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.