How fluent can one get?

Notascooby

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Defining fluent might open up a can of worms here but by fluent I mean the ability to write and read in a way that isn't horrendously slow. Spoken Latin may also be added in here.

People on this forum seem to be able to write in Latin very well and be understood and reply to it. Yet when someone posts a translation request it often leads to pages of debate as to the best way of doing it, or even simply the correct way. How can those two situations be?

Regarding speaking, on various YouTube channels there would appear to be people speaking Latin, off the cuff, with ease. How is this? I can understand a fair amount of it but what is it? Modern Latin? Much of what I hear sounds like a whole bunch of memorised phrases with some conjunctions thrown in. I'm not convinced.

Finally regarding reading. I find that for a lot of stuff I read I can understand without issue for large chunks but invariably and all too frequently get bogged down. The amount of time I've put into studying seems phenomenal to me (2-3 hours a day for 4 years) and I still have no clue. How much time are the really good Latinists putting into this?

LLPSI is recommended all over the place, in some places with a passion bordering on the religious. I read a few of them and they are all, well meh They are not going to make me fluent in reading nor do I think I'm better at reading for using them. Not to say they aren't good but they ain't as good as the marketing men would have us believe.

Is 'the natural method' all its cracked up to be? Extensive reading, easy stuff that can be read without issue, also seems to be the recommended thing. I have collected as much 'easy' stuff as I could find, read it multiple times to try and get some kind of fluency, this did not work, I now understood easy Latin fairly well. That's all that seemed to achieve.

Sorry for the wall of text and all the questions.
 
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Pacifica

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People on this forum seem to be able to write in Latin very well and be understood and reply to it. Yet when someone posts a translation request it often leads to pages of debate as to the best way of doing it, or even simply the correct way. How can those two situations be?
There are several reasons why translating in general, and especially from a modern language into an ancient one, can be harder than simply expressing yourself in a language.

For a start, when you are just writing or speaking your own words, firstly, you know exactly what you mean and, secondly, you are free to express it in any way you like, find convenient, or know how to handle. When translating, on the other hand, firstly, you must make sure that you get the entire intent of the orginal and that you render it (and that is not always so easy in short mottoes and the like that don't have much context and are sometimes a bit obscure), and, secondly, you are not free to express it in any way you like — often, although there is some leeway here, you'll be expected to express it in a way that bears some degree of formal resemblance to the original; and when it's for a tattoo or engraving or such, as is generally the case on this forum, people often want brevity as well. To further complicate matters, the original will sometimes contain wordplay, which often will not translate as such but if you want to do things well you'll try (without necessarily succeeding) to come up with some sort of wordplay in the translation too. Also, when speaking or writing a language, if you are proficient in it, things tend to come to your mind directly in that language, according to the way that language works. But it can be harder, when faced with a particular sentence in one language, to figure out how to extract all its ideas and nuances and transfer them into another language, which may require a very different construction.

Then, an issue particular to translating into an ancient language like Latin is that modern concepts that sometimes come up in requests don't really have any established translation. Also, even without speaking of modern concepts as such, there are many things that even a well-read Latinist does not instinctively know how to express in Latin simply because nothing like it was written by any Latin author they've read. This can apply even to such things as very simple everyday expressions, because, again, no Roman author happens to have written the equivalent, if it existed, in any work that has come down to us. You can make an educated guess but it will always be open to debate.
How much time are the really good Latinists putting into this?
It must depend on people. I haven't counted the time I've spent doing Latin, but it's quite a lot. I've had some interaction with Latin, so to speak (either reading or translating or helping students etc.), pretty much every day for, what... eight years or so? As for "fluency", I started feeling relatively fluent (by which I mean being able to read for the most part naturally instead of laboriously deciphering) after... something like one year and a half of basic, not very intensive study (not daily), and then maybe something like, dunno, six months or a year of intensive (pretty much daily) practice through reading and translating and discussing on this forum.
Is 'the natural method' all its cracked up to be?
My instinctive answer is a big shouted "NO" but I guess I should admit that just because I didn't use that method myself doesn't necessarily mean it won't work well for some other people. Maybe differently wired people will find different methods effective.
Extensive reading
That was what worked miracles for me.
I have collected as much 'easy' stuff as I could find, read it multiple times to try and get some kind of fluency, this did not work, I now understood easy Latin fairly well.
I think you should move on to "non-easy" stuff at this stage — i.e. just normal, unadapted classical texts; read Cicero, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus... themselves. You might find it hard in the beginning, but it will get easier with practice.
 
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Notascooby

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Thanks for the reply.

It does seem that natural ability plays a significant role in the whole process. In my case I have read a fairly large amount and quite widely unadapted texts, most of what I read is unadapted. This in combination with reading large amounts of the adapted easy stuff has still not lead to fluency.

