[This is the second part of the article; the first part can be read here.]
The purpose of such a study is not—and I say this again so as not to be misunderstood—to go shopping in Latin or to use Latin as a living language, as one might English (which many people learn in order to take a plane or book a hotel, and not to read Shakespeare), but to reclaim for Latin its nature as a language, as described above, which has been denied to it for so long in favour of a written approach to language study, which is ultimately understood as the study of grammar at the expense of vocabulary, pronunciation and, in general, of the organic nature of the language (we will discuss shortly the so-called traditional method, as well as the inherent pitfalls in an active method that is not approached with care).
Now that we have clarified that, in teaching, use of the target language is neither a hindrance nor a game, but is very serious and also quite demanding—not only for the students but also for teachers who aren’t used to it, especially at the beginning—, it seems to me that the purpose is to employ a rigorous and efficacious method that will guide us to where we want to go. Personally, I do not believe in shortcuts; in other words, I do not believe that use alone will enable us to learn any language well—that is to say at such a level as to understand a classic work of literature—without studying it in a focused and disciplined manner; nor do I believe that an excessively analytical approach, that is almost mechanical and a bit abstract despite its being methodical, can lead us toward a deep knowledge of a language, without engaging an oral or written aspect.
The direct, or natural, approach devised by Rouse was later refined by H. H. Ørberg, author of Lingua latina per se illustrata, who called his method the “nature,” or inductive-contextual, method, precisely in order to differentiate it and to further specify how, by following the nature of the language, one can arrive at reading and comprehending the classics more quickly. The characteristics of this method are:
– centrality of the oral aspect (and thus pronunciation), without negating the importance of writing;
– association of the sounds of the target language with things that those sounds refer to, without passing through translation, at least at the beginning;
– presentation of the language in context and within real situations;
– engaged learning through the use of the senses and imagination, stimulating the curiosity and the engagement of students;
– use of the inductive method: from employing thoughtful repetition of in-context use of the language to the formulation of a rule, the acquisition of words and locutions, etc.;
– gradual introduction of language teaching (from most important to less important aspects; from most frequent to less frequent aspects, etc.), without sacrificing any aspect that constitutes a language (grammar, vocabulary, style, prosody).
Basically, the teacher, especially one who is not accustomed to using the language actively, can structure the lesson in the following way:
– using targeted single images, as well as other related images, that can be connected together to build a story or narrative; introduction of new words and grammar, according to what is possible based on the skill-level of the students;
– oral questions to verify comprehension of what was said;
– targeted reading on the part of the teacher (appropriate to the meaning and the situation), that is articulated and pronounced clearly (with words grouped together according to meaning), and guided inductive reasoning (observing the images in the text, the marginal notes, and grammatical phenomena);
– continual asking of questions while reading the chapter in order to confirm comprehension of the text and to employ grammar and vocabulary;
– at the conclusion of each chapter, ordering the grammatical points together systematically, which the students have learned inductively and have already practised by answering the teacher’s questions;
– introducing many exercises of varying kinds.
This type of proposition is by no means less serious, simplistic, or is no more artificial than the so-called traditional grammar-translation method, both because it requires an intensive learning environment, in which the students are totally engaged (since they are listening, speaking, reading, and writing), and because the language is being taken in its totality, without leaving anything out and with everything being introduced gradually; and despite this approach being different as compared to the traditional one, it is by no means less valid.
If, therefore, the nature method as such is closer than others to the ideal path of learning that we have described above, it is nonetheless not immune to pitfalls inherent in applying the method incorrectly. Mind you, I am referring to a method, not to a textbook or merely to the active use of Latin, which could be questionable and certainly ineffective, if not anchored by a method that guides the student from point A to point B, according to precise means and reasonable timelines. I would therefore ask the reader to maintain a certain nuance, and not to confuse everyone who uses Latin with those who support the method I describe. In fact, some of the supporters of spoken Latin even go so far as to theorize that Latin is, for all intents and purposes, a living language.
In many continuing education courses I have taught in Italy and abroad, I have encountered three kinds of teachers: enthusiastic ones who, as such, sometimes go from using to abusing Latin by employing it in ways that are not always appropriate or correct; skeptics who criticize the active use of Latin, thereby also criticizing millennia of tradition, saying that it’s silly (but in doing so they are giving the impression of mixing apples and oranges and not entering into the merits of the question, which can’t be reduced merely to the use of Latin); and those who are doubtful but curious, have come up against the limits of the so-called traditional, grammar-translation method. The teachers would like to change (even though they may not admit it) but are afraid to because they would have to change old habits, they might feel they don’t have the time or energy to learn not only a whole new way of teaching but a whole new way of thinking about Latin. Based on my albeit limited, but nevertheless significant experience, this last category is the largest. If in fact things were working, if the grammar-translation method (which is also the most widespread) were truly effective, we would not have such an exodus of students (obviously due to other reasons as well), they would not be falling over themselves to throw away their Latin textbooks, and we would not have to take initiatives such as throwing parties, which by now has become necessary to attract young people to the study of classical languages.
