Interviews with Latin content creators (1): András Alkor

Series forward: One of the things I’m interested in doing more of, is promoting those involved in generated new, original authored materials for Latin and Ancient Greek. I hope this will spotlight some of the amazing work being done and produced, and encourage you to go and read it, support these individuals, and participate in literary production and consumption in the languages!

Interview forward: I first came to know András through a couple of the Latin discords, and I have seen him go from an absolute beginner in Latin, to a reasonably competent speaker, all from diligent study of LLPSI and involvement in conversational voice-chats and study-groups. That he has come so far, so quickly, and is now involved in instructing others, and producing Latin content himself, is a real testament to the effectiveness of a focused, CI-based, approach to a language, and to András himself. Okay, on to the interview!

1. So, András, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your previous experiences with languages.

I grew up in a family of musicians, spending my childhood years among instruments, in choirs, and buried in my violin practice. I could’ve pursued music but, due to many and complex reasons, I left my hometown to study English instead at a very good high school in Hungary. Besides English, I also picked up some German during my adventures in Bavaria, which I have since mostly forgotten.

I never went to university, but freelanced for a while, doing image manipulation work and creating websites for a variety of clients from around the world. I moved back to my hometown and was trying to figure something out. After a series of bad experiences, I wanted something else.

I got a job offer to help research alternative teaching methods for abused students, and after a year, found myself teaching English to the very same students.

I carried on doing that for three years before, due to changes in our educational system by the government, I lost my job and had to find something else again.

I am confident in saying I know English very well. As much as I want to credit my school, I picked up English on my own and was speaking it on a conversational level at around the age of ten. I decided I could continue teaching English, and I set up online courses. This was last summer, when I was already studying Latin. I’ve been teaching ever since.

2. What was your impression of Latin prior to your serious foray into learning it.

First of all, I did attempt to learn Latin in high school on my own, which lasted for a few weeks. After falling in love with a certain someone, I quickly gave up on my Latin studies.

My second insight into Latin is something I don’t actually remember. I released the full story of this in email format, but the short version is, still in high school, I managed to write four lines of correct Latin on a very drunk night. We’re still investigating how that happened.

My impression was, especially coming from a background with English etymology, that it was a very harmonious language. As much as it was the Romans’ speech, I mostly associated Latin with the medieval period and with classical music, of course. I definitely didn’t think I would laugh at the obscenity of Catullus and Janus Pannonius a few years later.

That’s about what my impression was. I didn’t have an interest in Classics, and Latin was only one of those what ifs back in high school.

3. Tell us a bit about how you initially got started on learning Latin, and especially your experiences with Familia Romana, and with conversational groups.

It was an accident. About ten months ago, my body broke down. The doctors couldn’t do anything with me, it was right in the pandemic. I moved back home to my mother and tried to do something useful in-between crying and generally suffering.

I think I was having a conversation with a friend when the idea came to try and read Caesar. He told me some interesting stories about his time up in Great Britain, and I wanted to find them for myself. I just asked, how hard can it be? And now here I am, about ten months later.

After figuring out that reading Caesar was indeed not a light afternoon activity, I remembered some sites back from high school that were either in or about Latin, and tried to find them. Most of them are either gone or they didn’t come my way this time, but what I found instead was so much better.

I found LLPSI on April 28th and began reading Familia Romana in earnest. I believe I joined the Discord servers, one dedicated to LLPSI, the other a general Latin community, when I was at chapter three. I really found the book and the communities at the same time, but I didn’t dive in immediately.

My first idea was to just start writing in a channel designed for beginners of Latin. I thought I could find anything I didn’t know on the internet, and what I couldn’t I could ask. I was right, people were extremely helpful, and I quickly got up to speed.

In the meantime, I also started attending reading groups to go through the book with other people. This went on until August, where I actually took over one of these groups. I tried out conversational Latin in the very beginning of June. That was an experience. I really began conversing at around the end of July, the beginning of August.

That’s also about the time where I branched out and started consuming other Latin, outside of Familia Romana. Ørberg’s book remained a sort of benchmark, along with Caesar, with which I could measure where I was with my Latin. I really only finished Familia Romana in November, due to laziness and getting my Latin from elsewhere. But I read the last six chapters in one sitting.

