Friday, 20 March 2009

Learning Latin

A little side note to my earlier post on different approaches to learning. As a medieval historian, I had to learn Latin to get by. As a medieval historian who went to his local comprehensive school, which has probably never even considered teaching the language, I had to learn it from scratch as part of my MA.

Cue a twelve week course in the language, at the end of which... I couldn't speak or read Latin. No matter how useful being taught the basics is, no one can learn a dead language with a different grammatical structure in the course of three months. What I did instead was to struggle with a dictionary and a grammar book for the next few months until gradually I started to pick up phrases, allowing me to understand the bits of the language I actually needed to get by.

I mention this because, until recently, I thought that I was alone in this. That all the other medieval historians could read the language fluently, and would be quite happy chatting away to Bernard of Clairvaux, should he stop being dead long enough to pop round for a cup of tea. Perhaps this is because the pair of medieval historians I'd spent the most time around did have that much of the language. Then, one of my lecturers happened to mention to a couple of people doing the MA that he'd learned bits of Latin in much the same way I had, which made me feel rather better about the whole thing.

I supose what this adds to my thoughts on learning amounts to two things. One, it's a pretty good example of the usefulness of experience, since my work has left me able to translate at least the bits I need quite easily, and able to slowly work through difficult bits if I need to. Two, it shows the benefit of what you're learning having an immediate application. It means you get far more practise, and you know that you're not learning something that you'll never use.


trickylittleimp said...

I also went to a comp, but was extremely lucky to be taught Latin at 13, and then went on to do GCSE. I love language, and this was a delight - and sadly, a privilege you weren't able to enjoy, 'cos you had to do it under such pressure! If you have an anal brain or love language, the slowness of a long course is brilliant! My equivalent of your Latin course is perhaps something you love - bleedin' gobbets from medieval monastries' scriptoria, working out when & where they were written, based on the language. Agony - could have loved it but loathed it instead! If only I'd had a tutor who was so sympathetic!

stu said...

Ah, paeleography, the bane of any normal existance, but actually not that useful for me. I tend to work from pre-14th century things that were copied into chartularies in that century, so if I want a date, I've got to hope that someone shows up in the witness lists who I recognise.

Christina said...

I have met only one other medieval historian and he was talking about the same thing with learning Latin. That is really neat. The medieval time is one of my favorite eras.

Brian Barker said...

I see that Boris Johnson, the new London Mayor wants Latin and Greek to be taught in all London schools. However I would prefer Esperanto on the basis that it helps all language learning.

Five British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic values. The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester and the initial encouraging results can be seen at,%20S2L%20Phase%201.pdf
You might also like to see

Pope Benedict also used this language this year in his Urbi et Orbi address from the Vatican, at Christmas.

If you have time can I ask you to visit or Professor Piron was a translator for the United Nations in Geneva.