Immersion vs. Comprehensible Input

Today I rode a linguistic merry-go-round. Tonight at dinner in Pau, France, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of different language teachers, all teaching different languages and at different levels. One teaches ESL to university students, another teaches Spanish to French high school students, and the third, my daughter, teaches English to French kindergarteners and other elementary-aged children. Earlier in the day I met the Spanish teacher’s brother, who had moved to Pau with no knowledge of French and very little knowledge of English. He threw himself into the language and culture. He chose not to join us at dinner, though, because he knew he would not be able to keep up with the conversation. After my morning visit to the chateau in Pau where I experienced a tour led completely in French, I can sympathize with him. During the tour, I understood only a few words here and there.  When the group laughed at the jokes, I searched their faces and the walls and objects of the room for clues. After a few rooms of little to no comprehensible input, I decided immersion wasn’t working for me.  I became frustrated and tired of trying to understand. I shut down.

I know that one short tour doesn’t even come close to pretending to be a true immersion experience, but I found myself searching for the help that a good teacher can provide.  Over dinner, we talked about how languages are best taught.  Should you teach completely in the target language, should you correct mistakes in speech, and how important is the correct pronunciation?  I was the only one of the group with years of experience in language teaching, but these young teachers had so much to teach me.  Everyone agreed, though, that you can’t teach a language without speaking and using it in context.  Everyone agreed that English is filled with irregularities that can be difficult to teach.  For instance, the phrase “make up” has so many different meanings: what one puts on the face to enhance beauty, resolving differences with someone, and coming up with something without any grounding in fact. The Spanish speaker wanted to say she invented words, but her friends told her that “make up” made better sense in the context.  Why?  How does one explain these nuances to language learners?

These teachers asked me what I have seen during my observations that I will take back to the classroom with me.  After so much time observing and experiencing, I realize how much material I have gathered, and the time has come to sift through it all. I have video I can watch over and over again, comments to reread, and memories of both the innovative teaching I have observed and the places I have visited. My summer will be a time of synthesis, evaluation, and creation.

Picture of La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) entrance doors under construction.  “Give us this day our daily bread” in fifty languages.


Authors, Artists, and Ancient Etruscans, Oh My!

Orvieto, known for its magnificent cathedral, also offers a unique view of a medieval town on top of a number of Etruscan villages.  After admiring the frescoes in the cathedral, climbing up towers and down wells, and marveling at the collections of items discovered primarily in tombs, I began to have a better appreciation for how others have labored to preserve history and art. People have been telling stories in a surprising variety of ways for many millenia. 

I was thrilled to see ancient poets (I could only easily identify Vergil and Dante) in Luca Signorelli’s frescoes in the San Brizio Chapel, even though searching for the scenes was a difficult task. The ribbon that blocks the public begins right at the point where I wanted to get close to the walls. There are scenes from so many different sources on every possible surface, and often it is only the picture you take and later enlarge that brings them into focus. While many visitors were staring in awe at the artistry and religiosity of the vaulted ceiling, I was noticing what a wonderful lesson on the genitive case the Latin inscriptions would make.

Across the transept in the Chapel of the Corporal, I marveled at the multitude of beautifully calligraphed medieval Latin captions accompanying Ugolini’s frescoes. There were too many school groups crowded into the room to spend as much time as would be needed to look at all the details, but I enjoyed seeing the parts that could be easily translated as well as the inventive abbreviations and marks used to allow for more text in smaller spaces.

Across the piazza is the museum that houses Claudio Faina’s collections from Etruscan excavations in the area. Very few people were visiting here, so movement and close inspection were much easier. I loved seeing long Latin inscriptions with helpful transcriptions in the interpretive panels, the incredible coin collection in ingenious cases that allowed you to see the coins up close in obverse and reverse, and a vase collection that explained Etruscan theology.

Trying to interpret all that we see, read, hear, touch, smell, and taste is both a joyful and frustrating task. The communication between centuries of history provides clues, but they are not always clear.  However, when I see Latin used as the language of communication for so many centuries, I wonder again at so many people’s questions of its relevance. Artists today continue to imitate artists of the past, and I found this city to be an absolutely beautiful tribute to many art media, including wood, marble, stone, and clay.  We discovered that Mastro Paolo, one of our favorite ceramicists had died, but his daughter has taken over his shop, and his son is continuing in the same tradition as his father, but in a new shop. They both find beauty in the forms and shapes of Ancient Greek vases. Another artist, appropriately named Michaelangeli, has draped the entire city in his wooden sculptures. Leave yourself time to discover all that this town has to offer.

Layer upon Layer



Unknowingly, I continued in the footsteps of Horace, literally driving into “Gnatia, built on angry waters.”  We had decided to take a leisurely drive up the Adriatic coast of Puglia for our last day in this region.  We were planning on visiting some beautiful beaches, when the familiar brown sign appeared – Scavi Archeologici.  Only this time, we didn’t need to use our modern GPS to help us find the hidden site.  We drove right through it, with an Acropolis to our right, on the water, and the rest of the city to our left.  As can be seen in the sign above, this area has been excavated to reveal  three distinct periods: the Messapian, Roman, and Late Roman Period.  First we toured the area of Roman houses and markets divided by the Via Traiana, including an egg-shaped amphitheater and area devoted to the Near-Eastern goddess Cybele and her companion, Attis.  Following this came the baths.  We didn’t have time for the Necropolis, and the Acropolis wasn’t open to us, but we ended our visit at the museum, which is filled with items from the excavations of all these areas.


