Every summer more and more Latin teachers take advantage of opportunities around the country to get together and speak Latin For many it is a chance to connect with old friends and immerse themselves in the language. Others, many of whom have studied Latin language and literature for years, have their first opportunity to actually produce the language and converse in it.
This was a particularly exciting year for spoken Latin. Nancy Llewellyn and John Kuhner conducted some amazing outreach with Latin teachers and students in South Africa. SALVI offered two differentiated, week-long programs led by Justin Slocum Bailey of Indwelling Language. And, Latin made a huge splash at the NTPRS conference, thanks in large part to the efforts of Keith Toda and Bob Patrick, along with Justin and many others. (Nota bene – There are many Latin immersion events, which I haven’t yet had the opportunity to participate in. It’s wonderful to know that nowadays we can’t keep track of all of them.)
A question that frequently comes out of these programs is how to continue developing proficiency in the language throughout the year. As I and many others have talked about this issue, trying to provide some guidance for people new to speaking Latin, a common thread emerges: The best speakers of Latin read Latin. I recommend you check out this video by Indwelling Language and Musicuentos, which backs up this anecdotal evidence with scholarly work on the importance of extensive reading for developing proficiency.
Unfortunately, data from the National Latin Survey, conducted in 2013, suggest that less than 20% of Latin teachers read material not related to their classes on a consistent and frequent basis (at least once a week or more). So, how do we start to change this?
As with things like diet and exercise, it is easy to see the results in people who have already mastered a particular habit and lifestyle. What is less clear is the path they took to get there. Over the next few months, as I try to cultivate my own reading discipline, I’ll be doing research on motivation and habit forming. In the mean time, I’m going to work on this discipline just like exercise, using a Couch-2-5k type of approach. I hope that others will take this challenge on and provide feedback on what does and doesn’t work. I want to hear from people who struggle with things like motivation and fitting this important practice into a busy life. Maybe together we can start to develop a step-by-step program which will get us all further up the ladder of proficiency.
The official challenge will start next week. This week your task is to pick your intended reading, and get your team together. Here are a few suggestions.
Read something comprehensible and interesting. This one is most important. Many people, myself included, tend to overestimate what they are able to read fluently and with full comprehension. While I may enjoy trudging my way through Pliny or Seneca, and can do so while remaining truly in the language, the reality is that they are work. Whatever you’re reading must also be interesting enough to keep you wanting to read.
Spend the next week looking at a few different texts. This could be a translation of something you already know, like Harry Potter, some medieval or neo-Latin works, or anything else, as long as it is simple enough and compelling.
I’ll be reading Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri. If you’re not sure what to start with, read this. The beginning is somewhat graphic, in a Greek tragedy sort of way, but the story that follows has kept me plenty engaged, and reminds me of the Arabian Nights, or the Voyages of Sindbad.
Keep yourself accountable. Find some place to record your daily reading. Recruit some friends to do the challenge with us, and tweet your progress using #LatinReadingChallenge so that others can help keep you motivated.
Be consistent. Once you’ve picked something to read, stick with it (unless you determine that it’s just too difficult or uninteresting, see above). Also, plan to read at the same time every day. What that time is will depend on your schedule and personal preference. I’m going to plan and do my reading in the morning, soon after I wake up. Decide on these things now, so you don’t have to think about them later. Once choice and willpower enter the equation, it’s a recipe for failure.