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Audiocassettes, Anyone?

Two new audiocassettes for Latin were published last year, piquing my interest in audiocassettes for Latin in general. I decided to review what was available for current textbooks in use in Texas, both the two adopted texts, the Cambridge Latin Course and Latin for Americans, and others that are used privately, Ecce Romani and the Oxford Latin Course. The two cassettes that got me thinking about this topic originated with the indefatigable John Traupman. The first is made to accompany his Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency text published by Bolchazy-Carducci. The other is a set of drill tapes accompanying his new Lingua Latina from Amsco.

There are, of course, tapes of Vergil, Horace and other authors available from the American Classical League, the Classical Association of New England’s Resource Center, and other sources, but I did not go beyond tapes for beginning Latin. For a listing of what is available we now have "Dr. J’s On-Line Survey of Audio-Visual Resources for Classics," at, which wasn’t available when I began this review.

There are two types of audiocassettes available: drill and reading. Only two of the audiocassettes had any drilling: Latin for Americans and Lingua Latina. The Lingua Latina audiocassettes complement the text and build oral/aural skills, forcing students to use actively the Latin which they are learning. The pace of these cassettes is swift, which encourages repeating sections for practice and speed. The speakers are engaging and pronunciation is clear and consistent throughout with a few exceptions (the occasional pronounced V), though the pronunciation differs slightly from what I was taught.

The exercises are diverse and of differing levels of difficulty. The easiest consist of simple transformations (i.e., nominative to accusative). Many utilize culture to drill forms, thus reinforcing cultural items without taking time away from the study of the language itself.

For example, one of the earliest exercises reviews nominatives, accusatives and Roman geography. The instructions are to listen and then repeat the Latin. (The arrows represent when to repeat.)

Italy is a peninsula.
Italia est paeninsula.>>

Misenum is south of Rome.
Misenum est infra Romam.>>

When the genitive is introduced we are to modify the sentence "The cottage is small" to incorporate the indicated genitive, then we are to repeat the correct answer.

Casa est parva.
of Faustulus>>
Casa Faustuli est parva.>>

All of the characters in the story of Romulus and Remus are used in the exercises, as well as amici, pueri, gemini, and others. This set of exercises works the grammar in context, as do most of the exercises.

I particularly like a section that reviews Latin expressions of time. The first section simply asks for you to repeat the Latin.

for many days
multos dies>>

on the next day
proximo die>>

These are followed by adding the indicated expression of time to the sentence provided and then repeating the correct answer (and reviewing a bit about the Trojans in the process):

for many days
Troiani navigant>>
Multos dies Troiani navigant.>>

on the next day
Ad Cretam navigant>>
Proximo die ad Cretam navigant>>

Latin for Americans begins with good intentions but ends up being, I’m afraid, absolutely useless in its execution. Compared to Lingua Latina (or any good oral drilling you might do yourself), the pace is painfully slow and the sets of exercises far too long. While the Lingua Latina cassettes have short, simple sentences in context focusing on one particular aspect of the grammar (such as the casa est parva drill above), Latin for Americans usually lacks any context, avoids working any particular point of usage and instead focuses on transforming singulars to plurals or changing tenses. One would think, looking at the accompanying script, that you could pick a few of the better drills to use, but because of the poor execution, it would be far better to just adapt the drills for your own use and discard the cassettes, or just make your own cassettes with the help of your students!

Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency (CLOP), Ecce Romani, the Oxford Latin Course, and the Cambridge Latin Course all have recordings of their passages. The first of these, CLOP, has some passages that would provide a good review of certain aspects of culture or grammar. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the chapter which reviewed the house, discussing the different rooms and their location. Another good section, I thought, was on phrases/expressions of time. Why not review and reinforce with a fun dialog? Unfortunately there is some background noise on some of the dialogs, but not all (thus Bolchazy-Carducci is selling it at a discount). Some of the voices on different dialogs do not record as loudly as others as well—a bit of inconsistency. However, the pronunciation is clear throughout and there are a variety of voices, male and female. John Traupman’s voice, beautiful and natural, was clearly the best.

The last three sets of audiocassettes are similar in that they all offer dramatic readings of passages in the related textbooks so that students can hear Latin spoken by someone other than their teacher. On the strength of that alone, using the cassettes–even infrequently–would be worthwhile.

The Ecce Romani and the Oxford Latin Course (OLC) cassettes both have good readers (including Ken Kitchell as Cornelius on the Ecce Romani tapes) with crisp pronunciation and good expression. Both include all of the stories from the text on the cassettes. The OLC also has comprehension questions at the end of the readings and provides answers. I was puzzled, however, by the use of English/Arabic numerals for each question–why not Latin/Roman numerals? OLC also includes the captions for the cartoons introducing the new grammar.

The first three Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) cassettes immediately strike the listener as far more than "readings." They are true dramatic productions complete with realistic sound effects and full crowds for the tavern and street scenes. Best of all, the pronunciation is beautifully fluent; you feel as if you are listening to real Romans. Not every story in the text is reproduced; only those suitable for dramatic treatment are included. Especially effective and moving is the enactment of Stage 12 with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which students using any text would enjoy listening to and reading along with.

Unfortunately, the tape for Unit 4 is not a British production as the others are but made by the NACCP. The pronunciation is still good but it consists only of "readings" as opposed to the dramatic productions which set the CLC cassettes apart from the rest otherwise.

The prices, with one notable exception, are $25 per cassette or less. Lingua Latina, four cassettes, costs $100.00, and includes a script. Latin for Americans I, 6 cassettes and also with a script, costs $375.00. Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency is only $10 because of some background noise (mentioned above), clearly a bargain. Ecce Romani costs $32.97 for two cassettes for level 1; OLC costs $19.95 per cassette (parts 1 and 2 are together on the first cassette); CLC costs $22.95 per cassette (Units 1 and 2 are together on the first cassette).

I found it unfortunate that the Lingua Latina tapes, clearly the best of the drill tapes, did not include recordings of the readings in its textbook. Likewise, I had thought that oral drills in context, such as are found on the Lingua Latina cassettes, would perfectly accompany the reading texts such as CLC, but none are to be found. Nevertheless, eclectic teachers have always borrowed from other texts and the same can always be done with these audiocassettes. 

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July 30 , 2001

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