I think (perhaps naively optimistic) that we’re on the cusp of a generational divide in Latin education. And this post is an attempt to help some on the ‘old’ side of that divide, cross over to the ‘young’ side.
What I mean is this: In the last 20 years we’ve seen a strong, consistent, and considerable growth in active approaches to Latin. I can see a few different causes of that. The birth and growth of SALVI in north America, general revitalisation of communicative-based and CI-based language teaching in general, the spread of Lingua Latina per se Illustrata as a textbook from the 90s onwards (even though its origins are much older), and perhaps most critically, the society-wide transforming effect of the Internet.
I learnt Latin, firstly, through correspondence materials from a university, on paper, sent by post. I would never have come to hear about LLPSI or anything active if it were not for the internet. It’s the internet that let me order a copy of LLPSI back in 2007. It’s the internet that let me hear about what Latin teachers were doing to adopt communicative practices. It’s the internet that has enabled me to have live text-chat, and critically, live voice and video chats, in Latin. The internet is the great enabler and diffuser of what would have been a very geographically isolated phenomenon.
And these days I see the effects of the growth of active Latin approaches in younger students. High school students who are able to converse and use Latin as a living language at levels far superior to the painstaking ‘prose composition’ work of the traditionally trained. Granted, many of these younger folk are outliers, but I think the balance is shifting. I live in the hope that there will come a day when people are genuinely (not ironically and sarcastically, as I am) baffled that people learned, or still learn, Latin as an exercise in grammar-translation.
But what if you missed the boat? What if you’re a Latin teacher who’s busy with lesson prep, marking, school regulations, service requirements, association duties, a family, and umpteen other obligations, and you think, “sure, I do see that a more active approach to Latin would be useful, but I just can’t even begin.”
I think that’s a lot of people, to be fair. And I get it – I got through a 4 year college classics sequence as a top level grammar-translator. And it can feel like “learning Latin all over again.”
But it doesn’t have to, and that’s what this post is about: taking small, actionable steps to shift your Latin from “I know grammar and can translate to English” to “I know Latin and can discourse in Latin”
- You know a lot more active Latin than you realise
Even though I don’t think knowledge about language and acquisition of language are systems that easily ‘cross-over’, the fact is that all the knowledge up in your head about Latin is a tremendous wealth of data you can call upon, especially when you’re not pressed for time. That, and the considerable amount of Latin you’ve been exposed to, are assets, not detriments. You are not really starting over. It’s more like a cross-grade. So don’t discredit what you already do know.
- Go easy on yourself
And, related to this, be kind to yourself. You’ve probably spent most of your Latin life not using Latin actively, and so you are starting something new. Attempts to read Latin without translating, to write Latin, to speak Latin, are all going to be hard at first. And that’s okay. Embrace the suck, because no one is judging you (except yourself, probably)
- Start small
Choose small, attainable goals and habits to develop. Just as I would tell students new to Latin to get a copy of LLPSI and start working slowly and consistently through it, the same for old-hands who want to revivify their Latin in a new mode. LLPSI is perfect for this, because it starts so easy, it’s graded so well, you can do everything in it while keeping your brain in Latin, and you can pace yourself through it. Also, you can listen to Scorpio’s beautiful readings. I would tell you to commit to nothing else and nothing more than first working through LLPSI volume 1. After that, you can spread your wings.
- If you’re a teacher, learn from teachers
One of my prime motivators for switching my own focus to more communicative modes was the practice of teachers. And while this post isn’t only for teachers, if you are a teacher, know that you can shift your teaching with small steps too. Just introduce one small component of speaking at a time. You don’t have to go from all-grammar to all-communication in a day.
And you can learn from those who’ve gone before. There are plenty of teachers who are actively engaged in communicative teaching, and are willing to help.
Here’s a short list of super useful people doing specifically Latin-y things:
- Rachel Ash & Miriam Patrick
- Magister P
- Andrew Olimpi
- John Bracey
- John Piazza
- Justin Slocum-Bailey
- Keith Toda
- Arianne Belzer
- I would also suggest joining the facebook group “Teaching Latin for Acquisition“
- Just start, and keep going
Maybe you’ll never become a fluent, advanced/superior level speaker of Latin. Maybe you will. Who cares? Just make a small start on become a better Latin speaker, and you’ll almost certainly become a better Latin writer, reader, listener along the way. You can have my money-back guarantee on that.