Living Latin in NYC is almost here which, if I’m being honest, brings equal measures of excitement and anxiety. As a grad student, I read a good amount of Latin everyday. But—despite New Year’s resolutions to the contrary—spoken Latin is not part of my daily routine. When I get to LLiNYC, on the other hand, Latin will be everywhere. And not in short bursts, but in long stretches—5, 10, 30, 60(!) minutes of uninterrupted Latin. Most of it will be conversational or otherwise interactive, meaning that not only will I need to absorb massive amounts of spoken language, but I need to take it in, process it, and spit out something reasonably appropriate. With a week to go, I’ve started thinking about what I can do to be better prepared this year. What can I do to arrive at LLiNYC ready to speak, ready to listen, ready to get the most out of the weekend? I came up with a few ideas and thought they might be useful to others headed to LLiNYC (or really anybody interested in getting started with spoken Latin.) Over the next few days, I’ll share some strategies for jumpstarting your spoken Latin, issued in the form of daily challenges.
Day 1: Latin Out Loud
Today’s post handles half the problem in way that is easy enough to start on your own—we’ll start by reading Latin out loud. Let’s take listening off the table (for today!), let’s take producing our own ideas off the table (for today!), let’s concentrate instead on taking somebody else’s words and ideas and giving them life in our own voices. Many teachers and students speak Latin in the classroom, though it tends to be word-by-word or sentence-by-sentence. I’d guess that lists of paradigms and sentences for translation make up the majority of spoken Latin output for a lot of us. We may read the occasional paragraph out loud in class, but even these relatively short “longer” readings are often broken up into shorter units, moving around the room from student to student, with starts and stops, and with English explanations interrupting the Latin flow. Such are the demands of the classroom. But this is not the classroom, this is our Latin gym. This can be our space for more focused exercise. Put simply, Latin conversation is equal parts speaking and listening—we need to train both to improve. And just as at the gym you might isolate different muscles to become stronger in one area, this step is our chance to isolate producing the sound of Latin.
For our first challenge, we are going to start exercising our spoken-Latin muscles. Every day this week I want you to read Latin out loud for 5 minutes. Pick a text, set your timer, and fill the room with your voice. Be sure to choose a time and place where you can do this without feeling self-conscious—we’ll work on confidence later in the week. For now, just concentrate on getting Latin off the page and into your ears. Try to pick something different each day—if you read some Cicero today, maybe Erasmus tomorrow, Ovid the next day, and so on. I want you to skip around so that you can hear a variety of styles, a variety of registers, a variety of Latins. Speak slowly and deliberately. Try to feel the rhythm of the piece—note words that deserve emphasis, note words that are being used in novel ways, note especially words that connect one idea to the next. Get yourself used to what Latin sounds like as a spoken language. One important note—this exercise is about getting comfortable with producing Latin. Do not stop to look up words. Do not backtrack to unravel knotty ideas. Pergite. You might be surprised by how some unfamiliar words become clearer in context or even explained by what follows.
Be sure to share your progress. Let us know what you read out loud in the comments or tweet with the hashtag #diylatin.