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How does one go about learning to speak Latin fluently?
I am considering three options.

  1. Translation Based Method - Doing many translations (from Latin to English) would increase my vocabulary in the process and get me comfortable with all the types of sentence structure and other nuances. Once I can translate Latin from sight without using any word dictionaries or references, I might have a better chance at speaking Latin. I could also go in the reverse direction by translating from English to Latin.
  2. Starting with a Writing Method - If I try to write in Latin as much as possible, I'll hopefully get to a point where I can directly turn my thoughts into Latin writing. Then, as I get better at translating from English to Latin in my head, I'd probably be able to speak somewhat naturally.
  3. Starting with a Conversational Method - Integrating Latin sentences into conversation with other people who know Latin would help me get some direct practice and immersion. However, I'm worried this may not be effective if I just try to jump in without having enough vocabulary memorised (or if the other person doesn't have a large enough vocabulary; I do not know many people who know Latin at a high-intermediate to advanced level...).

If anyone is familiar with other effective methods, feel free to suggest those too!

  • 3
    Interesting question! And I see you have already received some interesting answers. But the question is rather subjective as it is worded now. You might get a list of equally relevant opinions that it would be hard to compare with each each other. Would you consider changing the the title to make it more like "could you give me an overview" rather than "how can I learn to speak Latin"? A good title would be e.g. Learning to speak Latin: what are the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used methods? – Cerberus Nov 21 '16 at 23:41
  • A good French method is the Latin Assimil method (with audio and text): fr.assimil.com/choisir-une-langue/apprendre-le-latin – Luc Nov 26 '16 at 17:45
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A few comments about pre-requisites to teaching students to speak Latin.

Accent

Concerning the difficulty to reconstitute the accents of Ancient Latin, the question of "what should be the correct accent" should not a subject of concern (English teachers do not worry that accents of the 16th century were markedly different from those of today, even when their students are being requested to read Shakespeare).

In the end, the accent used to speak Latin should not be important, as long as it remains understandable to another speaker (e.g. as when a foreign langue students choses between American or British accents). We could consider that we have a "received pronunciation" and leave it at that.

By contrast, the various accents used to speak Latin in recent times might even constitute a fun subject for students. For style used by the Finnish Radio, here are world news in Latin, "Nuntii Latini" (lots of fun to listen to). Besides, that could give subjects of conversation for students!

Use as Active Language

Latin has remained a very active "educated" language (used in a context of diglossia) actively used throughout the Middle Ages up to recent times, both in written texts and speech. It would be a pity not to introduce students to the immense corpus of very interesting material (scientific, philosophical, religious) written in Latin during the Middle Ages and Modern Times. Since it was a common language, it gives students access to material from a vast number of countries which would have been inaccessible to them if they had been written in the vulgar language of that country. A well known text is the ascension of Mount Ventoux in France by Francesco Petrarca (1336).

Most importantly, the fact that beside the lofty poems and philosophical texts by "litterary stars" such as Cicero or Virgil there are many mundane sources (letters, court minutes, etc.), could "de-sacralize" the language and show that it can be used correctly even by less expert persons. For further study, there should be many dialogues (whether literary or transcriptions).

Arguably, this would not teach to speak, but at least, it would show how people used the language in mundane situations.

Vocabulary

Omnia dici possunt Latine. A key part of teaching any spoken language would be to provide glossaries for daily situations (it would be hard to have a conversation today if we couldn't name a car, a computer, etc.). Hence students should be taught how to call them, as well as names of places. A student of Angelopolis might thrilled to learn that his region has been so instrumental in popularizing pelilculae cinematographicae and computatra...

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There is some division on opinion whether it is good to practice Latin by making translations from English (or another native language), or better to translate solely from Latin authors.

Arguments in favour of Latin prose composition and conversation are the active learning aspect, the element of fun involved and the auditory (natural) acquisition of the language. Critics argue that it is impossible to reach the level of classical Latin as it was spoken in the times of Cicero, because we have only written sources and are incapable to reconstruct the language faithfully. As far as I know not many Universities are involved in conversational Latin and prose composition nowadays.

That aside, there are many methods available to learn conversational Latin. In the beginning of the 20th century there were many books published on Latin prose composition for schools and Universities. Some can be found on Textkit, such as A new Latin Composition and Latin Prose Compostion. The second one is based on Cicero.

Another method would be to join a group that practices conversational Latin. Those can be found on meetup.com

There are many resources such as audio samples, videos and apps of spoken Latin to be found on the internet, for example here.

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Evan der Millner of London has a very good site called Latinum and a few Youtube courses which are very good from a conversational perspective. He bases the course on Manesca's Serial and Oral method, which is a very good way to learn a language orally. He argues (and I agree with him) that languages are, first and foremost, oral phenomena and thus it is best to learn how to speak and hear rather than merely read and write.

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Salve!

1) Rereading: One of the best speakers I know, Daniel Petterson from Latinitium, read, and reread (and reread and reread) the works of Plautus and Terence. It basically comes down to a lot of rereading of texts that you know and enjoy, and when you start. The focus isn't on a lot of texts, but rather a lot of rereading of specific texts.

2) Listen to Latin: Justin Slocum Bailey talks about rereading at the Paideia Institute's Living Latin in New York event. He is one of 3 friends who have a podcast on which they chat in Latin about different topics called "Quomodo Dicitur".

3) Join a Latin conversation group: There are a few Latin conversation groups out there. I know of 3 that take place on Google Hangouts at different times of the week. They use the same links every week, so you can join the group and it stays on your Hangouts. These groups encourage speakers and listeners of all levels to join. So you can join and mute your mic if you so wish, just listening to the others. Latine Loquamur Greek & Latin chats

4) Attend a spoken Latin immersion event: One thing that has helped me most in a short period is attending a Latin immersion event. Amongst others, there are some which are 5-6 weeks (Paideia's Living Latin in Rome), and some that are one week or even a single weekend (SALVI's Rusticationes and Bidua).

These are just some suggestions, there are so many sources once one knows where to look.

Fortuna tibi faveat!

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