Developing Listening and Speaking Skills:
Practical Ways to Implement the Standards with the Oxford Latin Course

John Gruber-Miller

The first goal of the Standards for Classical Language Learning makes clear that “reading is the first standard and the key to communicating with the ancient world” (7).  At the same time, the second standard of the communication goal emphasizes the importance of listening and speaking as tools to improve students’ knowledge of Latin.  Yet many teachers are unsure how to incorporate oral skills into their beginning language classroom or even if it is worth it.  This paper briefly explains the advantages of integrating listening and speaking skills and offers some practical activities to use in the classroom.

Why use listening and speaking activities in the classroom?  Researchers and teachers point out that students learn in different ways.  Some are better at analyzing discrete elements (field-independent learners) while others are better at seeing the big picture (field dependent learners).  Others prefer to learn through stories, examples, and anecdotes to get a sense of the whole (comprehension learners) while others prefer to move methodically through a series of steps to get an understanding the big picture (operation learners).  Finally, some prefer to work with others (collaborative) while others prefer to learn on their own (individual).  Listening and speaking in the Latin classroom provide a wider array of opportunities for students of various learning styles.           

Listening, because of the speed of the discourse, forces students to focus on meaning and chunks of information, and Latin word order.  Furthermore, as students listen, they must rely not only on their linguistic knowledge, but also on background knowledge and context for comprehension.  These same skills help students become better, more fluent readers.  Listening activities work best if students are prepared through pre-listening activities such as vocabulary or grammar review, providing cultural background, or advance visual organizers.  Students can then respond to listening activities, using a taxonomy created by Lund, through doing (e.g., TPR), choosing (putting pictures in order), transferring (drawing), answering (completing a set of questions), or extending (create an ending).  I will provide examples of each based on the Oxford Latin Course

Speaking is useful because it provides students opportunities not only to express themselves, but also to use the language productively, thereby reinforcing vocabulary, grammar, and syntax.  Interviews with a predetermined set of questions allow students to focus on specific information using a limited array of grammatical forms.  Scripted role-play and drama offer other opportunities to create meaning with set parameters.  Story-telling provides another way for learners to develop skills of extended discourse.  Finally, short presentations about a particular topics offer students opportunities to share information they have learned about Roman culture or about themselves.  Once again, I will share examples of each activity that can be used with the Oxford Latin Course.

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