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Classics Teaching Resources


Accelerated Latin

a presentation for ArLT Summer School
Plymouth, August 2000

[There was panpipe music playing as people come in. The room was plastered with posters, slogans, a mobile and balloons. Chocolates were prepared as rewards.]

You are looking so relaxed and so obviously enjoying yourselves that it's a pleasure to see you!

I have discovered a cluster of ideas about learning languages that I believe can help even the best teacher to achieve more for the students. I began to use some of these ideas in my last two or three years of teaching, and found that they are effective. Three years ago I invited a modern language teacher to introduce them in a previous Summer School in Chester. They have been collected under the heading 'Accelerated Learning' and you can buy modern language courses in German, French and Spanish that bring the ideas together for efficient individual learning. You may well have seen advertisements for these courses.

This morning I want to pass on some of these ideas to you for your critical appraisal. You may find you know them all and use them regularly. You may have tried some of them out and found they didn't work for you. You may think 'They sound good, but I don't see how they can fit in with our textbook.' You may wish that there was a ready-made Latin course that incorporates all these ideas. You might even be inspired to devise one!

Some of the ideas we are going to be looking at briefly are these:
  • use music
  • use games
  • use action
  • use drama
  • learn phrases, not words
  • learn by teaching
  • reinforce by pictures and sound
The founder of the ArLT, Dr W.H.D. Rouse, had revolutionary ideas about teaching Latin. Some of the Accelerated Learning ideas were used by him in the early 20th century. Indeed, the early ARLT Summer Schools were chiefly to pass on these revolutionary teaching methods. For instance, he used music in class and issued a book of songs in Greek and Latin that he called Chanties.

He taught from lesson one by suiting the action to the Latin word. His first lesson had him saying Surgo, ambulo, revenio, sedeo, as he did the actions, imitated by one pupil after another. [Everyone was encouraged to do this] You will have noticed that these are good examples of the four conjugations, and Rouse built up the Present Indicative person by person as someone acted out the motions and others told him what he was doing (2nd person singular) or told each other what he was doing (third person singular). Rouse used to dress up a pupil in his teacher's gown and the pupil would teach the class. He published a book of the Latin dramas he used in his school, called Perse Plays.

Let me quote a paragraph written by Rouse in 1950: "To get the good out of Latin and Greek you must let the poor languages have a chance of living and not kill them at birth. You must not begin Latin with exercises on the first declension, and so on to the fifth, so that your matter is determined by the scientific grammar. If so, you will begin with queens, whom your boys are not likely to meet, and goddesses, whom they will not see until they are seventeen, and tables, and I love (a word they don't use): and go on to Labienus and his legions, and faith, hope and charity. All that is unreal, dead to them in fact. No language can be learnt that way; but the right way to learn it is as they learnt their own English, by talking about what they see around them, and what they do, and what they want." And Rouse added some aphorisms, including these: "Languages can be learnt only through sentences, not through isolated words. The ear is the natural receptive organ of language, the tongue the expressive. To substitute the eye is a vital blunder. Mastery can be obtained only by training eye, ear, tongue, memory at the same time. The sounds will become second nature, so that you no longer think about them, but think in them." (What's the Use of Latin? 1950, in Latin Teaching, June, 1967 page 191f.)

I can bear witness to the importance of the ear in learning languages. I try to learn a bit of the language of every country I visit on holiday. When I can get a Berlitz tape and use that in the car before I look at the phrase book I am very much more confident when I get there than if I have to use the book and work out the sounds for myself. When stranded in a village in the Peloponnese, I found myself saying without thinking the phrase on the tape: apo pou fevge to leoforeio yia Athene.

The results Rouse achieved were remarkable. But they depended on two things which we can't take for granted nowadays: first, he had a great deal of time; and secondly, he was an eccentric genius. Our problem is lack of time. We may have to teach Latin from scratch to GCSE in two years, even one year, maybe even outside the timetable, if we are to keep it in our schools at all. I have volunteered to teach a group of good modern linguists in my local comprehensive school from September, and the lessons will have to be after school, so I am aware of the pressures. As for the other advantage that Rouse had, although you are all undoubtedly geniuses, you probably have to spread your genius over a wider spread of responsibilities than Rouse.

The time problem cries out for quicker learning, accelerated learning. Secondary students in Australia are covering a three year French course in eight weeks, using accelerated learning principles. One teacher introduces students to 400 French words in a 3 ½ hour session, and has them using those 400 words by the end of 3 days. It sounds just what hard-pressed, time-starved Latin teachers need.

Let's take a break from theory. How many of you can count up to ten in Japanese? I couldn't, until I was shown last week how to fit the words to actions: [The audience were invited to imitate actions suggested by the second list of words, while saying the Japanese.]
  1. ichi         itchy
  2. ni             knee
  3. san         Sun,
  4. shi         she
  5. go         go
  6. rocko     rock
  7. shichi     [double sneeze]
  8. hachi     [put on hat]
  9. kyu         coo
  10. ju         [Jewish nose?!]

That's ten new words learned in 2 minutes. [Everyone was given a sweet] If you do need to learn something off by heart, bearing in mind Rouse's strictures on the tyranny of scientific grammar, then music or action or both can help. I used to tell my pupils that if they could snap their fingers they could remember the names and meanings of the Latin cases. [Recited rhythmically:] Nominative the subject, Vocative o, Accusative the object, Genitive of, Dative 2 or 4 [snap] Ablative by with from or in. That was one of the bits of scientific grammar that I felt my pupils would find it useful to know at some stage, and by concentrating on the 'snap' they memorised the words without effort, and in fact used to ask to recite them in unison, just for fun. Learning by heart only means anything when you understand the stuff beforehand, but when I need to memorise, then I can bring music, rhythm and actions into play.

