I’ve just returned from the first Rusticatio Australiana, where I have spent the week speaking Latin and nothing but. In this post I am going to give part-narration, part-reflection on the week just gone (look for another post in the coming weeks though!)
Firstly, what’s a Rusticatio? Rusticationes began some 20 years ago as the brain-child of Nancy Llewellyn, as a week-long ‘camp’, ‘retreat’, ‘intensive’ in a somewhat rural environment, where participants could learn to speak Latin as a living language. For which we are all grateful. They have been occurring, and multiplying, across the United States for the last 20 years, and going from strength to strength. (There are similar things in Europe, for those that live there, though not associated with SALVI).
This was the first Rusticatio held in Australia. Our good sir, Anthony Gibbins, who had participated in not a few over in America, and is the author of Legonium, began to dream of holding one in Australia and over the past couple of years that has gone from dream to reality.
So, the week itself. We arrived at a lovely retreat centre in the Kangaroo Valley (not that far for me, as a Sydneysider and being from Wollongong, gratias ad Deo), on the Monday around midday. The site was quite a comfortable one, with plenty of cabins (casulae) to house us all (nisi fallor, 30 participes, 6 magistri/aeque).
The initial meet & greet, and lunch (which I hadn’t expected, and so was doubly grateful for), was primarily in English. Having spent the drive down listening to some Latin podcasts, I was ready to Latinize, but I definitely appreciate that not everyone wants to turn up and immediately be confronted with Latin only!
After some introductions by our leaders and general advice/counsel/information about the week to follow (including incredibly important tips on self-care, “full”, etc..), we held a ceremony and pledged to only talk Latin for the rest of the week (with a few, minor, exceptions).
The Latin-only aspect seems a crucial factor here to me. A language like Latin means that, in most (not all!) contexts, participants would always find it easier to converse in another language (e.g., their native tongue). This is a way to force a communicative necessity to use Latin, by creating that necessity by consensual, and somewhat formalised, compact. Adherence was extremely high, and it creates also the kind of condition, that I’ve experienced by reality not be agreement, where you simply have to either work your way around a communication impasse, or just give up.
Each day consisted of a fairly regular schedule, with variation. A good balance of sessions and breaks, busy but not packed, and with some flexibility. Sessions included ‘all-in’ oral exercises and games, readings and discussions in smaller groups, some targeted vocabulary sessions, and working on a drama together (performed with great gusto and laughter on our penultimate day). Overall, the combination of naturalistic learning outside classes, with various types of directed learning in them, and group-bonding dynamics, created a robust experience and lead almost everyone (I dare say, I obviously cannot speak for all), to move along in their Latin speaking ability. And indeed, for many Australians and our New Zealander attendees, this was their first experience of speaking Latin at all.
There were some aspects of exercises that, strictly speaking, I’d disagree with from a theoretical perspective (as I understand the research); namely oral repetition of forms. But, based on my own anecdata, there just is something about getting the mouth moving, elevata voce, that pertains to developing speaking, not merely listening, proficiency.
The Americans that came out to kick-start this in Australia were, frankly, marvellous. Industrious, good-spirited, indefatigable, kind, experienced, and prodigious in their Latin.
Our evenings were also filled with various more-optional activities, including pelliculae, ludi, a concert (some fantastic Beatles’ songs performed in Latin). On the last evening there was campfire singing and, ut credo, an episode of Quomodo Dicitur with Jason, which pro dolor I was absent from.
So, indeed, let me say a little bit about D&D in Latin (I plan to write a whole separate post on this). A few of us had discussed the idea of this via email beforehand, and committed ourselves to making it happen. Being in different ‘groups’ meant our first planned session time wouldn’t work, since our Game Master was on kitchen duty. eheu. Still, we made some characters. And this was quite useful, since of our 4 players, 2 had never played D&D before at all. This meant that the only time left to us was our penultimate night. (Hence, I didn’t make it to podcast-recording). It was a good experience and I have a lot to reflect on from that.
It had been a desire of mine to get to a Rusticatio or similar for many years, but the distance and costs off getting to America or elsewhere have always been ridiculous. It basically means doubling or tripling the cost, and adding 4 days of travel. So this was an opportunity long desired, and not to be missed. In no way did it disappoint.
On top of that, so much of my own impetus for interest in Second Language Acquisition, and especially for Greek, came out of listening to US Latin teachers. I don’t teach that much Latin week to week, if at all. But I have done more than some speaking before. Nonetheless, this really gave me a huge confidence boost. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself more competent than I’d perhaps perceived, and the cumulative effect of a tantum latine environment, and the snowball effect of day after day, meant that by the end I was really ‘buzzing’. Indeed, so much so that when English was ‘permitted’ after our final closing ceremony, I found it difficult to transition back to English. I’ve had that experience before, with say Mongolian, and even Gaelic at times. That’s a great sign for me personally. (I know that for others, they were incredibly relieved to speak English again! And, of course, people hit ‘full’ at different rates, on different days, and not just from language input. That’s one reason why ‘full’ and ‘full-checks’ are such an important technique! Self-care but also interpersonal care, because language is about community).
I can’t say enough good things about Rusticatio Australiana. It was a dream come true, exceeded practically everyone’s expectations, and I think it will go down as not only a huge success, but the start of more and more, here down under. Vivat Lingua Latina!
(and, I dream of the day this might be done for Greek, but that’s for another day…)