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How to Communicate in Latin More Efficiently

Dear Professor Arguelles,

I understand that you are very busy, but I hope that you have the time to give me some advice on learning how to communicate in Latin more efficiently and thoroughly using your shadowing and scriptorium methods. I have come to believe that learning how to actively use a language is the best way to learn how to read a language. I am a forty-year-old husband, father, and federal civil servant for the US Army, so I have a limited amount of time in the day to learn Latin and read the Great Books of Western Civilization. That said, I would at least like to eventually become a fluent reader of Latin and Ancient Greek (and possibly other languages), and read and reread as many of the Great Books as I can before I die.

I began learning Latin about six years ago, but factoring in the break I took from it I estimate that I have been actually learning the language for about five years. My studies have consisted of:

– Working through grammar-translation distance education tutorials with Dr. Richard LaFleur (http://www.wheelockslatin.com/tutorials/home.html)

– Latin I & II tutorials

– Ovid tutorial

– About half of the Aeneid tutorial

– These tutorials focused on parsing Latin texts, but Dr. LaFleur stressed the importance of understanding the Latin in Latin before translating it into English. There was only a minimal amount of communication in Latin between Dr. LaFleur and me in these tutorials.

– Working through the Lingua Latina per Se Illustrata (LLPSI) series with the help of a tutor (https://www.hackettpublishing.com/lingua-latina-per-se-illustrata-series)

– Currently in Capitulum XXXI of Familia Romana

– Meet virtually with the tutor and director of Schola Latina, Magister Roberto Carfagni, once per week for one hour (https://scholalatina.it/en/our-team/)

– The lessons are entirely in Latin, and while he keeps the Latin as simple as he can I often struggle to understand what he is saying, and I struggle even more when we read a text I have never seen before. While my facility with communicating in Latin has definitely improved, I feel that facility would improve even more if in between lessons I were to supplement reading LLPSI with shadowing.

– Periodically listening to Latin podcasts and watching Latin videos. I understand very little of these podcasts and videos, even the ones labelled as being for beginners. The Latin just moves to quickly for me to comprehend it.

As I mentioned above, I am interested in adding your shadowing and scriptorium methods into my Latin-learning regimen. However, I am not sure of what materials to use.

Lingua Latina is entirely in Latin. I could possibly shadow and do scriptorium exercises for the chapters I have already worked through. However, this book is meant mainly to teach the student how to read Latin, not necessarily how to communicate in it. Although, I believe most contemporary Latin teachers who teach their students how to communicate in Latin use this as their main textbook. Recordings for the first thirty-one chapters are available here: https://www.amazon.com/Familia-Romana-Hans-H-Orberg/dp/B0084LQGFA. Recordings for these as well as later chapters are available here: https://www.patreon.com/LukeRanieri.

– I ordered the Assimil Le Latin set under the assumption that my Latin was probably good enough to skip to the phase of shadowing in which I am looking primarily at the target language. (I have forgotten all of the very little bit of French I learned in high school.) After reviewing Assimil’s Le Latin sans Peine on Archive.org, I realized I will most likely not be able to do this because the text does not seem to slowly progress through Latin grammar but jumps right into the middle of it. I found myself having to parse and translate sentences even in early lessons. I will take a closer look once the Le Latin set arrives.

– One possibility I think I can make work with your methods is using Adler’s Practical Grammar for Speaking and Writing Latin (https://books.google.com/books?id=GJgAAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false).

– The format is not as ideal as Assimil’s, but this is an English-Latin bilingual text.

– There is a full audio course for this text by Magister Evan der Millner that includes Latin-only readings. (https://www.latinum.org.uk/beginner/adler)

– There is an answer key to the exercises that will help in the later stages of shadowing and provide additional scriptorium exercises. (https://archive.org/details/keytoexercisesco00adle/page/4/mode/2up)

Are there any other materials or advice you can offer me beyond what I have listed above? I would greatly appreciate any help you could provide in learning how to communicate in Latin more efficiently and thoroughly.

Very Respectfully,

Chad Privett

My reply:

Dear Mr. Privett,

Thank you for writing such a detailed letter on such an important topic, and for your patience in my delayed response, allowing me to answer it here in such a way that will benefit not just you but many others readers. Learning to read Latin is one thing, learning to speak it, think in it, and write it, is another altogether because so many methods, and so many teachers, focus only upon reading. In point of fact, being able to speak it and think in it makes you an infinitely better reader, but somehow we have lost sight of this fact over the past few centuries.

First of all, let me say that I applaud your resolve to master the foundational languages of our civilization and to engage in using them to read the Great Books for the rest of your life, this despite the fact that you are leading a busy personal and professional life that is not directly tied to such scholarly pursuits. The world needs more well-rounded citizens like you!

Now, in terms of materials, methods, and teachers, it sounds as if you already have or are on the track of a great deal of that which is out there to aid and promote the use of living Latin. However, if I gather correctly, your issue is not so much with mastering the content of the manuals, but with understanding spoken Latin, whether it is by your tutor speaking directly to you in a slow didactic voice, podcasts for beginners, or the recorded audio you have been able to find for various methods. Is that correct?

