I want to raise a prosaic issue about language pedagogy, and inquire into the experiences and opinions of others.  So: what about interlinear translations?  Should I just say, so what?

I am teaching a class of students (entirely new to me) in their second semester of an ancient language.  Today I had them doing group work the first 10 minutes of class, and I walked around and listened in and observed their interactions.  To my amazement I realized that 90% of the class did all their work inter-linearly – those tiny English words in between the lines of text – both short, practice sentences and longer passages of extended prose.

—–  I will digress for a moment to the early ’80s and my first experience in a college Latin course.  We were reading Horace’s Odes, and my professor was a chain-smoking curmudgeon who really knew his Latin.  And totally adored Horace.  He wasn’t the healthiest or most athletic person in the world, but when he saw that a student was doing interlinear translations, he rose from his chair and crawled – he crawled clear across the seminar table, glowered at her, ripped the pen from her hands, and completely trashed her text.  Through nicotine-stained, gritted teeth he informed her that she would never do interlinear translations in his class again.  That poor student – well, she finished up that term of Horace and Catullus, but she didn’t become a Classics major —-

Me – now – over 25 years later I have become a Classics professor, and while I have never crawled across a table or defaced a student’s text, I do have strong opinions about this interlinear practice, and I urge students to not go in that direction — or if they feel they have to, then to do so on a photocopy but leave the text in the book pretty much clear – grammatical marginalia and glosses are cool – but nothing between the lines of the text.

Am I missing something, pedagogically speaking?  Can someone speak up for the Interlinears, and ease my spirit?  I have spent 10+ years trying to develop collaborative, active pedagogical practices based on peer inquiry, and now appear to have a group of passive learners who think 1. there is a Right Answer, 2. that I am going to tell It to them, so that 3. they can write the Right Answer in between the lines of the textbook.  Sounds to me a bit too much like a bad High School practice.  Is there any way to make lemonade from lemons here?  Do I even have lemons?

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