I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the very gifted Latinists on this forum have seemingly better than native understanding of other languages. This however could be down to the cumulative effect. That is knowing two or more languages will give someone more points of reference from which to understand further languages.
 

Pacifica

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It does seem that natural ability plays a significant role in the whole process. In my case I have read a fairly large amount and quite widely unadapted texts, most of what I read is unadapted. This in combination with reading large amounts of the adapted easy stuff has still not lead to fluency.
I'm not in your head so I can't tell how hard it really is for you, but from what I've seen in your posts you seem to be doing pretty well, actually.
I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the very gifted Latinists on this forum have seemingly better than native understanding of other languages. This however could be down to the cumulative effect. That is knowing two or more languages will give someone more points of reference from which to understand further languages.
Yes, of course.
 

Notascooby

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Regarding how we define fluency. The first Latin books I used were the 'ecce Romani' series. These books said something along the lines of ' the aim of this series is to quickly get the student to the point of reading Latin with confidence. After I completed these books I realised that what they really meant was 'This series will laboriously, with great expenditure of effort and time bring the student to the point where he can read the very carefully chosen and adapted excerpts with significant hardship and consternation'

Maybe that's what reading Latin with confidence actually means and I'm expecting too much.
 

Pacifica

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Terry S.

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Regarding how we define fluency. The first Latin books I used were the 'ecce Romani' series. These books said something along the lines of ' the aim of this series is to quickly get the student to the point of reading Latin with confidence. After I completed these books I realised that what they really meant was 'This series will laboriously, with great expenditure of effort and time bring the student to the point where he can read the very carefully chosen and adapted excerpts with significant hardship and consternation'

Maybe that's what reading Latin with confidence actually means and I'm expecting too much.
I hated Ecce Romani at school. I was in the first year to use it in our school. I think I would have got on better with the old course, Paterson & McNaughton.
 

Clemens

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People on this forum seem to be able to write in Latin very well and be understood and reply to it. Yet when someone posts a translation request it often leads to pages of debate as to the best way of doing it, or even simply the correct way. How can those two situations be?
I would say that fluency and translation are two different skills, and the best translators are native speakers of both languages (which none of us is on this site, for obvious reasons). It's especially complicated when translating short, pithy maxims and sayings like people often want for tattoos, because a large part of the effectiveness of these phrases is derived from how they are worded and their cultural allusions, which are things very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to translate.

The biggest barrier to passing from high-intermediate to real fluency in reading isn't the grammar of a language, it's establishing a breadth of vocabulary as well as a varied sense of how things are worded, which can only be acquired from lots of reading.

My favorite learning Latin book was Wheelock's, because it tries to get you to Classical texts as quickly as possible. (I'm still in deciphering mode with a lot of Classical texts but I can read the Vulgate or the mass easily.)
 
"Tom Brady is a pocket quarterback who does not like to scramble."

(Beginner here. Or, at least, 2-3+ hours daily for the past 3 1/2 years.)

Teach the above sentence to...say..someone who is Japanese, and is trying to learn English, and the only obviously odd word is "quarterback." But, unless they know American football, picking out the correct definition of "pocket" and "scramble" is, in my opinion, likely to be difficult. (may be difficult for some English speakers on this forum)

So as I work through the incredible density of information in Roma Aeterna, enjoying it, some of the difficulty is not all the Latin, but just conceptualizing some odd stories (to me) and odd points of view or unclarity about the story. (ie--my recent post on Beginner's forum)

"Houston, we have a problem"--1960s American phrase.

But that is part of what I want to enjoy. I eventually want to get into Caesar's or Cicero's or Virgil's head. I don't want to be Latin here, I want to be Latin there. Fluency, there.
 

Notascooby

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I hated Ecce Romani at school. I was in the first year to use it in our school. I think I would have got on better with the old course, Paterson & McNaughton.
I wasn't the best, it was a sort of dumbing down of Latin. The Scottish classics group who made it also did a book called ' introducing Cicero' which was very good. It had some good stuff on techniques for reading Latin in the order which the words appear as well as just being a good all round introduction to Cicero.
 

Terry S.

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The Scottish classics group who made it also did a book called ' introducing Cicero' which was very good. It had some good stuff on techniques for reading Latin in the order which the words appear as well as just being a good all round introduction to Cicero.
Thanks for the tip!
 

Terry S.

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Remember this one? Ecce. In pictura est puella parva. Puella parva est Cornelia. Et in pictura est puella magna.

Then there was Sextus Maniacus as we called him.
 

Notascooby

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There were some good characters in there. The drunk uncle was quite funny. The Greek slave was also a good character. Forgotten his name, though I want to say Pseudolus?
 

Terry S.

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Paedagogus erat Eucleides.
 

Terry S.

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I don't remember the drunk uncle. Did they meet him at the baths?
 

Terry S.

