By Jess Dankenbring, '17
Kara Jonas, ’15, first chose to study Latin in middle school because she didn’t want to have to speak a foreign language. Almost a decade later, she has a different take. She spent the summer researching the benefits of oral Latin in the classroom.
“Imagine having to learn English but never speaking it,” Jonas says. “It’s easier to understand written words because you’ve heard the words.
“I think that oral Latin should be implemented when you start the language. If you’ve studied it and not done any oral stuff and then try to do it later, it’s more difficult. But if you speak Latin from the beginning and work it all up together, then it becomes easier to pick up.”
Jonas’ inspiration for her project came from a classics course that detailed theories and ideas behind teaching Latin in a K-12 classroom. “I found that some of the core standards for Latin in the United States are listening, speaking, and writing,” she says. “However, during my experience in high school and college, oral Latin was never stressed and neither was writing in Latin.” She was confused by this contradiction and developed her project to explore it further.
Jonas spent over 40 hours a week conducting her research, reading articles to develop a bibliography on the history of oral Latin in schools and techniques for implementing it in the classroom, or spending time on YouTube experiencing oral Latin programs. “I was doing basically a run through, practicing and seeing if I could, as someone who’s actually studied Latin for awhile, pick up the language,” she says. “It was hard. My professor and I worked at it, talked in Latin three times a week, and we actually got pretty far.”
But the most exciting part of her summer was a week at Rusticatio, a full-immersion Latin workshop offering high-energy conversation exercises and readings from Latin literature. Participants live together for seven days while they speak, read, cook and relax — all while communicating entirely in Latin.
While it was initially a bit daunting to participate in a program where only Latin was spoken for an entire week, Jonas learned quickly that mistakes were part of the learning process. The teachers and more experienced speakers would use hand signals to communicate errors. If she made a mistake and someone thought it was important for her to fix, then they’d make a gesture that looks like someone adjusting their vocal chords. If she made a mistake, but it wasn’t worth fixing, then they would wave a hand over their shoulder to show it was behind her.
“I could understand them speaking, but I couldn’t form the words myself,” Jonas says. “I think that’s a problem that a lot of people who study a foreign language run into — they can understand people talking to them, but they can’t figure out how to say what they want to say.”
Her time at Rusticatio and the rest of her research helped Jonas — who is majoring in Latin and minoring in education — learn some new methods for teaching oral Latin as she contemplates a career as an educator. Her education classes have shown her that it’s best to have a variety of tools at your disposal since students learn in many different ways, and now, oral Latin is part of her skill set, along with reading, translating, and writing.
“What most excites me is that I have activities that I can pull from for when I become a teacher,” she says.