Et tu, Wimpy Kid? What Teachers Get About Language Teaching that College Professors Don’t

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There was an article on translating the first book of the popular Wimpy Kid series into Latin in today’s Wall Street Journal. The reporter interviewed a Latin teacher, the book’s publisher, and a college professor of classical languages.

This is what the teacher said:

“That’s so cool. I can’t wait,” says Ginny Lindzey, a veteran Latin high-school teacher in Dripping Springs, Texas, who says her students spend three years studying Latin, and then dive straight into Virgil or Caesar in their fourth year.

“It’s like a person in China studying English for three years and then going straight to Shakespeare,” she says.

This is what the publisher said:

Mr. Kinney doesn’t read Latin, which means he won’t be able to rip through “Commentarii de Inepto Puero” [the Latin title of the first Wimpy Kid book]. Still, he hopes teachers can use the Latin edition as a hip gateway to the language. “A lot of kids have read this book, so that alone would give them needed context,” he says.

This is what the university professor said:

Michael Sloan, an assistant professor of classical languages at Wake Forest University who teaches such Latin classics as Horace’s “Odes” and Cicero’s “Orations,” says “Commentarii de Inepto Puero” has little chance of being added to the curriculum. However, he says that “as a model of the versatility and range of Latin composition it may make for convenient exercises for Friday classes” (emphasis added).

The teacher understands that you can’t read the greats of literature without first reading easier materials.

The publisher understands that being familiar and interested in a story will help you comprehend it better.

The college professor understands none of this. He thinks the book “may” be useful for “exercises” of the sort that have made Latin one of the most popular languages studied in the United States.

(To be fair, I’m relying on what the reporter decided to put in the story, so this may or may not reflect the real views of those quoted.)

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