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What Every Student of Latin Needs to Know

One of the most important aspects to education is dialogue, and we love to promote an on-going conversation with past, present and future students.  Summer 2012 student Lidia Zanetti Domingues spent last summer with Nancy Llewellyn in the AIRC’s Living Latin, Living History program, and writes about What Every Student of Latin Needs to Know.latin

At first sight, Latin always seems a tough nut. Whether you are a 14-year-old Italian during the you first day at the High school, or an American teenager who has decided to study Classics at the College, or anybody else eager to read Cicero or saint Augustine in the original language, the first impact with Latin can be really traumatic.

At the very beginning, I felt the same sense of discouragement that probably many of you are feeling or have felt too. But I decided that Latin language and literature were so amazing that it was worth the trouble. I have experienced many different types of teaching in different contexts and I wish to share my experiences with you. Here are some tips that I found very useful during my learning path.

  • Latin has a meaning:  many beginners seem to think that, since Latin authors wrote their works so many years ago, their language cannot but be cryptic and unintelligible. Therefore, when they look up a word in the dictionary,  they tend to pick the weirdest meaning they find. Remember that, if classical authors are still read nowadays, it’s because they still can communicate us something! If your translation has not much meaning, it is probably wrong. Yes, decus suum can also mean “the honor of pigs”, but why should Tacitus write about pigs’ honor?
  • Beware the false friends: the average student who is an Italian, French or Spanish native speaker is simply too lazy to look up some words in the dictionary. The Latin says focus? Well, it must mean fire (fuoco, feu, fuego), of course! Pity that it actually means “hearth”. Romance languages can be helpful allies to learn Latin also for those who are not native, but if you are not 100% sure about a meaning, it is better to check.
  • Accent issues: in one of your first classes, you might have learned the laws of Latin accent and especially the “law of the penultimate accent”. They are very simple, but unfortunately one always discovers very soon that they are not so simple when it comes to implement them: sometimes it looks almost impossible to discern whether the penultimate syllable is long or not. My advice is to always read Latin texts aloud and check the words you are unsure of in dictionaries or grammars. You should also bear in mind the retraction of the accent in compound verbs (e.g. dàre-circùmdare): it is very tricky!
  • Verbs quizzes: this is a method I often used during the first years of High school to learn Latin verbal system. With a friend, tear a sheet into pieces and write on them Latin verbs (the more insidious they are, the more useful the game will be), fold them and put them into a bowl. Draw a piece of paper in turn and try to analyze the verb: the other person must check that the answer is correct.
  • Try a spoken Latin course: apart from making you get rid of accent problems (if you use Latin words in real conversations, you will know for sure where to put the accent!), knowing how to speak aliquantum Latine also liberates you from the dependence on dictionaries. Also spoken Latin has its complexity and one of the biggest issues is to enhance one’s lexicon. Try to memorize words making connections between them, associating them by topic or by contrast (a word and its antonym, for instance). I also noticed that some of my American classmates struggled a bit trying to pronounce some words (contignatio was especially their nightmare), but they find very useful to divide such words in shorter sections, practicing their pronounce separately and then joining the parts.

Good luck with your Latin studies, and believe me: one day, when you will be reading an epistle of Seneca or an ode of Horace, you will agree with me that all your efforts were worth those enchanting masterpieces!

~Lidia Zanetti Domingues, LATIN2012

Interesting in augmenting your Latin studies with an on-site, practically total immersion in Latin? Please take a look at our Living Latin, Living History program. There are a few spots left for applicants for this summer 2013′s program in Rome- check out our video for the full experience.

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