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History of "Modern Language" Latin teaching.

I've been doing some research into the development of the idea of teaching the classical languages using modern intuitive methods.

An early 'modern method' teacher, called Jean Manesca, appears to have written the first fully developed modern language course in the early 1820's - designed for French, he was keen to see it adopted for the classics, and actively promoted the idea. His "Oral system of teaching Living Languages Illustrated by a Practical Course of Lessons in the French through the medium of English" was entered at the library of Congress in 1834.
In his introduction, on pg xix, Manesca writes

" If I have not spoken of the advantages that may be derived from the present mode of teaching applied to dead languages, it is not because I entertain the smallest doubt of its efficacy in that particular; for, on the contrary, I am confident that many years of toilsome, tedious, and almost fruitless labours, would be saved by the adoption of such a method for these languages. A well disposed young man, between eighteen and twenty, well versed in the principles of his mother tongue, would, in twelve months, acquire a sufficient knowledge of Latin or Greek for all the purposes of life. Such a consideration well deserves the attention of the few scholars competent for a task which would prove so beneficial to the present and future generation of collegiate students. The present modes of teaching the dead languages are sadly defective. It is high time that a rational, uniform method should be adopted"

Shortly afterwards, Henri Ollendorff adopted Manesca's methodology, and produced the famous series of books using the 'Ollendorff' method, which follow Manesca extremely closely. I have revived Manesca's course, which I am using together with Ollendorff's French textbook, on http://fancyfrench.mypodcast.com , as it is well suited to podcasting, although the French isn't contemporary street French, it will be good for reading Balzac!

As I sit here, I hold in my hands a copy of the "Nouvelle methode pour apprendre, a lire, a ecrire et a parler une langue en six mois, appliquee au Latin" - by H G Ollendorff, written in the 1840's. Adler's American edition, which I am using was an extensive revision of Ollendorff's first Attempt - Adler includes the grammar - Ollendorff's French text is extremely light on the grammar, and is almost entirely intuitive, learning is based on practice alone, not theory. The book has 600 pages of very fine print, with copious, and I mean copious exercises. Adler also expanded the Latin text, resulting a much higher quality textbook, with much more elegant Latin, and a wider variety of examples based on the historical classic sources.

The French-Latin Ollendorff was, as far as I can ascertain, the first textbook written in modern times aimed at teaching Latin as a spoken language, using 'modern' methods - I don't think Manesc'a method was ever translated directly into Latin or Greek, although it did appear in a Spanish edition written by Carlos Rabadan. Albert Brisbane's Biography, where he describes in some detail his private classes with Manesca, says that he studied Latin using the same method. If Manesca ever wrote up any Latin exercises, I would be very keen to obtain them - perhaps they only survive in manuscript among his papers. The Ollendorff version went through several editions, and was quite popular for private pupils, but it was never taken up by schools for teaching Latin. Adler's American edition seems to have suffered the same fate, and copies of it are very hard to come by.

So, when people discuss teaching Latin as a spoken language, using modern teaching methods that involve speaking Latin in the classroom, it should be realized that this methodology has a long pedigree, it isn't the new fangled and dangerous thing that some Latin teachers seem to think it is.

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Comment by Laura Gibbs on August 14, 2007 at 6:17pm
Hi Evan, it's very revealing indeed to take a look at previous Latin teaching materials; Google Books has opened up such a great window into that VARIED tradition of Latin teaching.

I have a sympathetic but different take on the way that modern language teaching can benefit Latin language students. I came to Latin as a student of Russian and of Polish, two of the most heavily inflected modern European languages (Polish has three genders, and the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative cases, some with quite complex consonant mutations in addition to the actual ending, etc.).

So, having learned to speak Polish, learning Latin with cases was a very natural thing.

Learning to speak Polish was greatly aided by being able to go to Poland, live there, and really shed English by speaking with people with whom I had no other language in common except Polish.

Now with Latin, we are in a bind, it seems to me - because spoken Latin is never going to offer that same kind of living language opportunity because it is simply not a living language (pace all the folks who enjoy speaking it; speaking Latin does not make it anyone's native language).

So what I always recommend to serious students of ancient Latin or Greek is to study Russian or Polish. That gives you a facility, a true facility, with inflection, free word order, etc. In my experience, there are enormous benefits of being a fluent speaker of a highly inflected language like Polish... benefits that are rather different from the benefits of doing oral Latin. Oral Latin is a fine thing, too, but there is a great deal to be said for encouraging folks to study living inflected languages where they can actually GO to a place and experience it with true immersion in contact with native speakers, as opposed to classroom immersion or the faux immersion of Latin conventions, etc.

Comment by Molendinarius on August 14, 2007 at 7:27pm
I agree with the plausibility your hypothesis about Polish and other inflected modern languages.

However, the reality is that most students of Latin or Greek would be unlikely in the extreme to take such a course - maybe one in a thousand could be persuaded to do so, after they graduate from College - which is why building up virtual or classroom based immersion spaces is the only realistic alternative at secondary school level, if we are serious about creating students who a. don't drop out of the course, and b. who actually end up by being able to read fluently with enjoyment.

Of course, if all Latin teachers concentrated on oral proficiency, it would be a different story, as then we would have a community of Latin speakers, at least at University level.
Comment by rolando on December 2, 2009 at 1:20pm
El español o castellano, es una lengua romance, derivada del latín, que pertenece a la subfamilia itálica dentro del conjunto indoeuropeo. Es la lengua nacional de España y la oficial de México, de las naciones de Sudamérica y Centroamérica —excepto Brasil, las Guayanas y Belice—, de las naciones caribeñas de Cuba, Puerto Rico y la República Dominicana, de la nación africana de Guinea Ecuatorial y goza de protección constitucional en el estado norteamericano de Nuevo México. Además, es oficial de varias organizaciones y tratados internacionales como la ONU, la Unión Europea, el TLCAN, la Unión Latina y la OEA; cuenta con unos cuatrocientos cincuenta millones de hablantes, entre los que se incluyen los hispanos que viven en Estados Unidos de América y algunos cientos de miles de filipinos, así como los grupos nacionales saharauis y los habitantes de Belice, donde el idioma oficial es el inglés. also for a better sex life Generic Viagra is the solution.El español está conformado por un 60% de vocablos del latín, 10% del griego, 15% del árabe, 10% de lenguas germánicas y 5% de otras lenguas.[cita requerida] Esta lengua también es llamada castellano, por ser el nombre de la comunidad lingüística que habló esta modalidad románica en tiempos medievales: Castilla.


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