If so, this obviously affects your ability to use my shadowing methodology. So let me ask you a question: how comfortable do you feel reading aloud? This is a skill you need to develop in and of itself for learning any language, but it is particularly valuable for learning to speak a “dead” language like Latin. One reason you cannot understand what others are saying is probably because you do not have the language resonating within you. It is easier to get that feel with your own voice than with the voice of others. So, first and foremost, please trust yourself and your ability to pronounce it passably in order to do this. Once you are comfortable with this, record yourself doing so and then… shadow yourself! As it is your own resonance, and you will be saying things you have read (therefore studied and understood) this will be easier than listening to others. Unless I miss my mark, once you have done this for some time, listening and understanding others should be that much easier.

Of the materials you have listed already, I think that Adler’s grammar, particularly its answer key with its question and answer format, is particularly adapted to this (as are the exercises from Lingua Latina per se Illustrata more than the lessons themselves). There has been so much material published for learning Latin over the centuries that you could well track down a host of other titles, and, if this works for you, I can in the future recommend some other dialogue type texts. For now, let me just add one title to your collection as it is also particularly suited to reading aloud, recording, and shadowing your own voice (again, the exercises perhaps even more so than the text): William G. Most’s Latin by the Natural Method, whose 3 volumes are freely available in PDF form from multiple sites.

You haven’t mentioned as much how you hope to use Scriptorium in your studies, but I would suggest that you do so with the same materials that you read aloud, record, and shadow, focusing first and foremost on question and answer formats.

I hope this is enough of an answer, at long last, to be helpful to you! This Question and Answer format on my new website does allow for correspondence, so we can continue to document your progress here for others to read, though I also hope and imagine to make your personal acquaintance soon in either a Latin reading and discussion circle and/or a Great Books circle.

With best regards and all best wishes for success in your studies,

Alexander Arguelles

Dear Professor Arguelles,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. You, indeed, correctly understood my problems. I am comfortable reading aloud, and I have been doing this since the beginning with Wheelock’s Latin per my former tutor’s advice. However, rarely with Wheelock or with LLPSI beyond the first few chapters have I immediately understood what I read. Now that I am in LLPSI, I read a sentence aloud, reread it silently for understanding (trying to stay in Latin as much as possible), and then reread it aloud again before moving on. Once I complete the exercises for a part of a given chapter, I read the entire part aloud one final time. At this point I understand more, but I still don’t understand everything. Fortunately, I have come across this wonderful curated list of graded Latin novellas that I can read fluently (for now): https://magisterp.com/novellas/. I started right with Magister P.’s “early beginner” novellas, not the most engaging because these are written for secondary-school students and I’m forty-one, but very useful nonetheless. I was reading these silently before bed, but based on your advice I will spend fifteen minutes a day reading them aloud. These novellas make up a smaller part of a larger graded Latin reading list meant for a student to complete before beginning Roma Aeterna. That list can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HKuSLALK5A5m9ffmfM5pvjAZXHNr7XuW/view?usp=sharing. My current Latin tutor had me jump right into Roma Aeterna after completing Familia Romana, even though he is familiar with many of these other books and is co-author of Epitome Historiae Sacrae. I’m sure he has his reasons, but in the meantime I will continue reading these books aloud in order of difficulty, and hopefully, fluently.

Thank you also for the shadowing advice. Once I complete Adler’s Latin Grammar using Magister Millner’s audio for the entire textbook, I will type out only the exercises, record myself reading them, and then shadow them per the advice you gave for the second phase of shadowing in the “Shadowing Step-by-Step” video. I will also do this with other textbooks until I feel it is no longer necessary. And, thank you for the recommendation for Most’s Latin by the Natural Method; I had never heard of it before.

I am doing the scriptorium per what I believe is your advice in “Shadowing Step by Step”. Unless I’m off, each cycle consists of eight passes over eight descending chapters: blind shadowing, teaching-language shadowing, teaching-target-language shadowing, target-teaching-language shadowing, teaching-language shadowing, read closely, read aloud, scriptorium. Of course, this required an up-cycle period at the beginning of the textbook and will require a down-cycle period at the end of the textbook, before transitioning to the second shadowing phase.

The Roma Aeterna readings are still quite difficult, but my ability to communicate in Latin has improved since I first contacted you. I am sure your advice will help me to improve both my communicative and reading ability even more. I hope between fluently reading aloud the books meant to precede Roma Aeterna and practicing your shadowing and scriptorium techniques I will soon be able to read Roma Aeterna and converse with my tutor more fluently. Also, I am now occasionally dreaming in Latin.

Finally, I am doing shadowing and scriptorium with both Kendrick’s (Attic) Greek Ollendorff and accompanying audio files (by Randy Gibbons) I found on Archive.org a while back, and ASSIMIL’s French. Perhaps your polyitis is contagious?



My reply:

Dear Mr. Privett,

Thank you for the progress report. Thank you also for providing the links to resources that others who find this thread interesting may also find useful. In that regard, let me suggest one more resource that is very valuable for developing the ability to speak and think in Latin, namely Thomas Prendergast’s Mastery Series Latin Manual, which is similar to Adler, but with marvelously convoluted and therefore complex sentences.

I understand your commitment to working through Roma Aeterna, and when you have mastered that you will certainly have a much better grasp of the language as a whole. However, given your stated interest in developing the ability to think in and speak the language, I personally found Adler, Prendergast, and Most to be of greater value, so do try to integrate these into your routine and let me know if your dreams start to reflect Prendergast’s imagination.

With best regards,

Alexander Arguelles

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My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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