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Regarding the issue of fluency - my general experience has been that those who are self taught seem to a have more sensible goals, and a more sensible methodology for studying Latin, than students taught in most school programmes. Through not knowing any better, they are aiming for in Latin what they would expect to aim for in French, German etc - an ability to command the language, its vocabulary,and its idioms.

It is a very educational experience to click through the profiles of the members of Schola - over 1300 now, and growing at the rate of about 3 new members a day. A very high percentage are autodidacts. They are mostly coming to the language alone, but encountering a community of people who see fluency as a goal. They have role models to look up to, people to emulate, like Terentius, and Aloisius. This, in its turn, influences their learning goals.

I find it relatively sad that almost everyone (not absolutely everyone, but almost) I have met with communicative ability in Latin, and an ability to read and discuss a random Latin text, in Latin, has perforce had to acquire that skill in isolation. Certainly, many of those I have met whose goal is command of the language, are autodidacts. We have discussed before why this should be so. Some have suggested these are particularly 'driven' learners. I am not convinced. I just think they are learners who are allowing themselves to follow a more natural progression of language acquisition.

Those who really want to improve now, at least we have a functional Latin audio chatroom, where we can speak a bit every day, and meet others who have similar goals. The social dimension to acquiring language skill cannot be underestimated. Given that there are fewer than 20 fluent speakers now left alive, it is, I think, almost a moral duty of those who have the foundations already, to activate tham, and try to become speakers........

Some seem comfortable with Latin, and the status quo, and regard the past as an insurance policy against the future. To quote the rabbis "Toroh tzivoh lonu Moshe, morosha kehillos Yaakov" - The Torah was commanded us by Moses, it is an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" - to which word 'mesoroh' the rabbis added a gloss - an inheritance is not received, this is an active verb, indicating something that has to be actively passed on.
The past is no guarantee of the future.

We are actually now in a very dangerous place for Latin. For the first time since the fall of the Roman empire, Latin has become a highly endangered language - there has always been a handover from generation to generation of spoken Latin, albeit learned as a second language - but there has been an unbroken chain of tradition...and at any given point in history, there have been thousands of speakers - as recently as the 1950's this would have been true. The decline has been precipitous.....this chain of tradition is now in danger of snapping for the first time - for of those 20 fluent speakers who remain alive on earth (a shockingly low number - this is Reggie Foster's estimate from 3 years ago), most are well over 65 years old.......)

I started work on Latinum, and intensive research into language revival projects, when this became apparent to me - I think it would be unconscionable if spoken Latin were to die out on our watch - and despite the Herculean efforts of Reggie, Terentius and Aloisius, it is by no means in a safe place.

My personal goal is to gain a massive vocabulary, and to get the skill to pick up any text I want to, and to be able to read it. I don't think this is an unreasonable goal. Nor do I think it is particularly hard to achieve - but, like any language study, it takes daily practice, lots of reading, and even more listening, and, even more importantly, access to a community of like minded people with whom to share and grow.

What I don't understand, is why someone who has devoted a huge chunk of their life to Latin, and who is teaching it, would not want to experience the joy that comes with speaking it, in other words, with having total command over it? Surely that should be a professional goal, to dominate one's subject matter?

If I were learning any other foreign language, with a view to reading advanced literature, that would also be my goal - particularly if I were aiming to teach it.

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Comment by Christina N. Olson on February 11, 2010 at 8:31am
I took Latin in highschool (3 years) and all through college (3 more years) and none of it was directed to speaking Latin fluently. Only now as an adult I am relearning Latin, on my own, and attempting to become a fluent speaker. Thank you for your article.
Comment by Ellen Conrad on February 14, 2010 at 6:30am
For years I neglected this most important skill and it is the one that most students desire. Since adding this element to my classes, I have seen so much more enthusiasm from them. I am also seeing success among more students. I am sure that I am not the only one out there. What was the reason that Latin study became a treatise in linguistics, not a language?
Comment by Lisa Nicholas on February 22, 2010 at 4:47pm
I wonder if you are correct in saying that there are only 20 fluent Latin speakers in the world (where did you get this number?). I believe -- but I may well be mistaken -- that there are still academic settings (European) in which Latin is still the language in which instruction is given. I believe this is true in (at least some) Roman seminaries, and I believe that Latin is still the lingua franca of the Vatican. I have heard that Pope Benedict is fluent in Latin, in large part because of his days as an academic, as well as his long service in the Roman Curia before being elevated to the papacy.

At any rate, you may be correct in suggesting that those who have learned to speak (not just read or write) Latin are often autodidacts who haven't been told that they shouldn't expect to achieve fluency because Latin is a dead language that no one really speaks any more. It's my impression, however, that there is a minor renaissance in spoken Latin currently underway in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere -- for instance, weeklong immersion programs where only Latin is spoken, and a new emphasis on spoken Latin in the classroom.


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