Why I think “Active” versus “Grammar-Translation” misses the point.

I’m burnt out today.  Lately, the Active Latin versus Grammar-Translation debate has popped up in my social media feeds.  I need to do something different so I watched a lecture from Salvi about the possibility of a bridge between Active Latin and Grammar-Translation to change up my day.  These thoughts are a bit raw and I will be editing them as I think about this more.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Active Latin.  What does that even mean?  The term bothers me a lot.  Am I being dense or does a name like active Latin assume that Latin can be engaged in as a passive event?  I find the Active Latin versus Grammar-Translation discussion not useful.

Now perhaps I’m misunderstanding the terms.  My guess is that if someone without experience with myself as a teacher attended my classes for an observation they would classifying me as an “active Latin” teacher.  I speak a lot more Latin now than I ever thought possible.  But I often use ideas and activities that are considered Grammar-Translation style.

So what is active Latin?  I’m struggling to define it mostly because I don’t know what the opposite of active Latin might be.  Even when I was structured learning activities around a grammar syllabus, learners were actively engaged with Latin.  I would teach a grammar rule and then we read, modified and practiced the language around those structures.  There was an active process of learning, although students might not have created “active meaning” from themselves in Latin.

In my classes now, there are some students who frequently express themselves in Latin through class discussions, co-created stories and tasks that ask them to interact with each other while following Latin instructions.  But there are many students who do not express meaning in Latin, which they’ve created.  They still show me their understanding through question and answers, drawings, gestures among other things.

Although I agree with the sentiment of those attempting to bridge a middle ground, I find myself outside of the discussion.  Active Latin doesn’t always work for all students just like Grammar-Translation doesn’t work for all students.

Comprehended Input is how language is learned, whether active or passive.  So how do we let go of the things that we’ve become attached to because we find compelling input that we comprehend in those activities and ideas?  Instead of shaming one another for not speaking enough Latin or for producing errors in Latin, let’s focus on comprehended input.  Even more so, let’s focus on how we can facilitate input to be compelling so that it is more likely to be comprehended.  I’ve learned a few things from student learners the last few years.  Facilitating compelling input so that it becomes comprehended input is hard work.  The same group of students might need something different to engage in comprehending input the very next day.  Here are some ideas students have taught me that I think make the bridge between all methods of teaching Latin which have a foundation in compelling input that is comprehended by learners.

  • Compelling isn’t always flashy and it rarely happens in the ways I think it will.
  • Students need much more processing time than I imagine.
  • Many times compelling relates to pacing and not the quality of the message.
  • Students want to share about themselves in general.
  • Opportunities for students to share anonymously are valuable.
  • Some days, it is best if I stop reaching for the compelling and just talk to students in Latin in a way that shows them I want to know what they know.
  • Every student can learn how to comprehend meaning in a different language although not every student can learn how to comprehend the intricacies of a certain teaching or learning method.
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