What about Vocabulary? II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take another look at vocabulary-related issues in the Tres Columnae system … and we’ll also take a look at a new story, thinking about the types of vocabulary exercises (and other vocabulary questions) that we might ask about it. When I look at blog traffic statistics, lectōrēs cārissimī, I’ve certainly noticed that you all like posts with stories better than posts without them. So I’ll try to give you plenty of stories, even in the more philosophically oriented posts.

Anyway, here are some quick thoughts about vocabulary, partly in answer to the questions I asked yesterday, and partly in answer to a great question from our faithful reader Laura G. You can read her comments and my preliminary response if you’re interested.

Today we’ll focus on Vocabulary Lists and Flashcards. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deeply skeptical of the kinds of lists that present a “Latin word” and “its English meaning.” Of course, I grew up with such lists; the textbook I use in my face-to-face teaching life uses them; and I continue to assign list-related vocabulary work to my face-to-face students. But I’ve grown increasingly skeptical that vocabulary lists can actually promote deep, meaningful learning of vocabulary. Instead, I’m afraid they send two messages that I don’t want my students to receive.

First, they seem to send a message that “Latin and English are exactly the same; there’s a one-to-one equivalent for everything.” I didn’t realize this until recently, when I was reflecting on the homework assignment turned in by a (very capable) Latin III student. We’d been reading the Daedalus and Icarus sequence from Book X of the Metamorphoses, and the assignment was to vertite Latīnē a couple of English sentences that summarized part of the action. (I deliberately don’t say “translate into Latin” because I want my students to think about turning thoughts rather than looking up words.) Anyway, the sentence involved an English indirect statement with a “that,” and she did a creditable job of making ōrātiō oblīqua out of it … but she also threw in a seemingly-random ille to represent the word that in the original sentence. Of course, if you look up that in an English-to-Latin dictionary, you will see the word ille! And that’s pretty much all you’ll see … certainly not any guidance as to different ways the English word that is used, and the different ways that Latin represents them. After all, dictionaries have to be reasonable in size and price, and that type of detailed explanation would make them unmanageably large in both respects. But an unfortunate consequence is that, even when using a dictionary, a learner thinks “Latin Word X = English Word Y.”

Second, vocabulary cards and lists seem to send a message that “vocabulary in a language class is like all the other vocabulary work I do in those other classes” – that is, it can be “learned for the test,” regurgitated in some form, and promptly forgotten. I talked about that in more detail in this post from January, but it continues to bother me … especially when I watch my face-to-face students do reading-comprehension activities in class. The most faithful vocabulary-card and vocabulary-list makers, in general, are the same young people who chronically raise their hands, plaintively seeking my help because “I can’t find this word in the dictionary.” It’s there, of course, and it’s also on the cards or lists they just turned in – but it’s in a declined or conjugated form, and they can’t make the connection. Or else it never occurred to them that there should be a connection between the cards/lists and the words in the reading passages … or that the cards or lists have any higher purpose beyond “do them and turn them in” … such as, for example, helping you, the learner, actually learn the words on them! 😦

Ten or fifteen years ago, my students eagerly made and used cards (or lists, for the card-challenged) because Latin class was the only place in their school experience where cards happened. Now, though, their counterparts make cards for everybody – including Mrs. X, who takes the cards up and never gives them back! So a strategy that once seemed different and special has become boring and ordinary, at least in my corner of the world. Has that happened where you are?

Lest I bore you :-), I’ll save further reflections on the other points I raised yesterday for another post, and we’ll turn to the obvious next question: If not lists, what? And how, in a list-free world, would the Tres Columnae system help learners process and reflect upon the Latin words they encounter?

I actually think a world without any vocabulary lists would be difficult to achieve … there are certain words that don’t lend themselves to pictorial representation, or that aren’t obvious in context, or that don’t have obvious derivatives or cognates. Even then, though, I’d like to make it clear that the connections between English and Latin words are rarely one-to-one… in other words, I’d like to build not only Knowledge of the basic meanings of the words and Skill at using them (for comprehension and for production), but also Understanding of the deeper issues and ideas involved in words and meanings. For example, I envision that learners might “adopt a word,” research its connotations in a Latin dictionary, and create a semantic map, illustration, or other learning tool that presents some of the differences in connotation between the Latin and English words. Even a simple word like et is rich in possibilities (for example, a Roman can have a series like Caelius et Valerium et Caeliam et līberōs salūtat, but we can’t say *Caeilius greets and Valerius and Caelia and the children). So imagine what you could do with a noun or a verb! And imagine trying to represent the differences in meaning, connotation, and what we might call “closeness of connection” among et, –que, and atque! 🙂

So, in the context of a real Tres Columnae story, what might we do to

  • present new vocabulary
  • help learners relate new words to words they already know
  • help learners practice the new words, developing their Knowledge and Skill, and
  • help learners reflect on the new words, increasing their Understanding?