So let's go through some of these ideas. As you came in today there was music playing. Music is very powerful. As you go through a shopping centre you can tell which shops are for you by the kind of music they are playing. A favourite second hand bookshop used to play undemanding classical music, and I immediately felt at home. A trendy boutique may play rap or rock, and I shall give it a wide berth. They know the people they want in the shop and it's not elderly clergymen. If you have set the pattern of relaxed concentration and fun in your Latin lessons, and you always have the same music playing as students come in, then they will automatically slip into the relaxed concentration mode and expect the lesson to be fun. How many of you associate the Countdown 30-second music with concentrating hard on letters or numbers? You could try playing carefully chosen music during a piece of written work. Almost all youngsters do their homework to music. They probably associate it with work. It may even help them to concentrate.

Accelerated Learning courses use music for a more specific purpose also. But first, let's look at the way a new section of language is introduced. One principle is that learning should never be associated with stress. So the student is given a parallel text straight away, and asked to read through the English version, to become familar with the story or drama. [Akt 1 Szene 1 from the Accelerated German Course was handed out] Then we listen to the drama as we follow in the parallel text. The combined spoken and read story impresses itself clearly on our mind. [play tape]

We take time to go through the text and check we understand. The text is 'chunked' in groups of seven words or fewer, which is the easiest length for the memory to cope with. Then we are ready for the next visual stimulus, the 'memory map.' [These were given out] We hear the tape drama again, this time following the memory map. Our visual memory is very accurate, so the link between German words and the pictures is a great help to memorising. We are even invited to act out the story fully.

Now comes the music. Twice. Georgi Lozanov who invented the technique in Bulgaria in the 1950s to 1970s called these the Active Concert and the Passive Concert. The Active concert is a reading of the drama script by one voice with background music. The Passive concert is a similar reading, but with the words as background to the music. As we listen in a relaxed state, concentrating on the words first, and then on the music, so the 60 beat per minute baroque music brings our brain into the most receptive state, and helps the words to sink deep into the memory. [Playing of samples] Apparently it's something to do with the Alpha wave-pattern that induces in the brain. The kind of beat that Baroque slow movements have is effective throughout the natural world, it seems. In experiments, plants raised to Baroque music tended to thrive, while plants raised to heavy metal died.

Now this is only the introduction to each chapter of the German course. These multiple hearings and followings of the text, with the memory map, have to be followed by explanation and consolidation, though the consolidation begins with oral conversations, and the explanations are sometimes introduced by the instruction 'DO NOT TRY TO LEARN ANY OF THIS. Just read it through and understand it thoroughly.' There are almost as many games as exercises, and rhymes come every now and then.

So how much of these methods can we use in teaching Latin, without being eccentric geniuses? Well, I would love to see someone take up the challenge and produce a complete Latin course that the Accelerated Learning people could publish. It is claimed that by using all the psychological insights and incorporating them into the learning process, pupils can learn 300% faster than usual. I'll take the rest of our time showing you some tentative steps towards Accelerated Latin.

[A parallel Latin-English text and memory map were handed out. The audience were asked to follow the English as the lecturer read the Latin. The reading was repeated with them following the memory map. Finally the lecturer read the Latin with music playing.]

This is an extremely rough demonstration, cobbled together in a short time from memories of a course I made for sixth form Classical Civ students who asked to learn Latin in lunch hours. I hope it is good enough to give the general idea, and bad enough to inspire you to devise a proper one. One of the criticisms of the Cambridge and Oxford courses is the dauntingly large amount of text to read. Perhaps the ideal course would use a smaller amount of text more effectively, making sure that it sinks in, and abolishing the anxiety at confronting slabs of text that you have to struggle to make sense of.

You don't have to ditch your favourite Latin course to incorporate this method. Here is a short extract from the Cambridge course, where the two soldiers Modestus and Strythio have to guard a British prisoner called Vercobrix. We hear the end of the dramatic reading and the beginning of the first 'concert.' [A tape was played and a handout given out]

I found the method useful for set texts particularly. Here we face the problem that pupils will learn a translation by heart, whether we wish it or not. One group learned the Penguin translation of a Pliny letter and reproduced it in O level word for word, not noticing that the text as set left out a chunk in the middle! The accompanying problem is that they pay too little attention to the original language, and seek out cue words or phrases only, like the student of New Testament Greek who had little Greek but knew the Gospels well in English. He came upon Pontius Pilate's words o gegrafa gegrafa, recognised an 'o' followed by a long word repeated, and wrote out the passage containing the lament of Jesus: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!'

It is easy to see how listening to the Latin while following either a parallel text or a memory map will encourage the kind of understanding of the original that we wish them to acquire. ArLT are gradually producing high quality recordings of all the GCSE set texts at low prices, and these would be ideal for the first, dramatic reading. At the moment, you will have to make your own parallel text and memory map. Who knows, perhaps one day the ArLT web site can provide you with all you need, including the spoken text and music. Last week's US ruling on Napster has opened all our eyes to the possibilities of the web in all this.

 [At end, revise Japanese numbers throwing bean-bag as you ask]

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