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Former Latin Discipuli Speak: Ari

This is a guest post from my friend Ari, a teacher in Northern California and a very old amicus. My friends Ari, Amber and I all initially learned Latin at a public middle school with a specialty program for the highly gifted. The textbook we used was Jenney’s Latin. Now as adults, we all have differing opinions about whether or not learning Latin was a good idea. THANK YOU Ari for you insights!

Ari’s Thoughts:

There are so many more worthwhile subjects to teach 3rd graders than Latin. If the argument for Latin is that Latin forms the trunk of the Romantic Languages tree and when students reach their teenage years they will be able to acquire fluency in a branch language, like Spanish, relatively easily, I would strenuously disagree with that conclusion. As you pointed out, your background in Latin did not give you a head start on Spanish. In fact, I think the opposite is true: Latin would actually retard the acquisition of a new language. In Spanish class, I was constantly looking for cognates that I recognized from Latin to help me make sense of a sentence. This approach was OK for reading comprehension, but was a hindrance to aural comprehension and speaking extemporaneously. I never learned Spanish words as Spanish words, rather I decoded them via Latin to English. I could say that I was never “in the moment” as an active listener in Spanish class, rather I was a beat or two behind as my brain sorted out earlier words.

Also, since Latin isn’t spoken anywhere – with the notable exception of Catholic Mass, which actually uses a version of Latin that is different than what you and I learned – I never was forced to think on my feet like I would if I had to hold a conversation in a foreign language. The skill of using context clues to estimate unknown vocabulary on the fly is more important than slowly deciphering a word via roots and affixes to grasp its definition. Latin is an academic language: I could probably still parse a written sentence, but if I heard a spoken Spanish sentence I would struggle to match subject with predicate.

I’d also add that teaching Latin represents a Eurocentric view of the world. Latin wouldn’t help you learn Mandarin or Cantonese which are likely to be very important languages in which to have fluency in the future.


4 Comments

  1. Claire H. says:

    The Latin used in the Traditional Latin Mass is the same but the pronunciation is slightly different than the classical one (it’s closer to Italian). I haven’t yet decided whether to go with the classical or the ecclesiastical pronunciation when my kids start Latin. Part of me is leaning towards the ecclesiastical because that’s what they hear when we attend the TLM. However, I’m more familiar personally with the classical pronunciation since that’s what we studied in my high school Latin classes.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I think Ari, Amber and I must have learned ecclesiastical pronunciation. I remember Magister telling us a story about a war that was averted in England once, because the British pronunciation of Latin is not church, not ecclesiastical, but entirely messed up (according to him). I forget the exact details, but the British diplomat said something really insulting in Latin like “this means war” or something, but the other European people did not understand him, so the incident they were arguing about was able to be patched up with diplomacy instead.

      • ari says:

        I think we actually learned classical Latin. I remember Mr. Gray teaching us a version of “Dona Nobis Pacem” in which we pronounced the “c” in pacem as a “ch” (pachem). Later Mr. Stansel “corrected” my pronunciation to a “hard c” sound (packem). I’ve heard several children’s choirs sing the “ch” version leading me to suspect that is the ecclesiastical version.

      • jenbrdsly says:

        I think you are right!

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