Friday, May 6, 2016

"So, do you speak Latin?"

Recently I wrote a post for CANE's blog, CANENS, and I posted it to Latin Teacher Idea Exchange on Facebook. A fellow teacher replied,
When you have time, would you be willing to expand on your use of oral Latin? Like most Latin teachers, I was not taught to speak Latin so I am super hesitant to start. But I know I should get over myself for the sake of my students. How did you start?
So here I am. First, the title of this entry. sodales, you know that question and the embarrassment that attends it. "Well, no, but you see, I can read it. I mean like I've been reading it for a really long time. So I KNOW it, I just don't speak it. You see?" I cringe inside every time I have to answer that. Or I used to, anyway. No one's asked me in a while. But I hated that question because well, NO, I didn't speak Latin, even though I'd been studying it for half my life. Ouch.

But now I do speak Latin. Kind of. I can have conversations about random stuff especially if it's not technology-heavy subject matter. I'm still not fluent at ALL and there's a pretty heavy English influence on my word order. But I certainly speak it better than I do any other language besides English, my L1.

So, how did I start? Some tips to get over the hump.

1. Yes, you do know Latin. I have been studying Latin for 15ish years. I may not speak Latin, but I know it. You do too. It's there, even if it takes a while to come out.

2. Be patient with yourself. Go look at this entry and turn those tips on yourself. Guess what? You're going to get case endings and tenses wrong. All the time. ALL the time. It's not the end of the world. Do your best to get it right when you're teaching a new structure, but if it's just in passing or practice with other Latinists, give yourself a break. I've heard excellent Latinists who have been speaking for YEARS make case mistakes. It's what happens. How do you think Italian was invented?

3. Baby steps. You don't have to be able to give a lecture in Latin to start using it with your kids. On the contrary, you really shouldn't! You need to pick a way to say yes & no (I use sic and non.), a couple of adjectives, and you're done. Like this:
Board: -ne = ?, sic = yes, non = no, procerus = tall, brevis = short, est = is.
T: estne Shelby procera? :gesture with your hand way above Shelby's head: (Your speaking speed should be something around where the bad kind of tourist tries to speak English to non-English-speaking locals: EHSSSTTTT NAY SHELBY PROOOOO-CEHR-AHH?)
Ss: non.
T: bene! Shelby procera non est! estne Shelby brevis? :gesture below Shelby's height:
Ss: sic.
T: sic! Shelby brevis est! estne Shelby brevis an procera? :use each hand to gesture one or the other:
Ss: short?
T: bene! :big smiles: Shelby brevis est! Shelby procera non est! Shelby brevis est!
Repeat with other students. Pick some more adjectives or nouns. Consider throwing in some comparatives- estne Shelby procerIOR quam Julia? etc. Congrats, you're using oral Latin in the classroom. It gets more complex from there as you need it to. Check out this lesson plan by Keith Toda. You'd be doing the same as above, only add in some question words (again, provide them on the board). You can ask: estne elephantus laetus? estne elephantus tristis? vultne Earl elephantum? etc. Which brings us to 3.

4. The bar is not that high. In Keith's story, you are only dealing with three verbs (est, habet, vult) and two adjectives (laetus, tristis). It's not brain surgery. You can do this on Day 1 of Latin class even if you have never taken Latin and have only read this post & Keith's.


Your kids don't speak Latin either. They won't know you're keeping it simple. They need you to keep it simple, and go slow, and repeat yourself.

There is no one to feel embarrassed in front of or to feel inadequate compared to. Spend a couple minutes practicing Latin with your kids every day or so, point at your board a lot, and your speech will become smoother.

5. Take any opportunity to improve. The above stuff will get you over that embarrassment hump. Now let's talk about how to become a functional Latin speaker. A bullet list! In ascending order of effort required!
I hope that gives you some ideas on how to take the plunge. Next time, I'll talk more about how I use it in class on a daily(ish) basis.

edit 8/4/2016: Look under the tag "Spoken Latin" for more similar entries, especially this one with a much better list of resources & opportunities. You may also find this "Useful Phrases for Spoken Latin" document helpful for saying a lot of things Cicero never taught you how to say.

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