Ørberg, TQ: Setup, and writing LGPSI

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times – Ørberg completed a work of genius in composing Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. The more I read it, the more I see how carefully he crafted it, and appreciate the finesse required to construct a book (more than a book) that so effectually teaches Latin, using only (a) latin, or (b) pictures to illustrate things.

That’s not to say that LLPSI is perfect. Indeed, based on the findings of Second Language Acquisition theory in the last 60 years, there are many things that LLPSI doesn’t do and several things that it assumes (incorrectly). For a prime example, LLPSI still operates on the principle, “if I introduce you to all the forms of the passive verb in this chapter, in contexts in which they are obvious, then by the end of this chapter you ‘know’ the forms of the passive verb”.

In sum, LLPSI is not undergirded by sufficient Comprehensible-Input principles.

And yet it’s still the best book by many metric kilometres. And one of those reasons is that it is Per Se Illustrata.

Lately I’ve also been reviewing some of the excellent materials available for Where are your keys, which is an awesome approach to language in general, and being put to amazing use in language revitalisation work by Evan Gardner and his colleagues. It’s also incredibly adaptable to purpose.

Among the vast array of ‘techniques’, is TQ: Setup – setting-up a scenario/situation/location/props in order to isolate and facilitate the elicitation and transmission of a particular ‘piece’ of language. A great example is teaching ‘longer/longest’. Ideally you want to have 3 objects, like sticks, rods, something that’s already long, flat, etc., that are identical apart from length. This is part of isolating the thing you want to get. So then you have minimally contrastive pairs. You might start with 2 of your sticks, to get long-er, then you might try a few variations to try to elicit long-est, and test this out to make sure you’ve got it.

LLPSI is full of set-ups. When it’s time to teach tam… quam…, in chapter 6, Ørberg introduces a set of roads in Italy, and then compares their lengths with (non) tam longus … quam…. This works with mostly already known vocabulary, establishes the tam-quam pairing, and provides more story material for the narrative that’s unfolding. In chapter 12 he returns to teach comparatives, (having in the meantime taught the 3rd declension noun patterns), and because tam…quam… is already established, he can match this with longior, (and brevior, gravior).

This is, admittedly, one of many struggles I find in writing LGPSI – finding the right set-ups. Partly because I do not wish to only repeat LLPSI over and over. It has great set-ups, but I want to tell different stories, with different settings.

And partly, there’s simply a CI-component that I want to exist in LGPSI that doesn’t in LLPSI. You don’t learn the morphology of the past-imperfective just by seeing enough examples, you learn it by seeing enough examples – i.e. exposure over and over and over to various forms.

Which is why one of the ‘solutions’ in LGPSI is just to keep writing. Writing more content, writing ‘forwards’ in terms of content/story/difficulty, but also writing ‘sideways’ – same “level” of material, different content; and even writing ‘backwards’ – revising old “content”, but remixing the language and complexity used to express it.

Thinking about communicating bite-sized-pieces by finding the right Set-Ups though, has been a really useful way of framing the challenges for me. Looking forward to finding more and more Set-Ups that work.

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