Teaching/learning a language

If you ever think to yourself, “hey, I still remember some of my old high school French… I bet I could teach french at the same time I was brushing up my vocabulary and grammar…” Don’t.

I’m currently doing that with Latin, and it’s not much fun. For one thing, I’ve forgotten as much as I ever knew, which means I’m reconstructing a lot of it from scratch. For another, it’s not much fun to realize that at the end of the winter term I will be more or less where I realized that Latin was probably not the language for me. Which means that sometime in March, I will be breaking the mental barrier that kept me from sticking with Latin. Or I will be going stir-crazy. Possibly both.

In the meantime, I’m plugging all of my vocabulary from two books and 27 chapters into viaverbi’s little flash-card program, and all the verbs from 201 Latin Verbs. I’m currently looking at the equivalent of 600 flash cards in Latin and English (and yes, you can reverse them for a real challenge, as if remembering the words in English weren’t hard enough). It does not help that I am reverse-engineering my flash cards, starting with the lessons I’ve not done yet, and gradually progressing backwards through the chapters I’ve already done.

Viaverbi’s system is pretty cool. Each word is rated on a 1-7 scale. After you’ve gotten a level 1 word a couple of times, it gets bumped to every other day, or every third day, and then every ninth day. You’ve always got flash cards to go through, and you need to open the program every day. The flash cards that are “due” to be looked at are always in the pile, and you can always test them. Overdue items are marked with red explosive runes, so you go through them.

I’ve just done a series of small sprints with the flash cards, and plugged my way through about 550 flash cards today. Pronouns give me the shakes — the Latin pronouns all look like one another, and I’ve not even figured out how to translate them well, yet. However, the other words are starting to slip into a standard formative pattern. As Igo back and add the present, imperative, imperfect and other tenses, I’m going to start to have a really solid grip on Latin.

I’m also going to have over 3,000 flash cards in one language. It sounds like a lot, until you realize that a third grader or fourth grader usually has a vocabulary of around 12,000 or 15,000 words, and that most adults have vocabularies of around 25,000 words (I am partly pulling these numbers out of my head, but also remembering them from a series of articles I read a long time ago but no longer remember the context).

In any case, placing all this vocabulary into long-term memory is proving a challenge, but having a computer program which will test me and quiz me, and get me into the habit of reviewing the most troublesome words while keeping the known words from bothering me much, that’s useful. I’m glad I got the program.

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  1. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m feeling. Only the classics professor I have uses the same classroom that I do, so if I mis-decline them on the board, he points it out immediately.

  2. Pronouns give me the shakes

    Amen to that. I have a fear that someday I’ll run into an old Classics professor, who will immediately demand I decline the pronouns. “Is, ea, id; um, er, aahhhh….”

  3. Latin’s a lot harder than French. I think you’ll be able to do it, you have a strong will and that yearning for organization that will get you through.

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