Day 3: Your Latin
You’ve been through a few years of Latin and yet there are enormous swaths of vocabulary you have never been exposed to. If you happen to be Cicero pleading cases in the Forum or Caesar on the battlefield, you’re covered. You know 10 ways to say “die” but you have trouble rattling of the colors of the rainbow. You know the difference between a quaestor and a praetor, but you might have to think for a second about how to count to twenty. Simply put, there is a gap between the vocabulary necessary for reading much of the classical Latin canon and what is needed to chit-chat over bagels and coffee.
Before I even arrive at Living Latin in NYC this weekend, I can imagine a few conversations that I am likely to have and, accordingly, I can predict with pretty good accuracy a lot of Latin vocabulary that I will need for these conversations—words that will never appear in Intro Latin, like “dissertation”, “subway”, and well, “bagels and coffee”. These are the words I will probably reach for these within 5 minutes of arriving. (I am also likely to use them over and over again throughout the weekend making them even more valuable in getting comfortable with speaking Latin.) And this is just situational vocabulary. Just as important is polite vocabulary—e.g. the basic seven salve, vale, gratias ago, amabo te, ignosce mihi, ita, and non. Also important is your own personal Latin vocabulary. So, for example, I plan on having some ready vocabulary de uxore natisque and some things to say de Universitate Fordhamensi. The quicker you can draw on these pools of useful words—not just Latin, but Your Latin—the more comfortable you will be when someone approaches with a friendly Salve, mi amice! Quid agis?. You will also have some ready replies, extremely useful.
The first two days were focused on getting used to the mechanics of improving your spoken Latin. Today’s challenge will be directly aimed at preparing you for your first conversation—we are going to prepare a 30-60 second introduction. This is an idea I found in Benny Lewis’ book Fluent in 3 Months. (See my review of Lewis’ book here). He calls them “mini-scripts” and they are essentially a way of greasing the wheels of second-language conversation by being prepared for the most likely conversational demands you will encounter. Lewis notes that “we all tend to have similar conversations the first time we meet someone as beginning language learners.” (81) We may as well take advantage of this.
Start off by writing a list of 10 nouns, 10 verbs, and 10 adjectives, that is 30 words you would use to describe yourself. From these basic elements, start organizing an introduction. Imagine that you have met someone at a cena Latina and they have just given you an eloquent 30-second summary of what’s going on in their life. How do you respond? What do you say next? Lewis recommends beginning from these four questions, which I’ll give in Latin: Quis es?, Unde venis?, Quo fungeris?, and Cur linguae Latinae studes? If it helps, you can imagine introducing yourself to someone in English and translating all the necessary elements. But I would resist—part of becoming conversational in a second language is forcing yourself to think in that language first as much as possible, observe its flow and its idiosyncracies. You would be better off beginning in Latin, putting in English placeholders when you get stuck, and continuing in Latin. When you finish your 30-second mini-script, you will be in possession of some extremely valuable Latin vocabulary—the words you need to express who you are and communicate this to others.
Be sure to share your progress. Share a fact about yourself from the “mini-script” in the comments or tweet with the hashtag #diylatin.