Let’s look at this story from Lectiō XVIII, next in sequence after the one in Wednesday’s post about servī et ancillae.  (You can also find it at this link at the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.)  Vipsānia, uxor Caeliī, has finally noticed that many of the vernae bear a suspicious resemblance to her husband, and she confronts him in a way that many Roman women would be unlikely to do. Of course, it helps when your own pater was a senātor, your marītus is an eques, and you were married sine manū….

annō proximō, Dulcissima et Fēlīcissima ambae parturiunt. Dulcissimae puer, Fēlīcissimae puella nāscitur. Caelius Ūtilī pecūniam dat et, “vernās optimōs mihi praebēs!” exclāmat.

Vipsānia tamen suspiciōsa “heus!” exclāmat, “vultūs enim Caeliō meō quam similēs! mihi necesse est istās ancillās pūnīre!”

Vipsānia ergō ad Caelium festīnat et, “marīte!” exclāmat, “tē rem maximī mōmentī quaerō. novās enim ancillās habēre volō, quod mē taedet Dulcissimae et Fēlīcissimae. ignāvae enim et inūtilēs sunt illae, quod īnfantēs iam nūtriunt. quaesō, amābō tē, illās vende et aliās ancillās mihi eme!”

Caelius, “hem!” respondet, “aliās ancillās habēre vīs? ancillās novās et pulchrās? fortasse, sī pretium aequum –”

Vipsānia tamen īrātissima, “pulchrās enim? pulchrās?! num mē contemnis? num spernis? haud caeca, haud īnsāna sum! rēs enim gestās tuās plānē intellegō! num pater meus, ille Vipsānius senātor, tālia ferre potest? nōnne mē decet–”

sed Caelius, “Vipsānia, Vipsānia, cūr tē vexās?” respondet. “nōnne dominus sum? nōnne mihi est patria potestās? nōnne quoque manus servōrum et ancillārum? tē haud vexō, haud contemnō! tibi dōna aptissima emō! et tibi servulōs grātīs praebeō! cūr tē vexās? num ingrāta mē dēplōrās? num dīvortium quaeris?”

Vipsāna tamen “dīvortium? num tū impudēns dīvortium quaeris? nōnne sine manū uxor tibi sum? facile igitur est mihi cum dōte Mediolānum revertere! num paupertātem cupis, mī Caelī?”

Caelius attonitus, “quid hoc?” tamen susurrat. “Vipsānia cārissima, num iocōs meōs agnōscis? sī enim ancillās novās quaeris, nōnne–”

Vipsānia attonita et īrāta nihil respondet, sed ē tablīnō celeriter ēgreditur. “tē oportet tacēre et istās ancillās cum īnfantibus statim vēndere!” exclāmat et ad cubiculum suum contendit. Caelius “haud necesse est Dulcissimam vel Fēlīcissimam vēndere!” clāmat. “tibi autem trēs ancillās novās emere in animō habeō!”

paucīs tamen post hōrās, Caelius Ūtilem arcessit et, “Ūtilis,” inquit, “tē ad urbem Pompēiōs mittō vēnālīcium quaesītum. mihi enim necesse est servōs inūtilēs vēndere!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Which words are likely to be new to our participants?
  • Which ones are important enough to present first, in a fabella, with pictures, or with some other explanation?
  • Which (new or familiar) words might learners still want, or need, to practice?
  • And what kinds of practice would work best?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to address these questions … and the other big issues I raised on Friday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a lively story – I loved it! The topic of family resemblances is something I studied a lot in graduate school (it’s a great folkloric topic!). Two practical ideas about vocabulary here: THINKING OUT LOUD and WORD GROUPS.
    THINKING OUT LOUD. The online format might allow people to share their “thinking out loud” (i.e. in writing) as they go through a reading. Advanced readers of Latin and beginning readers experience a text very differently, and I think if we could eavesdrop on each other we might learning something – a beginning reader might learn from reading my out-loud thoughts as I experience a Latin story, and I know that I would really benefit from being able to hear the out loud thoughts of a beginner, being able to see at which words and phrases they stumble and would like some help, as well as knowing which words seem really profound and full of meaning to them. So, as an example, here’s my “thinking out loud” about this story, noting any vocabulary items that intrigued as I read: Thinking out loud blog post
    WORD GROUPS: One fun task for readers might be the following: find examples of words you could put in the following groups – don’t define them; just identify them as being in the group:

