Latin: Bringing People Together Since 753 B.C.

Today CANEns is pleased to have a guest article from Bethanie Sawyer, a Latin teacher at Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, MA, in which she discusses how she uses Finnish Radio Latin News in her classes.
I admit I have missed the boat on using oral Latin in the classroom. I like the idea, I’ve learned a lot of great ways to incorporate it, but in recent years I find that I just… forget. So now with a new teacher evaluation system, student learning goals, and technology goals, I am finally forcing myself to include Latin as a spoken language in my curriculum.
Putting it that way makes it sound like a miserable chore, however. On the contrary, part of my plan in making student learning and technology goals that included oral Latin was an excuse to have my students listen to Nuntii Latini – or, as I like to call it – the Finnish Radio Latin News.
If you are unfamiliar with this, Nuntii Latini is a four to five minute news program entirely in Latin broadcast every Friday on the Finnish radio – it was started in 1989 but has been made available in recent years on the internet. Usually consisting of four to six short reports, Nuntii Latini covers stories from the election of the new pope to the situation in Syria to Berlusconi’s tax fraud to the best way to keep tulips blooming in a vase. The transcripts of the report are available and the audio can be downloaded or streamed from the website.
Nuntii Latini is a treat for my students – they love it. Our classes have a scheduled half-block (about 25 minutes) in the language lab every week, so with the upper levels, we have been alternating a day of practicing our reading of dactylic hexameter with listening to the Latin news. Latin is often overlooked when it comes to language labs – again, my students are not at a level of Latin composition or conversation – but we can go to the lab, listen to the news, read the text, and I can send them vocabulary and questions, which they then can work through with randomly assigned partners and answer in a document that I then collect – without any of us touching a piece of paper. (Technology goals, eat your heart out.) But a lab is not necessary – all you need is some reliable internet and a set of speakers.
But Magistra (you – or, rather, other people not language teachers – may ask), the text of the audio is right there on the website! Why not just read it? What do you gain from listening to it as well? This, o comites, is what I love best about Nuntii Latini. It reminds us all that Latin is a language – still a living one. Just because there are no native speakers of Latin alive to discuss current events doesn’t mean that people cannot use the language to report it.
The news stories are not America-focused, and for many students, the Latin news is the first (or only) place they will have heard of the events. There is no English on the page (aside from links to articles about the site in English-speaking journals); the instructions for how to stream or download the audio is in Latin – or Finnish. Unlike most of the Latin texts we read, it is not anywhere translated on the internet.
Students hear (and see) their vocab words from Ovid mixed in with ‘new’ Latin words like microparticulae (microchips) and telephoniculae (cell phones). No, they’re not practicing speaking Latin, and they certainly would have a lot of difficulty with comprehension if the text were not available to read, as well, but I still find that Nuntii Latini is a great resource and activity. One of the aspects of teaching Latin that I like best of all is the opportunity to share with students perspectives of a culture other than their own, that still has a connection to their own. We do this by learning of ancient Mediterranean societies, of course, but the Latin news allows us to see what other countries currently may be thinking about, and experiencing, and finding most important. I think that is so valuable to education in general, and specifically to a language course. The fact that we are able to get these perspectives because of Latin being a living, active language that students can hear and understand – well, I can’t think of anything better.

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Links for the Week of 11 November

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