Monday, February 27, 2012

CART Problem Solving: Latin

CART Problem Solving Series
Sitting Apart
Handling Slides
Classroom Videos
Superscript and Subscript
Schlepping Gear
Late Hours
Expensive Machines
Communicating Sans Steno
Cash Flow
Test Nerves
Speech Recognition, Part I
Speech Recognition, Part II
Speech Recognition, Part III
Speech Recognition, Part IV

I promised this a while back, and now I'm finally making good. My experiences with CARTing two semesters of second-year Latin!

CART PROBLEM: CARTing a class with a significant amount of spoken Latin

Many stenographers use a bit of canned Latin in their work, from "amicus curiae" and "non compos mentis" on the legal side of the business to "nihil per os" and "status epilepticus" on the medical side. But it's easy enough to define common words and phrases in a steno dictionary. It's a bit trickier to build up a toolbox of word parts and suffixes that can be used to deal with new Latin words coming up at the spur of the moment. I did have a few advantages starting out, though:

* Unlike most foreign language classes, Latin classes tend not to be taught in an immersion environment. Rather than encouraging conversational fluency, they're usually focused on comprehending a specific Latin text, and the majority of the words spoken in the class are in English.

* I had taken two years of high school Latin and one year of college Latin (not to brag or anything, but I got summa cum laude on the National Latin Exam both times I took it), and I'd even done a little Latin tutoring along the way, so even though it had been quite a few years since I'd studied the subject, I still had a fair amount of vocabulary in the dusty corners of my memory.

* Both the first-semester professor and the second-semester professor were very good about writing new vocabulary on the board.

* The texts used in both classes were readily available -- one in a slim textbook that I bought from the college bookstore for $20, and one online, which I bought for $10 from the Kindle store and was able to read on my phone. Public domain texts make for much cheaper book prices.

* Latin is a pretty phonetic language -- much more so than English. Once you have the tricky stuff down (such as "v is pronounced like w" and "-um endings are elided in poetry when the next word starts with a vowel"), you're able to write a lot of words by sound, even if you've never heard them before and have no idea what they mean.

But even so, it was among the more challenging subjects to CART. Two things were absolutely invaluable, and I never would have been able to get through the class without them:

* Fast, solid fingerspelling skills. I think that the only way to be a really efficient fingerspeller is to simplify one's fingerspelling alphabet as much as possible. My lowercase alphabet is just the asterisk plus the left hand alphabet, and my uppercase alphabet is the asterisk, the left hand alphabet, and the right hand P. This means that my index and middle fingers bear the brunt of the activity, while my ring and pinky finger -- the two weaker fingers of the hand -- can stay out of it. Cutting down on the number of keys required to hit each letter also helps a lot with speed and accuracy. Many people are taught left hand alphabet plus RBGS for lowercase fingerspelling, and I think that's a terrible mistake. When I tried it, I'd constantly be misstroking, dropping keys, pounding, and losing speed, all because I had to coordinate four fingers on the right hand side instead of just one. Changing to left hand alphabet plus asterisk was a revelation.

* Being able to define new words from the writer. I intend to write an entire post on this (possibly with a screencast showing how I do it), but let me just say that I use it constantly, not just in this class, but in any class with a lot of vocabulary that can't always be predicted by scanning through prep materials beforehand. The first time the professor says a word like "hendecasyllable" or "Aemilianus", he usually slows down and gives students a chance to write the word in their notebooks. That's your chance to define it by stroking out the way you want to write it, highlighting those (almost certainly mistranlated) strokes, fingerspelling the definition, and adding it to your job dictionary. It's vital to be able to do this from the writer, because having to reach over to the laptop keyboard -- even assuming it's in reach, which isn't often true, since you've hopefully positioned it for greatest visibility from your student's perspective rather than yours -- adds several seconds to the task, which might mean that the Professor starts speaking again before you're done defining it. Some people might be tempted not to define it, and just to fingerspell it each time, but keep in mind that after the first mention of the name, the professor isn't going to pause for it anymore. It'll be inserted into the middle of a sentence without any consideration for how long it takes to fingerspell. Much better to define it the first time and then have it in your pocket every time it comes up from then on.

Those were the main tools I used constantly, but several other tricks made the class much easier as well.

* I've heard a lot of people talk about making sure they had lots of syllabic word parts to build on, but honestly I found fingerspelling more useful in most cases, partly because Eclipse used English spelling rules rather than Latin spelling rules for root words with inflections. So when the name "Montanus" came up, for instance, if I had written "mon", glued it to "tan", and then added "-us", it would have been spelled Montannus instead. So often it was better just to fingerspell the entire thing and define it as a whole rather than leaving it to the mercy of Eclipse's spelling algorithm. When I knew that the algorithm wasn't likely to indiscriminately double a letter, though, I did have some common case endings at the ready:

OS = {^os}
O*RPL = {^orum}
A RE = {^are}
AS = {^as}
A*PBD = {^and}
A*RPL = {^arum}
PHA PHUS = {^mamus}
KWROR = {^ior}
KWROE = {^io}
KWRO*R = {^eor}
KWRA = {^a}
KWRA* = {^ia}
KWRAOUS = {^ius}
SKWRUS = {^us}
SKWRUPL = {^um}
SKWREU = {^i}
SKWREUS = {^is}
SKWRA = {^a}
SKWRAOEU = {^ae}

* I also defined some common pedagogical phrases, such as:

KWEU KWAOEU KWOD = qui-quae-quod
HEUBG HAOEUBG HOBG = hic-haec-hoc
US A UPL = us-a-um
EUS AEU KWRA EUD = is-ea-id
KAOUS KAOUS KAOUS = cuius-cuius-cuius (not to be confused with KAOUS KAOUS = couscous)

And, of course, grammatical terms like subjunctive, gerundive, participle, pluperfect, periphrastic, protasis, apodosis, et cetera.

* Most of the class, though, consisted of students reading Latin passages from their textbook and then translating. Fortunately it wasn't necessary for me either to write all the Latin on the fly or to program the entire textbook into my dictionary, because my student was perfectly able to follow along with her classmates in the book, as long as I gave her the first few words and last few words of each passage. So the transcript would look like this:

MALE STUDENT: Obstabatque aliis...
Habentia pondus.

* Having the book on my phone was very practical; I liked it better than the paper textbook, because I could turn pages with the touch of a finger, which minimized the amount of time my hands had to leave the keys. I could also make the font size as big as I liked, and if I lost my place I could search for it quickly by just tapping in the first few letters of a word.

The student was very grateful for my efforts in the class, and she actually gave me preference in her other classes over another CART provider because she was so happy with how well I'd done with the Latin. I really enjoyed CARTing it, because it brought back such good memories of studying the language when I was younger. And more than that, it was just fun to have the challenge of CARTing in a language other than English. If I'd been in a conversational language class, I probably would have been out of my depth, but the relatively slow pace of Latin as it's taught to college students allowed me to hone my fingerspelling and dictionary definition skills while obliging me to dredge up long-forgotten vocabulary words from the lower recesses of my mind. It was a huge amount of fun, and I hope I'll get a chance to try it again someday.


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  4. I liked it better than the
    because I could turn pages with the touch of a finger, which minimized the amount of time my hands had to leave the keys.