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Application of the Method in Preparatory Work

It will be convenient to refer, in these suggestions, to some one of the books commonly employed by beginners in Latin; e.g. Dr. Leighton's "First Steps in Latin." The application can of course be made with ease to any other book of the same scope.

First and most important is it that the beginner should accustom himself from the very outset to the sound of the Roman language. In Lesson XIII, e.g., the learner, having prepared himself upon the sentences regina laudat, scribae portant, puellae laudant, laudas, laudamus, reginae donant, etc., should not open his book to translate them. His book should be closed, and he should give the meaning of regina laudat, etc., as his teacher delivers the sentence to him. To translate regina laudat at hearing, after having studied it, is not beyond the mental power of the modern boy. Neither is it beyond his power, with possibly a trifle of patience on the part of his teacher, to translate at hearing a new sentence of the same scope, e.g. laudo; scriba laudat; scriba donat; scribae donant. But if this is true, a very important truth at once follows. There is, it will be admitted, no greater jump in any first Latin book than that from nothing at all to the first lesson in Latin sentences of one and two words. If, in taking that step, the boy can successfully prepare himself to translate the set lesson at hearing, and to translate in the same way new sentences of the same vocabulary and the same scope, then he can prepare himself, as he progresses by carefully graded steps, in any of the books in common use, to translate any previously studied Latin at hearing, and to translate at hearing any new sentences of the same scope, framed for him by the invention of his teacher. Before the book is opened by any one but the teacher, the exercises of the class-room should be

  • (1) the translation at hearing of the review,
  • (2) the translation at hearing of the advance, and
  • (3) the translation at hearing of new sentences of the same scope.
And no one will venture to say that a boy who had been carried in this way through an introductory book would not begin Caesar as a better Latinist than a boy who had not been so started.

In Lesson XIII, as we have seen, the boy has learned that the subject of a verb is expressed by the nominative. In the next lesson he is told that the direct object of a transitive verb is expressed by the accusative. For the present, that is the sum total of his knowledge about accusatives. Of course the teacher will narrow his own knowledge to his pupil's horizon. Accordingly, he will start upon a sentence beginning with an accusative, e.g. scribas, and ask the learner what, without hearing the rest of the sentence, he learns from the case, with regard to the relation of the clerks to the rest of the sentence; in a word, what the meaning of the case is. The boy will answer "object of the verb," and the teacher will accept the answer. Then he will give the beginning of another sentence, containing a nominative and an accusative, say regina scribam, and ask the learner what the two cases mean to him. The learner will answer "subject" and "object." The teacher will then give a number of combinations of subject and object, e.g. scriba puellam, nauta agricolam, employing the full vocabulary provided in the lesson. Then, retracing his steps, he will give complete sentences of which the combinations just used may be supposed to be the beginning, repeating each of these combinations in connection with as many as possible of the various verbs provided; e.g. regina scribam laudat, regina scribam vocat, regina scribam exspectat. Then another combination, e.g. scriba puellam, should similarly be repeated with various verbs. In all this, the Latin should be given deliberately,1 so that the pupil may be able to form his mental pictures easily, as he hears one word after another. He should be urged, too, to form these pictures without thinking of the English word. The word regina should bring a regina before his mental vision, instead of bringing, first the word "queen," and then a mental vision of a queen.2

In these exercises there should be no translation into English (it will be remembered that the Latin of the review and the Latin of the advance have already been translated at hearing). Next should come an exercise like the following:

"How, in Latin, can you present to my mind a queen as acting upon somebody?"

"By saying regina."

"How a girl as being acted upon?"

"By saying puellam."

"How a clerk?"

"By saying scribam."

"How a letter?"

"By saying epistulam."

"Now put before me a queen as acting, and a girl as being acted upon."

Regina puellam.

"A farmer as acting, and a sailor as being acted upon."

Agricola nautam.

After a number of these combinations have been given, "Now tell me in Latin that the queen is waiting for the clerk," then "that the queen is waiting for the letter," etc., etc. Variations of the tense of the verb should also be employed. I must confine myself, however, to showing the method of dealing with the cases.

1 The teacher who uses the Roman method should be fastidious in his pronunciation, for his own example will tell far more than precept.  Now that every method-book has every syllable marked, there is no possible justification for incorrectness.  Yet many teachers, coming to rêgina and amîcitiam in Lesson XIV, will pronounce them regîna, amicitiam;  not a few will read vocant as vôcant;  and, I sadly fear, nearly all, while teaching their students that final -a is long in the ablative and short in the nominative, etc., will pronounce fâma and fâmâ precisely alike, namely as ablative, — though the sound of short final -a is very well represented to us in English in such familiar words as "California," "Nevada," "Cuba".

2 I find teachers to be sceptical about the possibility of doing this.  But it is not even difficult, if the young student begins rightly and is rightly helped throughout.  The apparent difficulty goes back to the false habits of mind produced by making translation the constant method of getting at the meaning of the author, and, so to speak, the ultimate end of study;  whereas the true end of study, precisely as in the case of modern languages, is to get the power to read the original.  It is to be feared, even, that, in the pressure produced by the long hours of their working day, many teachers in the preparatory schools do not themselves read the authors they teach, but only make preparations to correct the students' translations at the recitations.  If they would devote five minutes a day to reading their Caesar, Virgil, and Cicero aloud, as before an imaginary audience, and five minutes more to doing the same thing before a real audience in their class-room, they would find their faith to grow apace.

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