I’m so pleased to present this next in my series of interviews with Latin/Ancient Greek content creators, with Claire Mieher:
So, tell us a little bit about yourself, and your previous experiences with languages
I grew up in Western Massachusetts and lived exclusively in the Northeast until moving West for graduate school. I’d say my household was a pretty creative and nerdy environment; both my parents have creative hobbies, and they encouraged curiosity from a young age. I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader as a young kid, though. Until my early teens, I wanted to be an artist or musician.
I was always interested in languages, which became clearer when I started taking Spanish in middle school, and a year later, when I started taking Latin. Since then, I have added a number of languages (most recently Sanskrit), but I am most comfortable with my proficiency in Latin and Greek. I was initially trained in both languages using grammar translation methods. I will admit that I actually enjoyed what I saw as the “puzzle” aspect of learning them, until I started reading authentic texts and realized I wasn’t really reading at all; I was parsing. About 5 years ago, I was introduced to active Latin methods, which have completely changed the way I approach ancient language teaching and learning.
What was your impression of Latin and Greek prior to your serious foray into learning it.
Before I started learning Latin (and Greek), and even many years into my ancient language education, I saw them as challenging, dead, impossible to speak, and like I said above, puzzles to be solved. While I enjoyed the challenge, there have been more than a few moments in my language-learning journey where I’ve nearly given up and concluded that the languages were just too hard for me, or that I would never reach the level of proficiency I hoped. As I learn more, I continue to have moments like this where I realize how much I still don’t know, but they have become more motivating than discouraging, because I have a much better sense of how to get from where I’m at to where I want to be.
What has your Latin-and-Greek-language-learning journey looked like so far?
I’d say my language-learning journey with both languages can be split into three parts: the initial “I’m learning a new language, this is new and awesome!” phase; the intermediary “I have no idea what I’m doing” phase, and where I’m at now.
I started out with Ecce Romani (which I haven’t touched since high school) and Athenaze (which I re-read frequently). The first authentic texts I read in Latin were Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil; in Greek they were Plato and lyric poetry. Those middle years are a bit of a blur, since I don’t think I retained much of what I was reading.
But to be honest, I didn’t start taking my own language learning seriously until a couple years ago, when I started grad school. For a long time I had tangentially participated in spoken Latin circles, but I hadn’t applied the pedagogical strategies I was experiencing passively to my own active learning. In the past year, I have been listening to as much Latin and Greek as possible, I’ve joined a couple Latin reading/speaking groups, I’ve taught Greek to high schoolers, I’ve taken a few classes in spoken Greek (with our friend Andrew Morehouse) and I’ve started to produce much more output in Latin and Greek, thanks in large part to your Greek composition course. All of this, along with re-reading and re-listening to podcasts, has helped immensely.
I struggle sometimes to balance the grad school expectation of preparing intensive-reading translations for class with my desire to improve my output and extensive-reading skills. I feel like I’m constantly engaged in two separate educational pursuits, and I don’t always have time for both. But I’ve noticed significant improvement in my language skills, which has motivated me to continue my work outside of school, and to apply some of those strategies to my schoolwork.
For me, the turning point in my language-learning journey was realizing that I can use creativity to encourage myself and others to keep studying these languages. I’ve found that the combination of creative work and language learning recreates the sense of novelty I felt when I first started learning these languages, which is exciting, energizing, and indispensable to language learning.
What sort of Latin or Greek content have you been producing, and what are your hopes for the future?
So far, I’ve produced some Greek and Latin poetry, Greek prose, and a couple videos. I’m still learning how to compose metrical verse in Latin, so I’m hoping to continue with that for a bit and attempt some Greek verse composition soon. Much of my Latin poetry is inspired by 17th century naturalist and painter Maria Sibylla Merian and her book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, which I just finished reading with a wonderful group of women. So, up until now, I’ve composed mostly nature poetry in a variety of meters about caterpillars and frogs.
In terms of prose, I am working on a longer Greek prose project which tells the story of Penelope and Odysseus’ initial encounters, betrothal, and marriage. I use Attic Greek with some Homeric vocabulary interspersed. I am hoping to publish it eventually in novella form.
I’m also hoping to produce more videos—probably more songs and other chronicles about my frogs. I particularly enjoy the creative process of working on song translations, and I welcome any suggestions!
If people want to hear more from you, in Latin or Greek, where can they follow your work?