Friday, July 17, 2009

More on Latin Immersion

I checked this book, Value of the Classics, out from the library. This is a 1917 book and this bit is from the intro by Andrew Fleming West.

Latin and Greek must be made natural to the American boy, as they were native to the boys of Rome and Athens. .... It is often said that enthusiasm without precision was a mark of the Renaissance. Precision without enthusiasm is our danger now -- or else silly superficiality and dilution in order to make the classics "interesting." It is hard to say it -- but even this is better than dull pedantry. Once the right spirit and method is in our teaching and we can begin early enough to take young minds when they are most plastic to the sounds, images and memories of language, the classics will be vividly "interesting".

The subject is too large for this paper, but a few points may be noted. Begin two years earlier, taking boys of eleven or twelve. Remember the saying of Quintilian, greatest of Roman teachers, that we first take in language by ear. Let the American boy learn Latin somewhat in the way the Roman boy of his years learned it, only more simply. Tell him -- not show him -- a Latin word or easiest phrase and its meaning; home sum, puer es, quota hora est? quid rides? and so on. Have him say them first and then write them.

Never mind if every word is not carefully Ciceronian. He too sometimes lapsed in his daily talk -- and there must have been a lot of it. Then there were other fine old Romans who did not always "speak by the book". And vox populi, vox Dei is perfect Latin though Alcuin wrote it....

Saying is everything here. It is the original, living, convincing utterance, the verba labris nascentia of Quintilian, "words born on the lips," which alone is actual Speech. With this daily usage continued, the auditional dread of Latin, so common now, would disappear and the boy would begin to get the Latin consciousness.

There is more but that is long enough for now! I think it's interesting, though. I would have thought that conversational Latin was "progressive" but it appears to have a respectable lineage, whereas the "progressives" at the turn of the century tended to want to turn Latin into a philological study, more suitable to the post-graduate years. And/or then dump it altogether as irrelevant to students' lives, of course.

West goes on to say it's not as difficult for the Latin teacher to learn Latin conversation as might be thought -- a bit of preparation would be sufficient. Probably more difficult for a mom who was not taught much Latin and just picked up bits here and there.... but then, probably less of the over-philological approach to unlearn. This is where I like Latin is Fun, because it gives me some sort of vocabulary for actual discourse -- and I just was able to request a few Artes Latinae books from Paperback Swap. I'm looking forward to seeing what those are like.

I'm sure there are dangers to this approach especially for the relatively ignorant teacher. However, I'll probably have to learn this by trial and error. I remember Drew Campbell talking on his blog about teaching his daughter through Latin conversation and labeling items around the room, etc. So that gives me a bit of confidence.

Liam used to try to write poetry and stories in Latin when he was high school age -- he doesn't do it anymore, but I always thought he was on the right track in his approach.


  1. Willa, I've been pondering your posts referencing Latin immersion. Since I have practically zero Latin (except for what I have sung in Latin and attending the mass in Latin), I am at a loss for how to go about this.

    However, I'd toyed with the Muzzy videos idea some earlier in the Spring and since they come in all the languages (I'm especially interested in Latin and German), I wonder if they would be good for that before beginning more formal study later on?

    Do you have any opinions? We don't do a lot of videos (we don't have television), but I'm just not sure of an effective way for me to introduce Latin to my young ones to familiarize it with them in a natural way.

  2. I just saw this, Lindsay. I'm not sure what Muzzy is like but I can ask on my classical list if anyone's familiar with it.

    We don't watch many educational videos ourselves but I have heard with other languages that audio-video can be an effective way to familiarize children with something (like Melissa Wiley's family and sign language videos).

    I am putting together some audio links online I've found or read about from others' recommendation. Will probably post it in a few days.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!