I think Familia Romana is the best book out there for self-studying Latin. It’s built up really well, even with the difficulty spikes sometimes, and gets you through the most important grammar points through the story it tells. What I would also recommend is to read whatever you like or what you can alongside with the LLPSI series.

Doing it this way gave me more challenges, but, I believe, also a more rounded knowledge of Latin. These combined with my daily conversations, I was well on my way to learn the language.

4. Where do you see your Latin ability now – things you’re able to do and areas you’re still working on?

I can hold an everyday conversation, and I can read easier or more straightforward authors, with a dictionary. I think the biggest area where I’m lacking is vocabulary. Because of the hundreds of hours of speaking, and Hungarian being my native tongue might help with this too, I don’t have too much trouble with syntax. I can read poetry alright, sometimes even easier than prose due to poems’ succinctness. From another angle, reading Cicero now is about as difficult as reading a new chapter of LLPSI, only I lack the useful margin notes Ørberg carefully puts in his books.

It’s a big frustration that I can sort of sight-read everything but miss the meaning because most unabridged Latin is not comprehensible input at my level. I think the best thing I can do is work through Roma Aeterna, the second book of LLPSI, and attending my usual reading groups and conversations. I would say it’s a grind, but if it is one, it’s an exciting one. Honestly, I feel like a sports player talking about this, but really all it takes is to show up every day. That’s what I’ve been doing and it’s what I plan to do.

I’ve been trying myself at telling entire stories in Latin on my own. It’s something I find to be a lot more difficult than having a conversation, because I have less immediate feedback, and less time to think about how I’m going to reply. It also works my vocabulary, what with all the words I need to actually use actively to narrate a full tale.

As Medus sings in Familia Romana, «non via longa est Romam», but it sure is full of hurdles and adventures!

5. You’ve recently begun a number of creative endeavours producing Latin-language content, what are they and what are you envisaging for the future?

It all started during the summer, where we had a discussion, you, Jessica, and me, about how there are holes in what content is available for students of Latin to consume. I made a few videos on YouTube without really having a plan with them. Among those is a video about the video game Neverwinter Nights, a visit to some Roman ruins, and some Latin dubs of film scenes.

I was also planning on sharing my Latin notes, because many people have been asking for them. The real problem with that was, I didn’t really take notes. You might guess what sort of a student I was back at school. Instead, I began writing a short-lived Weekly Latin series, available both on my website and on Patreon. I think it was a good idea, but there wasn’t enough to say every week, and I didn’t want to push myself too hard just to get enough material for an article.

After surviving Christmas, I began preparing new things in January. Things I was doing anyway or that I thought would be fun. My Latin dubs received more and better feedback than my readings or my Neverwinter Nights video, and from that I realised there is a serious lack of Latin entertainment. What better way to give back to the community than to create entertaining videos but entirely in Latin?

The preparations for those videos are mostly done, but my laptop recently had an accident. Some of those videos will be published later than planned. I’ve been trying to figure out what to put out while I get spare parts for my laptop, and we’ll see what I can come up with.

I don’t want to share too much because I don’t want to make empty promises, but I can say I’m planning two series, one involving comedy, the other some very delicious recipes.

Replacing Weekly Latin, I created an email list where I share Latin stories. The difference in motivation is substantial because I tell these stories in various Latin chats anyway. So, instead of clogging up conversations with hundreds of Latin words, I can write these stories down separately and send them out. They’re mostly from my past, because a roller coaster is a comfortable cradle compared to the craziness my teenager years were, both in a good and in a bad way, but I’m planning on sending a few fictive ones as well if inspiration strikes me such. The entire catalogue of these emails is available for Patrons.

6. If people want to hear more from you, in Latin, where should they be looking?

I’m active in a number of places. There are the Latin Discords, of course, along with my own Discord server I created for Patreon.

There is my email list, where past the automated introductory email, I only send content in Latin, and I reply to everyone who chooses to respond to my stories.

I’m also on Twitter where, even if I sometimes retweet English content, and might reply under other people’s tweets in English, I tweet exclusively in Latin.

It’s rare these days, but sometimes I can be found in the weekly Latin chats on Zoom.

Lastly, there’s my YouTube channel, which, as inactive as it’s been lately, will see more content in the following months.


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