I am sometimes asked about articles I've published (but not that often!). I thought it would be handy to post them here.
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The Cambridge Latin Course, from its inception, boasts that it produces true readers of Latin. Unfortunately, most of us here were taught Latin "the old-fashioned way", with lots of grammar, declining, conjugating, translating into written English, and very little training in how actually to read Latin fluently. In college, I was a diligent student. I prepared for class for hours just so I would seem halfway intelligent. But I had a horrible suspicion that I would never make it in grad school. Why? Because I could not read Latin fluently--or even semifluently. Nevertheless, I went on to teach high school using the old Ben Hur Jenney text, happily declining and conjugating and writing out tons of translations in something resembling English.
In the fall of 1992 I became the editor of the Texas Classical Association. I had left classics a few years before, disenchanted with my first year in the classroom and feeling that there was something wrong in the way I had been teaching Latin. Now it was time to find my way back to classics through being an editor and to try to give at least something back to all my teachers and professors, even if it was only through producing publications for the association.
In the summer of 1993 I read "Decoding or Sight-Reading? Problems with Understanding Latin" by B. Dexter Hoyos of Sydney, Australia in Classical Outlook. It was what I had been looking for for years--an explanation to what I was doing wrong. I was a first-class decoder. My eye was trained to find the subject and then the verb at the speed of light, zipping down past all the tangled clauses and phrases in between. What I couldn't do was start with the first word in the sentence and take each word as it came. I never knew you were supposed to with Latin anyway.
The article, plus my correspondence with Dexter Hoyos, led to the creation of the manual, Latin: How to Read it Fluently. I have had a copy for a couple of years, but it wasn't until fall of 1998 that it actually was published by the Classical Association of New England and made available to others.
So, I confess upfront that virtually nothing in this talk is an original thought of my own. It comes directly from Latin: How to Read It Fluently, which is available from the CANE for only $5, and I have 20 copies here that I've been given permission to sell for CANE which you can purchase from me during a break.
Hoyos' manual provides some basic, logical rules for truly reading Latin--rules that can be practised and put to good use, thereby opening the possibility for reading not just a handful of lines of Latin at a go, but pages if not whole books, like others do studying modern languages. Let us now go straight to the rules, which you have on the handout. I'll also put them up on the overhead. And let me add Hoyos explains each rule with a kind of clarity I cannot possibly do justice to without resorting to reading his manual outloud, which I will refrain from doing until the end.
Rules for Reading Latin (Prose)
When we are teaching our students to read, especially early on in a reading text such as the Cambridge Latin Course, it is vitally important to stress learning the endings. Criticism of these texts often consists of the storyline being so easy to follow that learning the endings often seems unnecessary to students. But lexical meaning is only half of a Latin word--the easy half to register. Thus extra time and practise will be needed to train the brain to register endings.
Reading a sentence all the way through completely will also require practise and diligence, especially with a long periodic sentence for which several readings may well be an absolute necessity.
It is critical to recognise the structure IN SEQUENCE. So often the main clause has little meat to it, as we shall see in a moment, and the true action is held in the series of clauses and phrases. And here is something that may be difficult for a lot of students (I know it was for me): reading without translating.
Understand first, then translate. We are not stuck thinking like decoders anymore. By following the rules that we have so far, it is much easier to see that Latin is not a word for word code. Once we truly understand the sentence or paragraph, then we can more easily write an intelligent translation, or better yet, our students can write an intelligent translation free from awkward phrasing from time-consuming decoding.
These first five rules are the basic rules and can easily be taught from day one in a Latin class.
(We'll look at these arches in a moment.)
Let's look at a few arch diagrams. Although they are difficult at best to use with a typical lengthy Latin sentence, unless you have a very wide sheet of paper, a shorter or truncated sentence or even just a phrase can demonstrate this concept clearly.
(my apologies for the poor scan below)
Something that might be handy in demonstrating this concept in class and
giving students a little practise with it, would be printing up something
like this and putting it in a page protector. Then students can draw the
arches on top, deciding where the phrases start and end (and perhaps
discussing WHY the author felt the words beginning and ending the phrases
More useful, perhaps, is what Hoyos calls a Line Analysis in which you can easily demonstrate word groups and sentence structure without taking the Latin out of its order. This Line Analysis is simple to do and is an extremely useful tool that you can have your students do.
Here's the passage under discussion, which you will also find on your handout:
I think it is well worth quoting directly from the manual here:
"[This passage] opens with the subject of the Main clause: Tum Sabinae mulieres, ... (and note the comma--punctuation again). From just these three starting words the reader rightly expects that:
The same logical principle of LOGICAL EXPECTATION guides you through the rest of the sentence. Its format can be analysed by putting each word-group on a new line:
This can be termed a "line-analysis", about which more below. It is important to note that this layout does not affect the word-order. It shows, though, how each word-group contributes a particular detail--an action, a description or a psychological feature--to the developing sense of the sentence.
Another very important point: each word-group is placed where it is most relevant.
Thus the format of [this passage], which to a new reader's first glance might look like an indigestible tangle of verbiage, turns out to be commandingly rational. Just as important, the reader can learn to follow and understand this format while reading it--eventually, even when reading it for the first time."
And that's where I'll end quoting from the manual.
The Cambridge Latin Course is a wonderful text for training students to read Latin. But the text can't and doesn't do it all. As teachers we need to be aware of what constitutes good reading skills and how to avoid the pitfalls of decoding. The best thing about these rules is that they can be taught from day one. They should be posted on the walls in all secondary classrooms or even printed on bookmarkers to keep in Latin texts, to remind the student that they are learning to read a rich, vibrant language, not decode a secret message.
* * *
(this version of Fluent Latin was presented to the NACCP, Summer 1999 and differs slightly from that which was published in the Ecce Romani Newsletter.)
Latin: How to Read it Fluently by B. Dexter Hoyos can be purchased through CANE's Instructional Materials.
July 30 , 2001
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