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Word Derivatives: A Word Game to Reinforce Latin Language Vocabulary

written by: John Garger • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/13/2013

To be reasonably proficient in a language, the speaker must have command over at least several thousand words. This can be difficult if the vocabulary of the language differs greatly from English vocabulary. Learn an easy-to-play game to reinforce Latin vocabulary lessons.

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    Word Derivatives: Game to Learn Latin One of the most difficult parts to studying any new language is learning the language’s vocabulary. Luckily for Latin students, English is filled with vocabulary that ultimately derives from the Latin language. Although English is a Germanic language, Latin entered into English through French and other sources during the later periods in Latin’s history. The result is many English words that look and sound much like their ancient mother.

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    Word Derivatives: A Game to Learn Latin Vocabulary

    The rules of Word Derivatives is quite simple. Students pair off into groups and work together to compete against the other team or teams in the game. The teacher gives teams a Latin word from which students must make a list of all the English words related to the original Latin word.

    For example, suppose the teacher gives the teams the Latin verb “amo." Students, knowing that the word means “love" or “like" can include on their list English derivative words such as “amorous" and “amateur." Teachers can, of course, restrict whether the derivatives offered may be verbs, nouns, etc.. This is especially useful for advanced Latin students but simpler games can be used for beginning Latin students or Latin students of a younger age.

    At the end of each round, teams compare their lists and gain one point for each English derivative that is not also included on the list of any other team. Teachers can also modify these rules to declare a winner to the team with longest list regardless of whether the words on the list match those of another team.

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    The Purpose of the Game

    Besides being a break from the typical rote experience of translating Latin sentences and memorizing vocabulary, games such as Word Derivatives reinforce the importance of learning Latin vocabulary and not waiting until the night before a test or quiz to suddenly memorize the meaning of Latin words.

    There is also a second benefit to playing this game. The most popular period of Latin taught in high schools and colleges is that from the Classical Period, the so-called “Golden Age" of Latin. This type of Latin and early English were never contemporaries; they were never spoken as languages of two peoples at the same time. The result is a speaker of a much newer language trying to learn a much more ancient one. As Latin aged and finally waned, the meaning of many words changed.

    A teacher giving the teams the Latin verb “servo" will likely see English words such as “serve" and “servitude" on the students’ lists. Although “servo" meaning “save" looks a lot like English’s “serve," this English word is actually derived from the Latin word “servio," a word meaning “to be a slave" or “to serve." This is an excellent opportunity for the Latin teacher to emphasize these common mistakes made by students. It is likely that every Latin student at the beginning of his /her program at one time or another translated “servo" as “serve" given how closely it matches the English word. Latin teachers can, therefore, customize this game to match the needs of the students and reinforce the etymology of English words.

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    Games such as Word Derivatives are an excellent opportunity for Latin students to explore Latin vocabulary in a fun and meaningful way. Capitalizing on the student’s already vast knowledge of the English language, teachers can customize vocabulary lesson plans to accommodate any level student from beginner to advanced. In fact, many Latin teachers may find that this game simultaneously strengthens the student’s English vocabulary thereby strengthening his/her Latin vocabulary. As part of a complete Latin program, Word Derivatives is fun and friendly competition to discover Latin’s impact on the English language.

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