I enjoyed seeing both the physical locations and the objects found in those locations.






 It is always fascinating to me to see the evidence of the early Roman heating systems in their bath complexes.  Notice the well-worn road and the tubuli, the clay box-flue tiles.


Finally, the museum, like the one in Metaponto, contained an overwhelming number of artifacts.  I once again enjoyed the ability to view at my own pace without having to worry about swarms of people or a time table.





I highly encourage those of you interested in either these time periods or archaeology, early tribal languages, coins, governmental structures, rites of the dead, or religious rites to visit this site. You’ll probably have the place to yourself!

Magna Graecia in Basilicata

Today I ventured outside Puglia into the Basilicata region to see all the sites in ancient Metapontum, present-day Metaponto. This is an extremely small town with an incredible number of fascinating artifacts from the time when the Greeks settled all over this area.  Metaponto is on the Ionian coast right in the instep of the boot that is Italy.  When you look at a map, it is easy to understand why the Greeks would come here.


There are three main areas to visit.  First, you can visit the Temple of Hera, with only the Doric columns remaining.  




After you leave the temple, you make your way to the archeological park, where there are the remains of the agora. They are currently in the process of restoring this area (welcome to Italy!), so you are somewhat on your own to explore and discover.  This has its advantages, though.  There are no fences or long lines of people interfering with your view.  Of greatest interest to me was the ability to see up close the column capitals and architectural details that are usually too high to completely enjoy.  After seeing the Doric columns of the Temple to Hera, Ionic capitals were the main attraction.




Finally, don’t leave this small town before making your way to the Archeological Museum. This place is a treasure trove of artifacts, and it seems that very few people even know about it.  There were fully formed vases with remarkable detail, incredible pieces of jewelry, items needed for clothing and play, and religious artifacts.


See below for a small figure of Europa sitting on the bull into which Zeus had transformed himself.





Hephaestus with his one injured leg.



This is really an incredible collection of items.  The most ironic part of the visit was seeing a wall full of pictures of various items from Metaponto in other museums – one of those being in my own hometown of St. Louis, Missouri!  We really don’t know what is right under our noses.

Ostuni, Lecce, and Spiders

I visited more towns of Apulia and the Salento (the southernmost part of Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot) yesterday. In ancient times, Lecce was Lupiae and Ostuni was Astu néon. In the following photos, you will find an inscription from the Greek town of Ostuni, originally inhabited by the Messapii, destroyed by Hannibal, and rebuilt by the Greeks; what’s left of the Roman amphitheater and Greek theater in Lecce with some panels from a 3D exhibit about those buildings; and spectacular objects from an exhibition about the history and mystery of Taranta, Tarantismo and the Tarantella. (Museo Storico Città di Lecce – MUST). As the Italian panels and Latin artifacts suggest, the tarantula spider was related to a phenomenon experienced by women.  Either as the cause or the cure (it is unclear), the spider bite either led to or helped convulsions and a trance-like state, accompanied by music played on the violin, accordion and tambourine.  The tarantella dance evolved from the dancing therapy that was supposed to stave off. The exhibit included a fascinating and disturbing video.





Roman Amphitheater in Lecce


Roman Amphitheater in Lecce


Roman Amphitheater in Lecce


Roman Amphitheater in Lecce


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Taranterra – MUST Exhibit


Greek Theater of Lecce


Panel from 3D Exhibit at MUST


Panel from 3D Exhibit at MUST


Panel from 3D Exhibit from MUST


In Horace and Vergil’s Footsteps

In Horace’s Satire I.5 (translation), he describes a comical journey from Rome to Brundisium along the Appian Way. I didn’t travel on the Appian Way, but I did travel, first by train and then by car, from Rome to Brundisium. Horace stopped in Barium; we stopped in Bari. Horace finished his trip with Vergil in Brundisium. From there, Vergil departed for Greece, and when he returned to Brundisium, he was felled by a high fever and died there. Although he was later buried in Naples, the town of modern Brindisi honors Vergil with a set of stairs leading up to a Roman column.


Since I have always enjoyed reading Vergil’s poetry, this visit held great importance for me. On earlier trips, I visited Mantua (the city of his birth) and Naples (where he is buried). Many people in Puglia (Apulia) don’t even know that this monument exists. They visit the area for the beautiful beaches, Pugliese food, the unusual trulli (conical shaped stone houses built first in the 18th and 19th centuries by farmers who could easily dismantle them to avoid taxes), and the easygoing southern Italian lifestyle.

In Bari Vecchia, the old part of the city, I especially enjoyed seeing houses that chose to include Latin inscriptions above their doors.


Post tenebras spero lucem. (After darkness, I hope for light.)


Ingredere has aedes quisquis amicus eris. (Whoever will be friendly, enter this house.)


Today, in Ostuni, I noticed a couple more.

Nimis moderata durant. (The very restrained things last.)


O quam difficile se ipsum noscere. (Oh, how difficult it is to know oneself.)


Because Latin was used through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, I find it everywhere in these older cities, regardless of the time period that stands out the most in terms of architecture and monuments. And finally, I pay homage to the sea (Adriatic, here), a place referred to by every poet and author from this land surrounded by seas.