It’s been a few weeks since I got back from Rome now. Living Latin in Rome was definitely unlike any other language learning experience that I’ve had. We visited almost all of the usual touristy sites (and some not as well known ones), but I think we got so much more out of every place we went than many of the other people there by using the sites and the entire city as a classroom. The spoken Latin helped me learn Latin faster than I ever have before. I had doubts about the merits of the spoken Latin movement beforehand, but I’ve been converted. With that said, I wish we had had more opportunities for it each day. Once we left the classroom, we often had to focus on learning more Italian so that we could get by in the grocery store each day and around Rome. Having to split my focus and attention between two languages was definitely not ideal, but there wasn’t much that could be done about that.
I met all three of my goals that I set for myself before I left. I can definitely hold an informal conversation in Latin now. I could always use some more practice, but I can follow a conversation pretty well now. At the beginning of the program, I was completely lost. I can also read more fluently now with much fewer pauses for parsing and looking up definitions. Having to navigate my own way around the city each day also forced me to learn the geography of the city pretty well, and I feel fairly confident in my knowledge of where the different historical sites are relative to each other.
I think the biggest change in my perspectives caused by my summer abroad is my view on the modern spoken Latin movement. I was skeptical before of its merits and usefulness, but after experiencing how quickly it improved even my reading speed and comprehension, I’m completely on board with it.
My advice for someone else applying for an SLA grant or studying languages abroad in the summer would be to immerse yourself as much as possible each day in the language. Speaking it with your roommates at home and just when you’re hanging out is extremely helpful. Any extra practice you can get helps a ton. Take every advantage of the immersive environment you can while you’re there.
I plan to continue taking Latin classes throughout college, including some non-Notre Dame classes through telepaideia. They offer online spoken Latin courses for fairly cheap throughout the school year. I won’t earn credit for it, but it will help me with my Latin. Some of the my roommates and I also talked about getting dinner once a week during the school year and speaking Latin then to keep up our practice.
A strong knowledge of Latin will be extremely helpful going forward with my interests in philosophy and theology. I even have a class this coming semester that includes Thomas Aquinas much of whose nuance and argument is easier to understand in the original Latin. I like being able to refer to the Latin when I have a question about what the author exactly means. That was helpful last semester when we got to St. Anselm’s Proslogion. I also enjoy being able to read Church documents and the writings of the Church fathers in the original Latin. I gained more reading comprehension through the SLA grant than I ever have with any other single class. The exposure I gained to different authors and eras of Latin also showed me new material that I had never heard of before. I especially liked the Renaissance Latin. This exposure showed me an abundance of Latin reading material that I never knew existed. Having gotten a small taste of so many different authors’ writing styles will definitely help decide which Latin classes to take in the future and which Latin I’ll enjoy reading just for fun in my free time.
I’m currently waiting for my flight in the Rome Fiumicino airport for my flight back to the U.S. Our program just dropped us off a little while ago, I’ve got a fun 9 hour wait ahead of me. I’ve got plenty of Latin to read and review in the meantime, though.
This past week we visited San Clemente, the Colosseum, Horace’s Villa, and the Forum. The Church of San Clemente has excavations below it containing another 2nd or 3rd century Christian Church, with a home purported to be St. Clement’s. Below that Church are the remains of a 1st century Mythraic Temple. At the Colosseum, our class had a debate in Latin, and at the Forum we recited memorized sections of Cicero’s Third Catilinarian near the Temple of Concord where he would have given it. We read and recited a number of Horace’s Odes at the Fons Bondusiae while we ate a picnic lunch near Horace’s Villa.
Overall, the program was great and I learned a lot, though I wish the classes were a little bit more rigorous and that we had more practice with spoken Latin built into our classes. The best regular parts of the program were the site visits with tours in only Latin which were really challenging and helped with fluency. Seeing the different sites around Rome and gaining an appreciation for where they are located relative to each other was extremely helpful, too, for reading comprehension when authors reference different locations around and near the city.
We spent the last night at Piazza Garibaldi overlooking the city.
We’ve continued our practice of both Classical and Medieval Latin, with visits to St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, the Villa d’Este, and Hadrian’s Villa. We’ve also been practicing memorizing sections of Cicero’s third Catilinarian oration in preparation for performing it in the Forum later this week. In addition to all of that, we’ve also moved into reading some Medieval Latin in connection with our visits to the Knights of Malta and San Clemente.
As usual our visits have included periods where our teachers explain different aspects of the site solely in Latin, and we’ve stopped to read inscriptions that we find along our way. Reading passages about a place before going there and hearing our teachers use the same vocabulary to give us tours has really helped my vocabulary learning lately, since I get to hear the same words used about the same subjects within several days of each other, but in different contexts.
They also brought a speaker (the founder of SALVI – a spoken Latin organization in the U.S.) in last week to give a talk on the history of the modern spoken Latin movement and resources and programs that are available to us if we’re interested in continuing with similar approaches for learning Latin.
We also had dinner in the excavated theater of Pompey last week which was amazing. The Italian food has been fantastic the entire time. The heat has remained pretty brutal, however, with the continued heat wave in Europe.
This past week we visited the Amphitheater of Maecenas, two Benedictine Monostaries, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Villa Borghese. We also took a day-trip to Florence where we went on a walking tour of the city, including the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo. That afternoon we broke up into different groups to visit different sites. I chose to go to the Uffizi. Afterwards, we all met back up at another Benedictine monastery for Vespers in Latin. Throughout our visits, we stopped to read Latin inscriptions where we found them. At the museums, our teachers also continued to give us tours in spoken Latin.
To get ready for our visit to Florence, we started studying and reading more Medieval and Renaissance Latin this week, including accounts of St. Benedict and St. Francis, the Donation of Constantine, and writings by Poggio Bracciolini and Lorenzo Valla. We discussed some of the differences between them and classical Latin and how some Renaissance men attempted to return to classical Latin. We particularly focused on the Donation of Constantine for this and how Lorenzo Valla disproved its claims by examining it philologically and showing that the Latin used did not match the period in which it claimed to have been written.
This coming week, we’re going to continue working on Renaissance Latin, before we return to Classical Latin for the last week.
So far, the program has been great. The Latin immersion is helping my reading speed more than any other Latin class I’ve taken. While we do traditional classroom instruction 4 days of the week, often site visits are almost entirely in Latin. Our tours through Sperlonga, the Capitoline, the Catacombs of St. Priscilla, the Ara Pacis, and Pompeii were only in Latin. I can follow most conversations and directions now, but responding is still pretty slow for me. I’ve found that my grammar is pretty good already from my previous Latin classes, but my vocabulary is not up to par since most of the translation I’ve done has not been conversational Latin. My reading speed is already much better, however, and I’ve been practicing vocabulary on my own in addition to our scheduled classes.
I was used to being able to take my time on translation before, since for most Latin classes, you prepare you translation beforehand and are able to use a dictionary when needed. With Living Latin in Rome, we are often expected not only to translate on the spot and sight-read, but also to follow conversations and respond quickly. I can already tell that I’m finding it faster and easier after just two weeks and speaking has also helped my reading speed.
Our site-visits each week also help to put everything in context for me. When reading texts, I actually have a reference for where things were relative to each other and how far apart they were. Knowing the geography of Rome has also helped my reading speed since I can better understand what the authors are referring to.
So far, we’ve visited the Campus Martius, the Capitoline, Sperlonga, the Forum, the Palatine, Ostia, the Ara Pacis, the Catacombs of St. Priscilla, the Naples Archaeological Museum, Vesuvius, Pompeii, and Cumae.