This is a guest post from my father, who was kind enough to write about his experiences learning Latin back in high school. Originally posted 6/3/14.
I officially attempted to enter ancient Roma via freshman Latin class in the fall of 1967. I had casually encountered Romulus and Remus the prior year in what would now be referred to as an exploratory eighth grade foreign language experience. Not all experiences are welcoming. My eighth grade encounter was one of discomfort. We paid tuition, one quarter to attempt readings from a textbook which appeared to have been printed on Guttenberg’s press. We also grappled at matching accurate Latin vocabulary with English phrases. This all occurred in a hot classroom, with tweeting birds on a few blue sky spring Saturdays. When a boy’s heart is out the window, his powers of concentration have met their kryptonite.
It is a safe bet that no reader of this blog has less foreign language expertise than I. Even with that sour milk taste in my mouth, I still signed on to a couple years of Latin in high school. I remember that pair of years fondly. Not due to my expertise but because my instructor was in love. In love with a dead language. At the time, I expected that she was old enough to have once chatted with Romulus and Remus. She had that same face of age that I currently notice in my mirror. However, she had the linguistic soul of a young romantic.
The language experiences of my youth suggest to me that nothing entices linguistic learning like the enthusiasm of an instructor smitten with their subject. My teacher always expected us to eventually drink the Kool-aid and live to love Latin. She was not entirely successful but nor was she a failure. She tweaked our interest against long odds. She paddled upstream against the negative current that our exploratory class had instilled.
If there are any morals to this story, I expect that they are the following. In a first language experience, it may be more effective to partner with a child’s sense of play than to attempt to oppose and conquer it. An ugly taste for one’s subject can be washed away with the proper dose of one’s soul-felt enthusiasm. It is possible to follow language failure with language success. Finally, Rome was not built in a day. It just took me two years of an enthusiastic teacher to finally understand that my Latin text was telling me that Romulus and Remus were Roma’s founders.
Many thanks for his comical yet very accurate post. I hope you all enjoyed!