Immersion works. Today, I observed around fifty students who had been in a Latin/Greek-only environment since October 2015, some of whom had never studied any Latin or Greek, conversing fluently in both languages. They weren’t simply speaking Latin well; they were communicating with one another, in between classes, outside on the grass beneath a Roman pine, over a meal, while playing around, and while learning every subject of the day, except for Greek classes, when they conversed almost as easily in Ancient Greek. These students only shared Latin and Greek as common languages. Their first languages varied between Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, English, Slavic, French, and more. I wish I could adequately share how mundane this seemed. Nobody was trying to show off, nobody was taking Latin to do better on their SATs, and nobody seemed uninterested–in fact, they even applaud their teachers at the end of classes!
I felt like an outsider, mostly because I was the only member of the female sex (that’s correct–there are no women or girls on either the faculty or in the student body) but also because my spoken Latin didn’t measure up and didn’t sound like theirs. They speak rapidly and with an ecclesiastical pronunciation that approximates the sound of Italian. I say “Sal-way” and “Kare-tay” when they say “Sal-vay” and “Chare-tay.” I, like some of the students in my classes, listened very carefully and sometimes had that look on my face of total confusion. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t get to observe any Latin classes. I saw a Greek language and Greek literature class. When the students had trouble understanding the complete meaning of a Greek word, the teacher gave them the Latin, and comprehension was achieved.
Although the students I observed were the older group (university age), the classroom I visited contained as many props for acting as many of the middle and high schools I visited in the States. I didn’t have a chance to observe a class of the secondary school-aged students, because their teacher and head of the school, Aloisius (Luigi Miraglia) was away during the day that I visited. I did have the pleasure, though, of meeting him later in the day and experiencing the amazing connection he has with students.
My own immersion experiences have been too short, and I look forward to participating in the summer program here in the near future. Clearly immersion is the way to go – with comprehensible input and compelling material!