That was awesome!
Thanks to everyone who came out for one or more of the sessions this month. I truly enjoyed getting to know all of you, and I hope to see you at future classes! Teaching was extra fun this time because of your great questions and comments. Thank you!
A little further ado…
Here are the class resources for this week. You’ll notice I’ve not only put down some primary sources, but also a couple of links to articles on the Great Vowel Shift and some other things I briefly touched on but couldn’t cover in-depth. Of course, there are also links to a couple of Medieval cookbooks, so if you ever have a hankering for porpoise haggis or anything suitably… interesting — well! Can’t go wrong with Medieval mac and cheese, anyway.
One thing I do recommend: Rush out to the store and buy you some of this stuff. Imagine pepper that smells of citrus and flowers and cardamom. Then imagine something like 10x better, give Whole Foods $7 of your hard-earned money, and grind this on your eggs for authentic Medieval flavor.
Part Two: 1300-1453 CE
The Hundred Years War, by Jean Froissart. (Froissart is the most famous chronicler of the Hundred Years War. Awesome stuff.)
Letter to the King of England, 1429, by Joan of Arc.
Ordinance for Sanitation in a Time of Mortality, 1348. (The Italian town of Pistoia enacted these rules in order to try to prevent the Plague spreading.)
The Decameron, Introduction, by Giovanni Boccacio. (This is the book I mentioned where the fellow fled with his friends to a mountaintop to escape Plague and wrote a book.)
The Forme of Cury. (The porpoise haggis comes from here. This cookbook dates to 1390.)
Le Menagier de Paris. (Also a good cookbook, from 1390s France.)
If you missed something…
Thanks for coming back!
This week’s class was really fun, and I enjoyed all of your questions and discussion. As always, please free to contact me with any questions or comments. I love feedback!
Here, again, are some fascinating primary sources in modern translation. The Alexiad and the collected Crusader letters are especially worth reading because of the dual perspective on similar events. I’ve also given the one Muslim account of the crusaders that I can find online in good translation for a further perspective.
Part Two: 1000-1250 CE
Speech at Clermont, by Pope Urban II. (Five versions!)
Peter the Hermit: Collected Accounts, by various chroniclers.
Crusader Letters, including one by Stephen of Blois. (Remember, when he wrote to Adela, he wasn’t fine!)
The Siege of Antioch, by various chroniclers. (This shows you how not fine Stephen was.)
The Alexiad, chapters 10 and 11, by Anna Comnena. (This was the Byzantine Emperor’s daughter.)
The Battle of Hattin, 1187, by Ernoul.
Autobiography, by Usmah ibn Munqidh. (A Muslim account of the European Crusaders, from about 1175.)
If you missed last week’s class…
I’m so glad you came! It was great meeting you all, and I hope you enjoyed the presentation. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. I love feedback!
Because I’m a huge fan of primary sources, I include, along with my presentation, some short selections from primary sources that will hopefully be of interest and shed some more light on topics I’ve only briefly touched on. All of these are in modern translation, so they’re easy to read and rather fascinating to go through.
Part One: 400-1000 CE
The Secret History, by Procopius. (Check out Chapter 9!)
Justinian Suppresses the Nika Revolt, by Procopius.
The Ruin of Britain, by Gildas. (Gildas was a historian-monk. Here he writes about the stupidity of Vortigern inviting barbarian mercenaries.)
The History of the Britons, by Nennius. (Nennius is a major source for stories about King Arthur. Here he gives the legend I talked about.)
The Life of Charlemagne, by Einhard. (These selections talk about what Charlemagne was like as a man, which is very interesting!)
In case you missed it…
Most of us learn a second language in school, and we don’t learn it well.
If you’ve attempted to learn a second language in a classroom setting, it has most likely been a dull, joyless exercise in reading fixed phrases out of the textbook to your neighbors in a feeble attempt to have a “conversation.” Said textbook generally contains very little information about the culture behind the language you are studying, and nothing in the way of material that you would read outside of class in your native language if you had your druthers.
How do most people learn languages?
School-based language education has gone through many fads, but the current fad (and the method of pedagogy I was taught while studying to be an ESL instructor) is called the Communicative Approach.
The Communicative Approach stresses speaking as the main method of pedagogy. The student actually spends rather little time hearing the teacher correctly use the language, but instead spends the majority of his or her time “communicating” with the teacher and the other students in the target language (i.e., the language to be learned). Each class usually also contains a short grammar section, with attendant written exercises.
While it’s true that most people want to learn languages in order to speak them, the Communicative Approach actually keeps you from speaking by introducing a very limited working vocabulary and focusing on grammar to the exclusion of allowing the students to hear the language fluently and properly used in context.
At the end of two years of Communicative Approach language classes, students will have learned about 1,000-1,500 words in the target language. The minimum needed to carry on a sustained and somewhat fluent conversation is about 5,000.
What a waste.
When you don’t know something, you simply cannot teach it to others. Why, then, does the Communicative Approach focus on interactions between students as one of the main sources of language acquisition?
If you’ve never before spoken French, for example, you don’t want to copy your French accent from your equally ignorant neighbor. Doing this just ingrains mistakes in pronunciation. Nor are you likely to get much out of parsing eminently forgettable dialogues between textbook characters for whom you care nothing, or poring over grammatical texts whose content is utterly devoid of any context.
No wonder that people find it such a difficult, expensive, frustrating task to try to learn a language. It shouldn’t have to be that way.
The alternative? Input-Based Language Learning
The input-based language learning method stresses taking in as much authentic material as possible, and progressing from beginner books to real, living language texts within three months (at most) of beginning to learn. This has several distinct advantages:
- Using interesting, authentic material that you have picked yourself is more likely to hold your attention than canned textbooks.
- You’ll get a sense of how the language is currently used in context.
- It’s a lot cheaper than classes: material at all reading and listening levels is widely available for free or at low cost on the internet.
- Because the main focus at the beginning is on listening and reading, you’ll understand when people speak 50 miles an hour at you when you visit other countries.
- When you do start to speak, your big vocabulary (from listening and reading) will make conversations easier and more pleasant, because you’ll be able to say and understand a broader range of things. The more good conversation experiences you have, the more likely you are to keep speaking.
Ironically enough, input-based learning prepares you better for writing and speaking because it introduces language in context, allowing you to hear and see the language as used by a wide variety of people. In choosing the topics of reading and listening that are most interesting to you, you build up your vocabulary in these areas, paving the way for being able to converse on those topics in future.
Challenge the language-learning orthodoxy.
Steve Kauffman runs a company called LingQ, whose product is pretty useful in automating the input-based language learning approach. I have no affiliation with Steve — other than having used his product and spoken to him once or twice in my faltering French — but I think he presents a pretty good case for the input-based approach in the video below.
There’s no way to make the language learning process effortless, or we’d all speak 50 languages. Learning languages can be made a lot easier, however, and I’d like to show you how.
In future posts in this series, I’ll be showing you a bit more about how I go about finding material suitable for language learning, what my study schedule is like, and what to do in order to keep up the language you’ve learned.