    At least 5 words in the passage that refer to SOCIAL ROLES (lots of possibilities here: ancilla dominus maritus senator servulus servus uxor verna)

    At least 5 words in the passage that refer to BUYING, SELLING AND GIVING (e.g. emo vendo venalicius donum dos gratis pretium praebeo)

    At least 5 ADJECTIVES NEGATED WITH IN- PREFIX (this is trickier because I think there are just 5 total: ignavus impudens ingratus inutilis infans… but maybe I missed one?)

    Challenging students to find words that fit into specific groups demands that they know something about the word, but it avoids the tedious task of asking them to provide the English definition. 🙂

    • Laura,
      I loved your Thinking Out Loud blog post and made a few comments in response over there. Yes, I am very conscious of the folklore elements at work here, even though I haven’t had much formal academic work with folklore!

      I love the idea of word groups! After learners have some experience with finding words for predetermined groups, the next step would be for them to create their own groups and explain the criteria. As you said, it definitely requires that you know something about the word – in fact, I think it requires Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding in Paideia terms – but it deliberately stays away from translation or one-to-one equivalents. What a great idea! For a really simple sorting activity, you could even have a self-scoring exercise:

      Which of the following groups of words could be described as …?

      with feedback for wrong answers:

      vae! heu! The category was “Words Related to Buying, Selling, and Giving,” but partūriunt, īnfāns, and nāscuntur are related to birth! 😦 You might want to try this vocabulary exercise, created by subscriber CaeliolaRox, or this new one, created by HaudSumHerculanensis.

      (Of course the subscriber names are fictional for the moment, but you get the idea….)

      quid respondēs?

      • I think this idea of ‘word groups’ could turn into something really powerful: it’s a simple tool for working with vocabulary at a basic level, but it then provides a springboard for reflective thinking about culture-in-language, and also gives a good foundation for composition, too. Just speaking for myself, when I re-read the story looking for specific types of words, it prompted a different kind of engagement with the story – and being prompted to re-read from a new/different angle seems to me a good thing in any case! Plus, if the groups recur (I’m guessing the group “social roles” is one that would apply to MANY of the stories, as could a group like “verbs of speaking” or “emotional states), then people can see how different/same words from the same group recur in different stories. Fun stuff.

        Just speaking for myself, I find the making of English vocabulary lists to be really tedious but the idea of sorting out the words in a story and looking for groups and patterns would be fun. I figure if the teacher has fun preparing the exercise, it’s much more like the students will have fun completing that exercise! 🙂

  2. Yes, I agree … I think Word Groups could be a really powerful idea. I’ve done something a bit like this with face-to-face classes (pick a word, create a word web that shows and, if necessary, explains the connections between it and other, related words), but I’ve never had my students concentrate on one category of words in just one story like this. It definitely makes you look at the story in a different way … and it’s certainly a lot more fun than those “tedious” English vocabulary lists, as you so aptly described them.

    I’m now thinking about having my face-to-face Latin IV students do a set of comparative lists, focusing on the three different versions of the Dido-and-Aeneas sequence we’ve read this year (obviously Vergil, plus the sequence from the Metamorphoses, and now Heroides VII which we’ll be starting on Monday). They really like comparative tasks like this! And I think that Word Groups would work beautifully for lower-level learners, too, especially the ones who are struggling with vocabulary. That may become a review activity for my face-to-face Latin I’s and II’s in a couple of weeks.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see the ways that words do, or don’t, reappear in different combinations from story to story. It will also be interesting to see how contributors other than me use words differently in their stories.

    How exciting … and how fun! 🙂

  3. […] We’ll start with the smaller questions and move out to the larger ones. Then, tomorrow, we’ll look at some other issues … and a great suggestion from our faithful reader Laura G, who made this comment in response to Saturday’s post. […]

  4. […] though, let’s look at this suggestion from our faithful reader Laura G, which she made in response to Saturday’s post. She’s referring to this story from the […]

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