Professor Michael Fontaine discusses the “Living Latin” approach to teaching the classical language.

Omar Abdul-Rahim / Sun Staff Photographer

Professor Michael Fontaine discusses the “Living Latin” approach to teaching the classical language.

October 20, 2016

Prof Encourages Students to Pursue ‘Living Tradition’ of Latin Language

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Prof. Michael Fontaine, classics, explored different methods of learning Latin and encouraged students to apply their language studies by participating in a summer Living Latin Program in Rome at a lecture Wednesday.

Fontaine defined the difference between the philology tradition and the Vatican, or “living tradition,” of Latin. The philology tradition focuses on taxonomy and periodization, while the living tradition emphasizes learning Latin as a “continuous whole — looking at the language from start to finish and minimizing differences to look for similarities,” he said.

Fontaine used the Latin phrase “sequere me” as an example. He said the philology tradition would teach this phrase as the second person imperative, and the living tradition would teach it by translating it to “follow me.”

Fontaine said the point of Latin in a classics department is to “learn about the classical world,” citing the Living Latin Program in Rome. The program is run by the Paideia Institute — a nonprofit educational organization that promotes the study of humanities through academic programming in the United States and abroad, according to the Paideia Institute website.

Fontaine said the main goal of the program is to learn to read Latin with “complete accuracy and blinding speed.” He also recalled one day when students were asked to only speak Latin as an example of immersive learning.

“[The program hosts] a day tour in Pompeii and before we go in, everybody has to swear … to do their best to speak only Latin the whole time,” he said. “When I first heard we were going to do this, I thought this would be a total disaster — and this was a huge success. Even students whose Latin is totally halting and are terrified of doing this, by the end of the day, are getting increasingly comfortable with hearing it all day long.”

Fontaine also described other activities students could participate in, such as debates in the Colosseum, karaoke translated from contemporary songs and theatrical performances.

“Each student has to memorize a chunk of [The Third Oration of Cicero Against Catiline] and recite, in front of the whole group,” he said. “So it’s a hugely stressful thing: they all rise to the occasion.”

Fontaine added that the program teaches Latin in the living tradition, saying that learning to read is orally done to get the accent right and correcting mistakes are done to get the grammar right.

Fontaine called the program “an investment,” saying it starts off slow but accelerates “really fast.”

“Experience shows us that by going slow at the beginning, you can learn a lot faster later on,” he said.

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