Consuetudines quo melius Latine et legatis et intellegatis.   Recently updated !

As the school year has brought itself into full swing for many folk in New England, a lot of us are finding that time is wanting for our own Latin development, should that be a goal of yours. This past summer was such that I spent most of my time engrossed in Latin and Ancient Greek, specifically speaking it with the Polis Institute/UMass Boston at Bridgewater State University, two weeks with SALVI at both rusticatio omnibus and veteranorum, and finally with the Paideia Institute at Living Greek in Greece.

At these various conventicula Classica, ut ita dicam, I shared with others some habits I developed to make myself a better Latin speaker (and now working on Greek) and also, therefore, a better reader of the Classical languages. I began my own journey into speaking Latin during summer 2016 with the Paideia Institute at their Living Latin in Rome program and it has been thoroughly fruitful thus far. I am hoping that these things will also help you. I am sure many others have similar habits they conduct but I thought I would lay out for you all what I do quo melius agam.

I break my practices into three parts: speaking, reading, and listening. I try to do these things daily but sometimes, life happens. Just like any habit, such as going to the gym, you might slip but what matters is that you pick it back up. The amount you do matters far less than the fact that you actually do it.

First, speaking. It is sometimes quite difficult to find opportunities to speak Latin or Ancient Greek (even though new communities and opportunities are cropping up every day) but there is one resource we all have: ourselves. Most of us have a strong enough monitor that we can recognize mistakes when others speak but sometimes lack the ability ourselves to be able to speak ex tempore and so there are few things I recommend that I have done myself quo melius loquar. I want to be clear that I am not necessarily proposing original ideas so much as specifically citing what I do and these ideas were pulled from various resources or articles I have read. I claim no credit for any of them. All things below can be substituted with lingua Graeca or pretty much any language you wish to develop.

-Memorize something every day. Take a sententia or locutio and commit it to your brain. It will make it far easier to access later when reading or speaking.

-If you are able, label things in your home or office with post-its in Latin (I do this in my classroom too). This will make the vocabulary seem more meaningful and ready for active use.

-Take a walk through your space for any amount of time (could be five minutes, could be twenty minutes). Narrate what you are doing as you are doing it Latine e.g. ‘Hoc tempore ad culinam ambulo ut cenam coquam etc.’ Then, take a seat somewhere and narrate what you did. After this, narrate what you did as if someone else were telling it.

Using the language actively like this is something many of us are not used to but, more importanly, it is something often we are afraid of doing. You might have been studying Latin for twenty-five years but when you speak, you don’t want to look like a tiro who just started Latin I. Doing the above might help you build enough confidence to get out into the real world of Latin speaking, ut sic loquar. All of this will lead to better reading.

Second, reading. This will likely be the easiest area to cultivate. Like I said above, it does not matter if you read for ten minutes or fifty, as long as you do it consistently. When one reads Latin, the goal is to understand it per se and with this in mind, your reading consuetudo should likely not be the speeches of Cicero or Histories of Livy but rather, simple material such as Øerbeg’s Lingua Latina: Per Se Illustrata which has helped countless autodidacts and Latinists become better. Read it without an English filter and read through until you feel like you have to translate. Once you get there, go back a few chapters and re-read up to that point.

Re-reading is incredibly productive for acquisition and fluency in languages because you are already familiar with the text and have expectations of what is coming. Therefore, feel free to re-read as often as you want unless it becomes boring. Tedium is the enemy of learning. If you are not enjoying it at all, read something else. We are all doing this because we love it. There are many introductory texts out there and if they are good enough for our students, they are good enough for us.

What I personally did was to read LLPSI thrice and I have been reading works ranging from Plautus to modern blog posts in Latin everyday for twenty-five minutes. That’s one sitcom episode on Netflix. I personally have many people in my life with whom I can text in Latin and this is what language is for: communication between people, not just dead authors. Reading is reading whether through a tome or an iPhone.

Third, listening. Listening to the language is thoroughly important in understanding it in all of its glory. Greek and Latin sound beautiful when read aloud, especially by experienced speakers and luckily, there are those out there that are helping us in this department. Podcasts such as Quomodo Dicitur?, Latinitium, Sermones Raedarii, and others exist in which experienced speakers will talk about rebus variis. 

I have listenend to episodes and readings from many sources everyday for the past year, sometimes for multiple hours (it can get very easy to lose time in the content), and I have re-listened to episodes and readings iterum iterumque. Listen while you do dishes, drive your car, do housework or yardwork, at the gym, or in the morning before you work. I find that listening to Latin in the morning gives me the boost I need to go into my Latin classroom mentally equipped for the day.

Many guides exist for how one increases their Latin and Greek abilities. There is a fourth part that I did not mention in my main body of text because it might not pertain to every person but something that I personally have done with great effect is to look up the grammar rules or tendencies in a prose composition book and then to use specific constructions in my speaking as often as possible. Exempli gratia, I might look up indirect questions with utrum and find that they end in necne to mean ‘whether I will ______ or not,’ and pepper that into my speech as often as possible.

Ultimately, this may not help you but it sure helped me. We all love Latin, that is why you are reading this, but, for me, doing this for my Latin renewed my zeal for the language in a way that never could have happened for me otherwise.


-Andrew Morehouse

A Letter from Latin Summer Camp

Collegis peramantibus Linguae Latinae Stephanus SPD!

I hope that you are returning to your academic responsibilities well rested and refreshed, in part from some time given to mental and physical recreation during the summer. I have two things to report on myself along these lines: 1) I retired and 2) I attended the Conventiculum Bostoniense (CB) in Salem (MA) for the first time.

