The ACTFL position paper on Use of Target Language and the Latin classroom

By Robert Patrick posted 06-16-2010 13:41

Recently I sent to one of the very busy listservs for Latin teachers (Latin-Best Practices on yahoogroups) ACTFL's position paper on the Use of the Target Language (  A growing number of us Latin teachers are engaging in what has become a wonderful experiment.  We are teaching Latin as a living language (because, in fact it is--that's a different blog), and we are making use of all the many wonderful teaching methods produced by the growing body of Second Language Acquisition research and modern language methodologies.

In particular, we were delighted to see that the ACTFL paper calls for a 90% use of the target language each day at every level of instruction.  Many of us Latin teachers had already, independently, come to the conclusion that the most effective work we are seeing happens when we are speaking Latin to our students 90% of the time.  For teachers who have never tried much speaking in Latin, I have personally endorsed in workshops that they notice how much Latin they are currently speaking in the classroom, and try to increase that amount 10% per month in their first year so that by the end of their own first year, they have moved to a 90 to 100% useage.

And then, in our online discussions, we found the "fine print" in the ACTFL document.  There is a footnote added for teachers of classical languages (Latin is a classical language):  "Communication for a classical language refers to an emphasis on reading ability . . ."  We understand why that footnote was likely added, as the committee that wrote this document either anticipated resistance from Latin teachers, or actually had Latin teachers on the committee who feared resistance.  The lack of experience in speaking Latin in order to teach Latin is certainly not unusual, but it is increasingly a thing of the past.  My own personal concern is that this kind of footnote in the ACTFL position paper is both outdated and creates an unfortunate excuse for Latin teachers who are looking for a reason not to try new methods.  An approach that only focuses on reading (which often means translation) only works for a certain kind of learner.  The footnote in the ACTFL position paper presents the Latin teacher with a professional organization endorsing this kind of exclusive teaching and learning.

Finally, that is the crux of the matter for me and many other Latin teachers who speak Latin and teach it actively in our classrooms.  Speaking Latin as a way of teaching it simply opens the door of this language to all kinds of learners.  Latin does not have to be the exclusive, elitist language that it is believed to be.  It is no surprise that among those Latin teachers who are speaking Latin in their classrooms one also finds teachers who are recruiting all kinds of learners into their programs.  The word travels among their current students:  Latin is fun.  Latin is easy. 

Here's my question:  how soon can ACTFL revisit this position paper and remove this unfortunate footnote?  I'd love to create that kind of discussion.
1 comment



06-18-2010 15:22

You are correct that the ACTFL Board of Directors was concerned with the acceptance of this position statement among Latin teachers. The footnote refers to focus of the Standards for Classical Languages which state that the primary goal of a Latin class is to develop students' reading proficiency in Latin and that the oral, listening, and writing skills assist students in developing that ability. I wholeheartedly endorse the effort among Latin teachers to use the language orally in class because, not only does it motivate students, but it also helps them develop their reading ability.