Sheltered vs. Unsheltered Language in UD’s Latin through Stories Curriculum

UD’s Latin through Stories curriculum exposes students to both sheltered and unsheltered language, because both are important and necessary for language acquisition. Gouin Series, Little Socratic talks, picture studies, and some of the picture books are examples of mostly sheltered language. Prayers, bible verses, songs, nursery rhymes, and some of the picture books are examples of unsheltered language.

What do we mean by that?

Sheltered means that there is a purposefully limited number of structures and vocabulary. For example, in Level 1, the Little Socratic Talks and picture studies are deliberately limited in terms of grammar: sentences include at first just what an animal is doing (subject + verb), then expand to what one or more animals are doing where (subject + expression of location + verb). Gouin series also include sentences with direct objects. Several of the early picture books, such as Eric Carle’s Have You Seen My Cat, Brown Bear, and From Head to Toe are also examples of sheltered language in that they repeat the same sentence pattern throughout. (The latter two, in fact, don’t even really tell a story.) All of these use the present tense only.

This repetitive sheltered language is extremely helpful for language acquisition since it provides fully comprehensible input and the same structures are reinforced in many different ways over and over, helping students internalize them.

However, students also benefit greatly from unsheltered language. Unsheltered means that students are exposed to content that is not limited to the same structural pattern but determined by what needs to be communicated. In the prayers, bible verses, songs, nursery rhymes, and some of the picture books, students will encounter many different types of sentence elements. There are genitives, participles, verbs in the perfect, imperfect and future, as well as deponent verbs and subjunctives. But this is not a problem for your students! The human brain is quite amazing at processing language! (Keep in mind that not so long ago your students successfully went through the process of not being able to understand and say anything in their native tongue, to the incredible ability to comprehend and communicate a vast amount of language in a relatively short amount of time.)

Students can handle this exposure to unsheltered language in Latin, because we are making sure that all of the elements they encounter are still fully comprehensible due to familiar content, the help of pictures, and/or the help of translation. That is why these parts of the curriculum use some translation (whereas we recommend avoiding translation almost completely in the Little Socratic Talks or picture talks). But students aren’t just “exposed” to these unsheltered elements: most of these items are memorized, so that the linguistic patterns are internalized and become recognizable patterns for students to draw on later as they explicitly learn about them. When students memorize or repeatedly hear language above their level that is still comprehensible, they gain an immense storehouse of what Andrew Pudewa calls “reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns” that will, over time, help skyrocket their language acquisition.

Moreover, in these unsheltered curriculum components, students often encounter vocabulary words for the first time that are later introduced more explicitly in a Little Socratic Talk or Gouin series. By already having been memorized, such words are then merely reinforced, rather than newly learned. In fact, we often assume words to be “known” when they have been repeated in a song, nursery rhyme or story. (Older students don’t need to review songs, nursery rhymes and picture books as often as the little ones and could use some of them simply for reading practice and/or grammar analysis, but they still greatly benefit from the process of internalizing those “reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns”!)

In short, the balance of sheltered and unsheltered language is extremely important for maximizing students’ language acquisition, as it ensures that students have access not just to “textbook language,” but more and more to Latin as it is used to communicate true, good, and beautiful things.