-singular form. We compared this to what we know of 1st/2nd-declension adjectives in Latin.
And that's where I stopped. By the end of that they were translating things along the lines of "Hace cuatro días la niña sufría. Luego el médico la ha socorrido." ("Four days ago the girl was suffering. Later the doctor helped her.") And "El espectáculo se ha acabado. En seguida el auditorio ha aplaudido. Luego lo loaban." ("The show finished. At once the audience applauded. Later they were praising it.")
I think that's not bad for 17 lessons, eh?
Now we're starting something new: we're using a Pimsleur audio course to work on spoken Spanish. I'm interspersing audio lessons with grammar and translation lessons based on the material in the audio course.
For example, after the first audio lesson, which introduces the utterances Entiendo ("I understand") and ¿Entiende? ("Do you understand?"), I taught them on paper to conjugate entender, which has regular endings but, like many, many otherwise-regular Spanish verbs, undergoes a stem change ("in the boot", as my high school French teacher called it when French verbs did it) to make entiendo, entiendes, entiende, entendemos, entendéis, entienden. This is a recurring pattern, and is necessary to know if you're going to try to find verbs like this in the dictionary.
After subsequent audio lessons, I did translation exercises based entirely on phrases that had been spoken in the most recent lesson.
I didn't have any goals, starting out, other than to see what would happen, how fast they could learn, if we built on what we already knew from Latin. I'm really pleased with how it's going.