Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Brushing up the language of the Caesars

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I started doing Latin in middle school – Latin was not part of the curriculum, but my Italian teacher was really old school and he considered Latin to be essential fr the intellectual education of us kids.
Which makes sense.
This meant I got to high school – where Latin was part of the science curriculum – with a basic knowledge of the language and grammar.
It was a disaster.
For the first time in my student life I faced teacher hostility – I was “the upstart” who had “cheated” by studying Latin before.

latin

What was really shattering to me was my poor performance in translating Latin.
I’d be the first to acknowledge that my knowledge of the grammar was not organized and orthodox, but I did have a knack for languages (or so I thought), and translating Latin had never been a problem for me.
And yet all my translations came back loaded in red marks.
My average score was 3/10.
And while all students in my class had started poorly as I, suddenly, after the first trimester, a lot of them made a quantum leap and started getting very high marks, while I kept being a disaster.

I would learn what the problem was only two years later, after I left that school.
It turned out our teacher, that was on her first job, had a “quick and dirty” tool to correct our translations: she had a book with the translated texts, and simply compared our works to the printed version.
Any divergence from the printed page was considered an error.
Even synonyms, or a different arrangement of the word order were enough to deserve a red mark.
Then one of the students found out about the book, and divulged the fact among her circle of friends. They bought the book, and suddenly became ace students.
The knowledge of this resource spread through the usual student channels or, if you prefer, by cliques.
And I was one of the four or five that were left out.
My problem was not one of Latin, it was one of popularity.

Latin-header-615

The following year I changed school, and I had a long talk with my new Latin teacher, explaining her my track record was abysmal, but I was willing to work hard to improve.
She was very understanding.
Then there was the first test, and I came up with a perfect 10/10, and was duly summoned in the teacher’s office and asked if I was trying to pull her leg.
Because it turned out I really had a knack for languages.
For the rest of my high-school career, my Latin remained firmly in the 8/10 average.
Then I stopped practicing it, because it had little or no weight in my academical work (apart from species names).

And my knowledge of the Latin grammar was, let us say, impressionistic, and certainly it did not improve.

51XwnqiK8IL._UY250_But now it turns out adding Latin to my CV might be a good idea as private lessons to middle and high school students could be a nice extra source of revenue.
And so, I’m taking the next sixty days to refresh my Latin, focusing not so much on translation (I’m still good at it), but at learning grammar in order to teach it.
Which is different from learning grammar and that’s it.
I’ll start with half hour a day on my old but reliable Teach Yourself Latin, a good starter point to review the basics and get some order in my dusty old memories.

It’s very different from looking into Latin to spice up my Aculeo & Amunet stories – I’ll have to be more organized and orthodox.
But turns out Latin is going to be a strategic skill for making a living in the near future, so on we go.

In the meantime, I have found a nice course in short lessons on Youtube and an absolutely wonderful thing called Nuntii Latini, managed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company – basically a podcast featuring the daily news in Latin.

And if you know of other resources, please point them out in the comments – everything helps!

 

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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