Emiliano is a thunderstorm. Essential to nature but can be chaotic and hard to follow. His approach is very interactive and he always has you on your toes (or at least I felt like I needed to stay on my toes to keep up with him). The first week I thought of him as "the man with the plan." It wasn't until the second week that I came up with "thunderstorm."
My introduction to this course was Emiliano going through my grant point by point and telling me how most of what I discussed in the grant was either the wrong language to use when talking about teaching language or the wrong approach. He told me that learning language can not be as formulated as I want it to be and that to be that way with the students would only turn them off to language. He told me in no uncertain terms that learning language can not be like Math because the Mathematician Wittgenstein already tried to prove this and could not. Then we went on to tell me about the 3 movements in language instruction. The first being the grammatical approach – this approach is focused on learning the rules of the grammar and then the language. Then the Natural ( or what we call “whole language”) approach emerged. This idea was focused on the reading and writing, and not the grammatical rules associated with language. Then, more recently, structuralism emerged. This method begins with the whole language approach and then layers on the grammatical to teach people the most frequent grammatical rules. He told me all this so I could understand the methods used at Studio Italia. Why they used these methods and why they would NOT be using the more recent methods to teach me Latin. Latin is so rules based that it is important to teach the rules of grammar first.
He taught me the 1st Declension and emphasized the importance of saying the language as well as memorizing it. We verbally repeated it over, and over and over again. Then he had me write it over and over and neater and neater. Then told me for homework to keep writing it over and over and over. I did it for a little bit and I started to remember it but as soon as I put the pen ad paper away I had trouble recalling it in my head. I went home and created a blank game board with a row for each case and then created pieces of paper with the Declension endings on them and then placed the endings on the board where they went. In other words, I made a giant blank grid and forced myself to physically move the pieces to the places on the grid – tactile learning. The next day I was able to remember the endings just by looking at the blank grid.
This day I also stayed and watched Emiliano teach an Italian Lesson. He taught the students through a typical think-pair-share model. In this lesson, he quickly taught the students how to say “My/Her/His style is…” and then gave the students 4 pages of pictures with people in clothing and the Italian words for the clothing (the definitions of the words were not on the page). The students were then paired and asked to create a list of their partners style of clothing in Italian. After doing this in partners, the students shared their findings with the rest of the class using Italian. Some students were timid and shy about using Italian to describe the other students’ style while others did not mind making mistakes and just had fun with the activity. In both cases, Emiliano never told the student their pronunciation was incorrect or corrected them but instead usually just repeated what the student had said as a clarifying question (a tricky way for the students to hear the correct pronunciation without making the student feel like they made a mistake). This activity filled the 60 minute lesson.
He introduced me to Assimil, a program that allows you to here and repeat simple conversations in a foreign language. Again, giving me the opportunity to increase my exposure to the foreign language and begin to internalize the new words as well as to speak them. Speaking, hearing and writing a new language is key to internalizing, more so than memorizing it. A foreign language can be taught by exposure and usage of the everyday language. While this makes sense for everyday language how can this be used for absent and abstract language, the language that is used in more technical texts?
[i]The rest of the lessons
The rest of the lessons went on like this. He continued to bring in different materials for me to translate. They included mottos from Italian language, common phrases that came from the ancient philosophers that are used or heard in most languages today (like - Veni, Vidi, Vici). He burned me copies of Transparent Language programs and the Rosetta stone. He searched endlessly to find ways for me to be motivated to learn Latin on my own time. As well as, to model and introduce ways for me to teach language to my students.
We conversed in great length about if teaching students the Latin roots of words in my class would be helpful and he thinks that it will be necessary for me to also teach some Latin to them as well. While I agree that it will be important for the students to understand where these roots are coming from, I disagree about the need to have such a heavy Latin emphasis. He suggested that I should have students translating brief quotes, etc, etc. I think he is on to something in regards to finding a way to make "translating" fun for kids and getting them engaged in the art and idea of translating(especially because there are some rad quotes about power that align well with the 9th grade curriculum). My means to the end though is that they can "translate" informational texts that they read. Will this do the trick?
In short and long, he said it needs to be a game and it needs to be fun. Learning a language is emotional and if you make it a chore or you criticize then you make it anxiety inducing for the kids and they won't learn because there emotions will get in the way. So whatever I do, make it fun. Understand what is the most important aspect of the language that I want to teach for that day (understanding meaning and not how to pronounce it) and then move from there with activities that trick the kids into using the language,
Note to self: Read Linguist Austin