That things in schools are not going well—and not just recently! —is undeniable. Also undeniable is that many teachers are having to try to invent something new in order to engage students. And it is equally undeniable that an increasing number of teachers are considering employing the active use of the language, perhaps just for fun, in order to spark student interest.
So, what are we to do? Given that ad impossibilia nemo tenetur, and given that even the best teachers would find it hard to do a good job if they didn’t have sufficient time to prepare, it would behoove us, first of all, to put aside any prejudices, meaning all of those insufficient and inappropriate adjectives we apply to Latin, as we have said at the outset, which do not allow us to see it for what it is: a language, albeit a historic and cultural one, but above all a language. If we could convince ourselves of this, we would be able to easily see the pitfalls in the nature method, that is to say inductive-contextual, as well as the limits of the so-called traditional, grammar-translation method, and consequently to improve our teaching.
Let’s examine the pitfalls of the nature method:
– excessive reliance on use of the language and the somewhat cursory learning of it by ear, so to speak, at the expense of an analytical approach necessary for gaining full awareness of the linguistic phenomena of the language being studied;
– improper use of the language on the part of teachers, who generally do not receive adequate training; after all, if they make mistakes, the students will as well. In reality, it is not latine loqui itself that is to blame, but latine prave loqui. Is this any less true for any other language?;
– incorrect application of the method: the teacher decides to use the nature method, but then in class, by and large, keeps doing what he did before using the grammar-translation method, or a hybrid approach that confuses the principles stated above. This is a frequent mistake, also because, objectively, it is not easy for a teacher to leave aside what he has been accustomed to doing for so long and to replace it with something new.
And we could advance two more objections that we hear from time to time.
First: texts are often made up, in the sense that they are not classics, and thus they are not written in “real” Latin. Given that they do not seem any more made up to me than so many of the short sentences one finds in books written according to the grammar-translation method, and that even the concept of “real” Latin needs to be better defined as well (does it include only the Latin of Caesar and Cicero or also that of Plautus and Augustine?), who of us would insist on guiding our students toward reading the works of Dante or Shakespeare by giving them phrases of those authors to read? And students don’t read authors like Dante and Shakespeare until they’ve been studying Italian and English for at least ten years! Someone might say that Italian and English are living languages. But so what? One can’t understand Dante sic et simpliciter just because it’s Italian. Reading Dante and Shakespeare requires study, diligence, and time, because, like Virgil, their works are classics and are the final point of arrival of the study of those languages, not the point of departure. So, looking at it closely, it’s quite possible to use made-up texts to begin learning a language, but made-up does not by any means signify fake. The important thing is that they are correct from a grammatical point of view, appropriate from a lexical point of view, and are gradual and functional.
Second: those who use the nature method are not able to translate. Here, too, it seems to me that we are confusing the incorrect use of the method with the method itself, and, more generally, confusing translating with knowledge of the language, as if the goal of studying a language were knowing how to translate it. In reality, translating is nothing more than a consequence of knowing a language, and this is true not only for Latin, which one translates from, but also one’s native language, which one translates to. In sum, translation must be done not in order to understand a language but after one has understood it. The only reasonable advice is not to translate immediately. Let’s start by immersing students in the language; let them hear, speak, read, and write (in Latin!); and then, only after formalizing the concepts they have learned, they should translate. Perhaps at the beginning—at least for native Italian speakers—you don’t have to explain every single thing, because many of them are similar in Italian, and this also allows you not to hinder the flow of learning on account of excessive analysis; but again one should translate, making sure to offer texts to the students that are appropriate to their knowledge level, and not texts that are too onerous for shoulders that are not yet strong enough to carry them.
I’m leaving out other things I have heard, and that confirm my opinion, which is that many people confuse the nature method, which in reality is extremely rigorous, with a loose use of spoken Latin that does not include the study of grammar. Can a language be learned, especially one that is not living, without studying grammar? Absolutely not! Whoever says this is doing so in bad faith, or is at the very least guilty of superficiality.
After many years I would argue that the limits of the so-called traditional, grammar-translation method have been confirmed:
– lack of a close connection between words and things, which is fundamental for learning any language. Students do not connect the sounds of the language with their meaning, but instead connect the written word to its equivalent in their mother tongue: instead of connecting the word mensa to the mental image of a table, they connect the word mensa to the corresponding word in Italian (or in their own language), and what follows is that they have to translate to understand;
– inadequate learning of vocabulary, also because it is studied without the mnemonic support of a meaningful context, but with improbable phrases disconnected from each other: the notorious Rosarum et violarum coronas ancillae portant; or Nimia aviarum indulgentia puellis nocet—and the list goes on;
– somewhat abstract mechanical study of grammar: students are often able to say things about the language, and by and large describe it, but they do not know the language, since, after studying for many years, even the best students have trouble understanding even ten lines of Latin with a dictionary. In sum, analysis alone is not sufficient.
Based on what we have said up to now, I think we can confidently conclude that there is often confusion in the classroom between two concepts that are related but nonetheless different: knowledge of the language and knowledge about the language. The grammar-translation method tends to describe the language, to provide students knowledge about the language, while sacrificing knowledge of the language, which instead is what is at the heart of the nature method, or inductive-contextual; which in turn, if poorly understood or applied, runs the risk of sacrificing analytical aspects of the language in favour of knowledge of the language.