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I say that because I do remember an uncle appearing at one point. I probably didn't understand the drunk bit.
 

Notascooby

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I don't remember the drunk uncle. Did they meet him at the baths?
He appears first at the Cena where they play dice. He wins and is appointed arbiter bibendi. He then decided not to mix the wine at all but to just drink merum and proceeds to fall down drunk.
 

Gregorius Textor

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Defining fluent might open up a can of worms here but by fluent I mean the ability to write and read in a way that isn't horrendously slow. Spoken Latin may also be added in here.
Fluency is also my quest, so I'm glad you asked.

Regarding speaking, on various YouTube channels there would appear to be people speaking Latin, off the cuff, with ease. How is this? I can understand a fair amount of it but what is it? Modern Latin? Much of what I hear sounds like a whole bunch of memorised phrases with some conjunctions thrown in. I'm not convinced.
I think with a lot of practice in actually speaking Latin, we could all do this some day.

Is 'the natural method' all its cracked up to be? Extensive reading, easy stuff that can be read without issue, also seems to be the recommended thing. I have collected as much 'easy' stuff as I could find, read it multiple times to try and get some kind of fluency, this did not work, I now understood easy Latin fairly well. That's all that seemed to achieve.
By the natural method, do you mean as in the books by Fr. William Most? Or do you mean extensive reading of easy stuff -- though you seem to discriminate between those by saying "also".

After peeking at Fr. Most's volume 1, I think those books might be a fun way to start learning Latin, but for people like you and me, they are too simple, though they might make a fun review. There is humor in them. After a Latin version of Mary's little lamb, which followed her to school, he writes about the nominative singular: "There is also only one lamb in school. That is singular too. More than one would be plural. More than one lamb would not only be plural. It would be too much." (vol. 1, p. 7)

I agree with Pacifica that we need move on to non-easy or at least less-easy stuff for reading.
 

Notascooby

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From what I understand of the natural method, it aims to teach language with as little direct reference to grammar as possible and get the student to learn in a way approximating that of first language acquisition. Extensive reading is undoubtedly a part of this. When I learned my first language I was a child whose mind was a sponges, as all children at that age. Now I'm older my mind is no longer a sponge, nor am I able to completely immerse myself in Latin. I can try and get as much exposure to it as possible though. Extensive reading allows for this.

The best path to fluency(however you define that for yourself) has to be that which you most enjoy but I am of the belief that, to achieve the type of fluency I would like, the study of classical Latin only may be detrimental. My desire to remain strictly classical is a sort of ipse dixit, Erasmus said it was best, most people accepted this and 500 years later I blindly accepted it( because as a student we have to rely on those who wrote our books, only later once we have learned some stuff ourselves is it wise to question). Later Latin seems to me a far better place to start than classical. For a few reasons, there exists a far greater amount of "easy material". We can read the Latin of the Vulgate which, particularly for the Gospels, was designed to be as readable to the average person as possible, there is of course Greek and Hebrew influence on this but this cannot be a criticism as pretty much all the great classical Latin poets are steeped in Greek thought, and employ Greek vocabulary extensively. The Latin of the Vulgate is also more familiar to us (even if we are not of a religious persuasion). This also makes it a significantly easier to read.

Besides the Vulgate there is also things like Comenius 'Orbis pictus', Corderius Maturinus, Beeson's Mediaeval Latin. These books are all freely available online and provide extensive amounts of fairly straightforward reading. The orbis pictus is particularly helpful for learning vocabulary. This is probably (in my opinion) the greatest impediment to both reading fluently and to writing in Latin at a speed consistent with sanity. The beginning student can memorise items of vocabulary say while reading Vergil, but when his reading speed is only 20 lines per hour, by the time he has encountered that word again he has forgotten it. Extensive reading can alleviate this problem. The grammar on the other hand is a easier, we are confronted with it constantly, the exposure breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds conte...fluency.

However we are not passive in this process. We cant just expect to read and become fluent. This is where grammar comes in. This is where rote memorisation comes in, not as a stand alone thing but as the foundation of our work in extensive reading. Learning composition may be the best thing for this cause, this is not to everyone's taste though. If we aim to write classically correct prose I think we will gain a far greater insight into the language and understanding of the nuance and craft that is involved. This learning of Classical grammar is not borne out of an elitist sense that classical Latin is superior to all others but that it is convenient to serve as a yardstick. One who thoroughly understands the grammar of classical Latin will not have a great deal of problems with later Latin whereas the medievalist may struggle with classical Latin.

I can't speak for listening or speaking as these are not areas that are of any interest to me. Others are of the opinion that these are very important, each to there own. The benefits of focusing on later Latin may be diminished if one is only interested in Classics though. As I said earlier, the path to achieve your desired level of fluency is that which you find most enjoyable, so there really is no right or wrong method.

Edit: Spelling
 
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