It is always fascinating to hear of people talk about trends in teaching
Latin – particularly when this is aimed at the idea of teaching Latin as a
modern language would be taught. Adler’s huge and trendy textbook for
conversational spoken Latin was written in the mid 1800’s.
I have before me a remarkable trendy little book by WHS Jones, (1905)
called “The Teaching of Latin”.
On page 29 Jones writes:
” The lessons with beginners should be for the most part viva voce. The
amount of time that can be saved by using the spoken speech for grammatical
drill is very considerable, and there is the added advantage of making Latin
appear like a living tongue. The benefits arising from the use of viva voce
methods will be increased if the reformed pronunciation be adopted. If used
from the first, boys experience no difficulty in it.”
Suppose a boy has just learnt the sentence
“pater meus rosam pulchram in horto suo habet”
The teacher may ask the following questions:
1. quis rosam habet?
2. qualem rosam habet?
3. quid in horto suo habet?
4. ubi rosam habet?
The answers are:
1. pater meus habet rosam.
2. pulchram habet pater meus rosam.
3. rosam in horto suo habet.
4. in horto suo rosam habet.
However, Allen acknowledges that translation is needed, not as an ideal,
which would be to surround yourself with the oral language so as to “pick it
up” by “unconscious generalisation” (pg 34), but because the ideal is
unavailable. (Unless you have an ipod and Latinum’s repository of audio
files, unavailable in 1905)
Also Allen notes, where grammatical knowledge of the students is imperfect,
the natural method should be used – teaching declension tables is useless,
rather, for example
“mensa hic posita est” the table is placed here
and “tango mensam” I touch the table, and other such sentences, impart the
content of the declension, with related sentences such as mensa longa est,
tango mensam, color mensam niger est, etc. After the meanings of the cases
are so mastered orally in Latin by the class, the teacher gives the
Allen goes on to give further examples. It is a pity that a manual for
teachers based on these methods has not been written. A structured resource
book of this nature would be invaluable for classroom use.