Wednesday, August 13, 2008
More on Spoken Latin
A short while ago I wrote a little post on the benefits of spoken Latin. Today, as I was wandering through the library stacks, I came across a little book which was published in 1669 entitled A New Way of Teaching Children the Latin Tongue by Use Alone. Originally published in French under the title Examen de la Maniere d'Enseigner le Latin aux Enfans, it was translated into English or, as the title page says, "Englished out of French". I flipped it open and, lo and behold, he was arguing that spoken Latin was the best method of learning the language. The standard "grammar/translation" method, the author argues, is not the right way to go. He cites the example of a small child whom he met and who, at the age of about four, "knowing no other Language, but Latin, [used] the same as other Infants do their Mother-tong". The author apparently talked to him twice and found that "it hath ev'n the dexterity to vary the expressions, when it is oblig'd to say often the same thing. It commits no fault in the Inflexions, and is not only exact in what it speaks, but with a strange quickness taketh up and corrects those, that speak not right" Imagine having your Latin corrected by a four year old!
The author's point is basically that, this kid has a greater command of the language than those who learned Latin the standard way, and, since he [the kid] learned Latin through mere use and conversation alone, that this appears to be the best method. For, we learned our mother-tongue without being drilled on declensions and conjugations, moods and voices. Why not employ the same approach with second languages? Montaigne's first language was, apparently, Latin: he was only spoken to and could only respond in Latin when he was a child. Moreover, this in no way impaired him from learning French: he is considered one of the finest writers in the French language. Though, to be fair, we have to take Montaigne at his word in this; he relates this in one of his essays.
Languages were made not only to be read, but also to be spoken. I see no reason why Latin should be any different: using a language makes learning it a heck of a lot easier. Anyone who can find this little book should read it; rather humorously he treats some objections to his views, one of which is that "mothers shall not understand their own children"; the author thinks that one's first language should be Latin and their "vulgar" tongue learned later. To be fair, this is a bit extreme, perhaps. However, he does see the immense benefit of speaking the language, which is something I can definitely appreciate.