L1 and L2

salvēte, amicī! Welcome back! With many thanks to our alert reader Brennus, who had a concern about the use of English in the project, I’d like to devote today’s post to the the vexed question of “L1 and L2” – that is, the proper place, if any, for native-language work (“L1”) in learning another language (“L2”).   I want to aim for a Third Alternative, though it may not satisfy everyone. Specifically, I want to address the question of how “L1” (usually English) is used in Tres Columnae.

As I’ve mentioned before, Tres Columnae has grown from my work teaching Latin face-to-face for many years in a program that’s very deliberately aligned with the (US) Standards for Classical Language Learning and, in turn, with the (US) Standards for Foreign Language Learning. For my readers outside the U.S.A., you may not realize the extent to which American education is not a national system. Unlike most European, Asian, and African nations, there’s not a national curriculum, nor are there government-set national examinations. Instead, each of the 50 US states has its own, more or less vague, curriculum standards, from which local school districts, in turn, develop their own, more detailed curricula.  Both sets of Standards were produced not by a national ministry, but by US professional organizations for language teachers, in an attempt to provide model standards that might bring order to the potential chaos of so many different states’ and school districts’ curricula.  So the National Standards are, in fact, neither national nor standardized! 🙂

Even so, I like the framework, and most states, including my own, have used the National Standards to create their language curricula.   the Standards have five strands:

  • Communication: understanding (and, to a lesser extent, producing) Latin
  • Culture: understanding the products, practices, and perspectives of Greco-Roman culture
  • Connections: seeing the relationships between Latin and other academic disciplines
  • Comparisons: seeing similarities and differences between Latin and the learner’s native language, and between Greco-Roman culture and the learner’s native culture(s)
  • Communities: seeing how Latin and Greco-Roman culture relate to today’s multicultural world, and using them in this broader context

One reason I like the Standards is that they aim for a “Third Alternative” (a term I’ve explained in a previous post) between the twin dangers of

  • a pure immersion model, where Communication is the only goal, and where elementitis can easily reign supreme, and
  • a pure grammar-translation model, where Connections and Comparisons are the only goals, and where aboutitis is a constant peril.

As I reflect on the Standards, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • Since Communication is the primary goal, the focus needs to be on understanding and using L2, not translating into L1.
  • Since Connections and Comparisons are also important goals, it’s not only appropriate but mandatory to look at the relationships between L1 and L2.
  • Culture is a vitally important goal, and it can’t really be separated from Communication. How can you understand a literary text without reference to the culture that produced it? On the other hand, how can you understand a culture if you don’t know its language?
  • Language learners need to experience real cultural products, but they also need to communicate their own thoughts in the language – even if those thoughts aren’t “culturally authentic.” The very lack of “cultural authenticity” is, itself, an opportunity to make Connections and Comparisons and to participate in Communities.
  • When participants come to Tres Columnae, they want to “learn Latin” – not just “learn about the Romans” or “learn some root words to expand my English vocabulary.”
  • By “learning Latin,” our participants probably mean two things. They want to acquire the language (to be able to comprehend and use it fluently and unconsciously), but they also want to learn about it – to understand how it works, and how it relates to their own language.
  • Both desires are legitimate, and both involve the Skill and Understanding levels of the Paideia framework.
  • Along the way, participants naturally make connections between Latin and L1 (which for most of our participants will be English). These connections are important not only because the Standards call for them, but because they strengthen the participant’s comfort with both languages.
  • One way – not the only way, but a perfectly valid way – to demonstrate comprehension of a Latin passage is to attempt to restate it (or its main idea) in English. Other ways include illustration, oral or written L2 paraphrase, expressive oral reading, and re-enacting a passage (in “live action” or on video). We embrace and encourage all these means, as well as others that our participants will develop.
  • Some learners, especially at the beginning of their language-learning experience, are more comfortable with comprehension questions and grammatical explanations in L1. We honor this need.
  • Over time, we aim to move our participants to ever-greater direct comprehension and ever-less reliance on L1.
  • We also aim to “expand their awareness” by exposing them to situations where translation, literally understood, is impossible even when comprehension is easy, as well as to false derivatives, false cognates, and derivatives whose meaning is far different from the meaning of the Latin root word.
  • Formal Learning about the language – for example, grammatical or rhetorical analysis of a passage – may or may not directly affect Acquisition, but it is a valid part of language study.
  • As much as possible, such work needs to be done in L2, using the terms that the Romans themselves used for the categories of their language.
  • There’s no conflict between Acquisition and Learning, just as there’s no conflict between the musical score and the performance, or between the recipe and the food on your plate.

As with the other “Third Alternatives” I addressed earlier, you may or may not like this synthesis. You’re welcome to disagree, of course! You may choose one of the extreme positions; you may choose a different piece of middle ground; or you may want to develop your own synthesis. We welcome and encourage you to do so. On the other hand, if this Third Alternative speaks to you – and if you’re weary of the conflicts – we invite you to join us.  What do you think, dear readers?

Tune in next time for another sample story, this time from Cursus Secundus.  Coming up this week: more about logistics, and more about the relationships between Tres Columnae and some popular methods of language teaching.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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