The ideal approach would be unum facere et aliud non omittere, to obtain a complete understanding of a classical text in its original language. The fundamental question is the following: why read the classics in Latin? The few authors that are read or, better yet, interpreted in schools have already been translated many times: why spend energy on learning Latin? I have given a personal answer to this question on a different occasion; what I wish to emphasize is that it is not, and never will be, an equivalent experience to read an ancient text in Latin and in translation, and not because of any alleged failings of a translator, but because a classical text, for the very reason that it is a classic, is a work of art, and every art form has aspects that cannot be translated. Is it the same experience to see the Pietà of Michelangelo in person and in a photo; or listen to a live musical performance and a recording?
If, indeed, Michelangelo’s art is found in his unique sculpting technique, the same is true for a writer, whether in prose or verse, namely it is his unique writing style that distinguishes him from all the others. Let’s take, for example, Sallust, Cicero’s and Caesar’s contemporary, as everybody knows. Let’s take the well-known incipit of the Catilinarian conspiracy (boldface mine):
 Omnis homines, qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus, summa ope niti decet, ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit.  Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est: animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est.  Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa, qua fruimur, brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere.  Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.
In this passage Sallust displays a concept that is by no means unique to him, but is classical in the full sense of the word: the supremacy of the soul over the body. From Plato (see, for example, the Phaedo, 28) to Saint Augustine this concept is, as we know, one that runs through all Greco-Roman antiquity. Why does it have to be read and enjoyed in Latin? Because that is precisely where the art of this passage is found, i.e., in the language, the choice of word order, as Malcovati (Enrica Malcovati, De Catilinae coniuratione, Paravia, Torino, 1939) demonstrates in her commentary, from which I draw much of what follows.
Let’s begin from the initial omnis, which has a clear archaic flavour, to then observe sese, which, even if well understood, becomes superfluous upon closer inspection because studere, just like velle, cupere, and the verba voluntatis et studii in general, usually goes with the simple infinitive when the subject is the same in both clauses: in this case as well in which, by the way, the pronoun is doubled for emphasis—we are dealing with an archaic and popular usage. The locution vitam transire, though immediately understandable, in reality is not at all common, because usually it would be vitam agere, or ducere, but Sallust (as we already see in this first line) does not like common expressions. In oboedientia finxit we find instead the so-called heroic clause (consisting of a dactyl and spondee closing the hexameter), which Cicero purposely avoids, being mindful of Aristotle’s teaching (qui iudicat heroum numerum grandiorem quam desideret soluta oratio, Orator, 192); but Sallust has different tastes as compared to Cicero. The sed, then, does not have its usual adversative force, but is needed here as a segue, and corresponds to ‘autem’ (‘now then’), as Servius already observed (Aen., X, 411: ‘sed’ modo inceptiva particula est, ut in Sallustio saepius). Next we must note the placement of nostra: Sallust does not say omnis vita nostra, as might be more natural, but places nostra at the beginning to emphasize the contrast between us human beings on the one hand and animals on the other. It is well known that Latin, especially archaic Latin, did not like abstract words and expressions, but Sallust distances himself from that usage, following instead a tendency that would grow from the Augustan age onwards: he says, therefore, animi imperio and corporis servitio instead of animo imperatore and corpore servo (cf. Bellum iugurthinum, I, 3: dux atque imperator vitae mortalium animus est). At a first glance, the following ipsa might seem superfluous: why not simply say vita qua fruimur brevis est? But ipsa has its usual oppositional force, as in the expression ipso die (‘that very day, not another one’), and here vita is contrasted with memoria nostri. In the word maxume we find another archaism: the superlative suffix –umus, which in Sallust is never –imus. In fluxa atque fragilis we note the consonance at the beginning, which is an archaic feature that Sallust liked (just think of the ancient rhythmical formulas of the Romans: proverbs, prayers, exorcisms, and legal maxims). At the end, in the phrase virtus clara aeternaque habetur, where habetur does not mean ‘is considered’ but ‘is possessed, is in our power,’ we can sense from the asyndeton and the brevitas that the stability of virtue is contrasted through antithesis to the transience of the glory divitiarum et formae fluxa atque fragilis, which, in the structure of the sentence itself, extending from the copulative conjunction, has a fluid and transitory quality.
If we wish to hear the true voice of classical authors instead of their pale echo, we must not only read and understand them in Latin, but we must be able, with the aid of adequate guides and tools, to grasp and savour their art. In our case, it is evident how Sallust’s language is utterly his own, and how it is very different from that of his contemporaries, Caesar, and Cicero: it is his brand, so to speak; his art. It is the immortalis Sallusti velocitas, which Quintilian describes (Inst. X, 112), as well as illa sallustiana brevitas, qua nihil apud aures vacuas atque eruditas potest esse perfectius (Inst. X, 32).
(Translated by Oscar Luca d’Amore and Jennifer K. Nelson.)
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