Tuesday, December 20, 2011

End of teaching semester

Well, it happened again. The semester ended for the classes I've been teaching. Once again, I had the singular pleasure of teaching the Vulgate as a first point of unadapted Latin. I really, really, really love using the Vulgate (aka the Bible in Latin) as my first spot of Real Latin™.

I remember my first encounter with Real Latin™: Julius Caesar's de bello Gallico. It was somewhat confounding. I didn't have a strong grasp on reading Latin as we used a pretty grammar heavy textbook. Then all of a sudden, I found myself faced with Caesar. Who were the Latobrigi? Why did I care? Why did the Helvetii want to move? There were countless tribes and Roman politics mixes up with tribal politics. It was a tough enough getting meaning out of the Latin, but once I had done that what did any of it mean? A frustrating experience. (By the way, I don't blame my teacher. I should only hope to have half of her skill.)

Mind you, I tried the de bello Gallico once with students. It was a slog and a chore. I vowed to never do that again. Ever.

I've turned instead to the Vulgate. (Actually, I let the students choose, but I created bias in the Vulgate's favor by saying it is easy.) Now, obviously, working with homeschoolers who are mostly Christian, this is a hit. But for those of you who aren't Christian homeschoolers, I'd like to make it clear why I think this is a great choice.
  1. Many of the stories should be familiar in wider culture—students already have the context for the story
  2. Even if they aren't familiar with the stories, these stories are alluded to in BIG LIT. 
  3. Many of the stories are pretty short. The Tower of Babel, for instance, hauls in at 145 words. Students don't feel overwhelmed by the length of any selection.
  4. No nasty Ciceronian periods. This makes sense, since the Vulgate was written for common people.
  5. Medieval Latin is ever so slightly different from Classical Latin. It gives me, as the teacher, many points to go in and review grammar. Particularly indirect speech. 
Obviously there are pitfalls. The biggest is that the stories are familiar. I was always cautioning students to forget what they knew of the Bible when working with the Vulgate. By this, I mean that they need to forget "Let there be light." when they get to "lux fiat." They mean the same thing, but there is a difference. Pitfalls notwithstanding, this is the best way at real Latin that I've found.

The upshot of all this is that we got through about 6,000 words of Latin this semester. Obviously, it isn't a race to see who can read the most in the shortest time, but I really feel that there is something to volume in beginning reading. The more you practice a skill—in our case, reading Latin—the better you get at it. So if I have to sacrifice reading a few chapters of Caesar, well, so be it.

Now to get off my duff and polish up my materials for publication.