As regards #1, I became eligible for the Maine Public Employees Retirement System this July through my work as a public school teacher decades ago. I’m only a little more than vested in the system, and can say it’s a heckuva good thing this pension isn’t a major part of my retirement planning.

But this additamentum nummorum will make the Conventiculum Bostoniense more affordable for me, which is good news. This summer gathering is a rollicking good time and just a boon for one’s Latin—even for senes like me.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, a conventiculum or conventus is a Latin immersion experience at which experienced Latin speakers share their ideas. Conventūs are more like conferences of professional organizations, whereas conventicula have more characteristics of a workshop. Also, conventicula are, generally speaking, an American species (although the Conventiculum Viterbiense took place in Italy this summer). Also, conventicula in my experience include a formal agreement/pledge/oath to use only Latin for the duration of the program. Beyond this I think it’s hard to generalize: conventional classroom experiences, lectures, model classes, excursions, group singing and skits and other dramatic performances can and do all figure in the mix.

I hardly consider myself a conventiculum connoisseur, but I have attended five summer conventicula, run by Terence Tunberg and Milena Minkova, at Dickinson College and also one meeting of LVPA (Latinitati Vivae Provehendae Associatio) in Poznan, Poland, in 2014, prior to this summer. What distinguished the Conventiculum Bostoniense in my experience was the number of instructors and assistants, the quality of their spoken Latin, and their diverse interests. This year, for perhaps 40 attendees, there were four instructors (all faculty at U Mass Boston) and five assistant instructors, themselves quite an international group, which makes for an instructional ratio of 1:4-5. The spoken Latinity of these instructors and assistants ranges from good to the equal of any I have heard anywhere in the world.

Let me outline my criteria for describing someone’s skill at speaking ex tempore Latin. What I am interested in is having the experience of comprehending Latin without recourse to translating it. Because of the way I was trained (and I do not intend any criticism of my mentors here), unless the Latin speaker is quite fluent, I cannot have this experience—the translation “switch” will not stay off in my head. So, to me, fluency is of prime importance, followed by lexical accuracy (recognizing that one might find oneself listening to a specialist in Classical, Christian, or Neo-Latin), followed by grammatical accuracy. I notice grammatical mistakes (it’s what I was trained to do) but try very hard to to focus on them. Speaking Latin is hard work for the majority of us.

In these terms there are several Latin speakers on the Conventiculum Bostoniense faculty who are truly astonishing for their fluency. For the first time in my life, I had the experience of listening to Latin for twenty or thirty minutes without the appearance of a single thought in English popping up in my head.

Others may have other, equally valid criteria.

What of high school teachers and college instructors who are first-time speakers? There were a number attending this summer, and (to judge from the group debriefing at the end of the program) the experience was rewarding but tiring, stressful, and led to real frustration for some.

The underlying reasons for the frustrations that many Latin teachers experience in these immersion workshops is worth a separate blog post. In general, it is important, I think, for an immersion program to provide a support system or safety net for participants who are feeling stressed. The Conventiculum Bostoniense does do this, although I can’t report on how well it works. Certainly the faculty is aware of the problem.

But—and let me emphasize this—the Conventiculum Bostoniense is not an intellectual boot camp. In fact a great strength of the program is its overall sense of play—of true recreation. Some instructional sessions are peripatetic, using the environment or the group to generate examples to focus on. We reviewed ablatives absolute and double datives in this way (both constructions that are incredibly useful when speaking Latin and which many speakers neglect). Scavenger hunts (one in downtown Salem, the other at the excellent Peabody/Essex Museum) are a wonderful way to take your mind off of how you’re saying something and to focus on what you want to communicate. Time for physical recreation (playing kickball or basketball, doing yoga) is planned into the instructional day. Singing (in both formal, instructional settings and informal ones) figures prominently among the activities. And board game playing in the evening is a way to encourage group socializing.

The range of interests of the Conventiculum Bostoniense teaching staff deeply enriches the program. We were offered sessions on ancient music, paleography, the work of the Mexican Neo-Latin poet Francisco Cabrera, and the uses of a well-designed web site for Latin teaching, in addition to the for-credit courses that comprise the academic “meat” of the program. I found this Smörgåsbord approach both stimulating and appealing. I should mention that all attendees enroll in a graduate-level course, either in active learning methodologies or in a literature topic. Inexperienced speakers take the methodologies course. Those who have attended both courses in prior years, who are over 60, or who are college faculty have an audit option at a reduced fee. I believe that this mandatory enrollment in a course is unique among American conventicula.

I most certainly plan to go again, more physically fit and with more pairs of comfortable shoes. Curate ut valeatis!

Quid agitur? (September 3rd)

∙Visit the CANE News page, which lists CANE-sponsored events, events connected to Classics throughout New England, and events around the country of interest to students and instructors. ∙The first CANE Discretionary Fund application deadline is Sunday, Oct. 1.
∙The New Hampshire Classics Association (NHCA) Annual Classics Day for Teachers is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 22nd, 9:30-2:30 at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett. See the calendar on the CANE News page.
∙The Boston Area Classics Calendar has a lot going on, and a weekly email digest of upcoming events.
∙If you live in the western Massachusetts, northern Connecticut, or southern Vermont area, note Amherst College’s list of upcoming lectures in the Pioneer Valley.                                                     ∙In the Boston area? Check out the Active Latin Meetup page for events.
∙Links to the New England states’ classical associations: NH, VT, ME, MA, RI, CT. There seems to be no current link to the VT association. Libertasne sine unitate?