One of the challenges students are faced with in the study of Latin is, of course, the acquisition of vocabulary.
After the initial shock of the complexity of the Latin grammatical system wears off, and students are finally used to the idea of morphology, how can we efficiently teach students to acquire vocabulary? There are many philosophical differences here, but let me explain my approach and how we can implement it efficiently.
First of all, I believe that we need to retool our approach to teaching and studying Latin. We need to get back to teaching it as modern languages do, as a language that can be used to express thoughts and to communicate. Typically, we teach Latin with a “dead language” approach – and wonder why everyone faints at the sight of its corpse. If we can get back to teaching Latin as a “living language” in that it can be actively used, then we can help resurrect the study of the language on a level that we haven’t seen since the 19th century. Ok, off the soap box and onto the next thing.
Well, you may be wondering, how exactly can we teach our students to think in Latin and to have an active understanding of the language? One of the critical components in this approach relies on how we teach students to acquire new vocabulary. Currently, we have students pour over Latin-English dictionaries and we ask that they anchor their understanding of Latin words to English words they currently know. The word hortus, for example, is not understood on its own in Latin, but only after the English equivalent “garden” is supplied. Instead of anchoring Latin words to English words, why not utilize the emerging technologies to instead anchor Latin words to images?
One way to do this is to use flash cards. Yes, good old fashioned flash cards.
Previously, this would have been a bit cumbersome. Students could take a Latin word and then find an image, copy it or print it off, and paste it to the back of their flash card. There are options, however, that use the Internet (i.e. are web-based), and can simply create flash cards with an image attached instead of an English definition.
Currently, I am using Quizlet.com to accomplish just this. I created sets of flash cards with Latin-English definitions. I then ask that my students, as a class, go through a given set and convert the English definitions to images that they feel best remind them of the meaning of the word. The students also remove the English definitions – this way students are synthesizing the Latin word with an image, instead of relying on an English word to understand what it means. This is more in line with the “natural” methodology employed by modern languages and attempts at immersion. Also, this encourages students to collaborate with one another, as they will frequently rib other students who chose bad images for words that don’t make sense. They have a laugh, and make corrections.
These sets are also available anywhere, anytime since they are on the web and students can even utilize the power of Apps to access their flash cards through various mobile devices. The flash cards are made with a couple of clicks and can even be copied from other sets made by other users on Quizlet.com – removing any excuses about not being able to study or have access to good, quality, cards. The students spend less time exhaustively making flash cards and spend more time studying the material – they can even play games and have various contests to flaunt who is the best.
So take a chance on something new. Have your students make flash cards leveraging the power of the Internet and web-based technologies like Quizlet.com to help them study and acquire Latin vocabulary in a more efficient manner. In something old, we can find a new and innovative approach.