Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Introduction to Latin

I finished my summer Latin course last week.  It was a great learning experience in many ways. First, the method was immersive: we just cracked open our Latin books and started reading a story, figuring it out as we went. There was not an English word in our textbook. This is the most natural way (children do it) to learn a language.  It is surprising how much one can pick up just from recognising root words, considering context, and a few helpful drawings.  For example, take a look at the phrase tempus fugit.  It is pretty easy to figure out. Tempus relates to time and fugit relates to fugitive, so tempus fugit means "time flies!"  See, you can read Latin!

Second, the course was bilingual (trilingual if you count the Latin component). About half the class were French speakers, about half English, so each student participated in the language of their choice. Not only did I get to study Latin, I got to brush up on my French!  Bonus! At times, it was a bit much trying to function in three languages, and yes, sometimes I found myself getting annoyed at the amount of French spoken in class, but I kept reminding myself that this environment was good for me. Essentially, it was stimulating the language centre of my brain to make new and helpful connections faster than in an English only environment.

Notes from my Latin class
Third, it forced me out of my comfort zone...again. When one learns a new language, the first thing that happens is that we compare everything new to something familiar.  This is normal, but the habit of constant comparison soon gets in the way of progress.  At some point one just has to let go of the "English" way of thinking and dive into the deep end of the "Latin" pool.  Comparison, which can be helpful in giving one a starting point, a foothold so to speak, soon begins to stymie progress because it keeps one from really living in the new language. Comparison can be useful as a stepping stone, but it must never become a place to live.

Fourth, it reminded me that perfection is not the goal. Studying a language is an ongoing process. It is never about understanding everything perfectly, but about understanding more today than one did yesterday.  And understanding only happens when one opens up to new ways of constructing meaning and communicating.  Once again, I had to learn to have patience with myself.  Some days I felt smart and other days I felt stupid, but each day I had to be willing to try, I had to resist the fear of making mistakes, and I had to keep my mind and ears open.

In my experience, I have found that Christian spirituality (living by the Spirit of Jesus) is much like learning a new language.  The most natural way to learn how to follow Jesus is to do what the disciples did: leave the past behind and start on a new path, picking up the basics as one goes along.  Immerse oneself in the teachings, ways, and story of Jesus.  Let it seep into one's life.  Part of learning to follow Jesus is rubbing shoulders and walking side by side with those we don't totally understand.  It takes hard work on our part to truly understand what others are saying, to embrace who they are without judgment, and to humbly resist demanding that they accommodate us.  Following Jesus also means that we cannot live by comparison. What happens when we compare is that we end up focusing on the comparative element instead of on Jesus, so it is really counterproductive. Finally, following Jesus is not about doing everything right; it is more about showing up every day and being willing to learn, about patiently turning our attention to the master teacher, Jesus, and being willing to leave our old ways behind and have our thinking changed.  It is about bringing ourselves to this process with joy, gratitude, humility, and love.

Nihil difficile amanti (nothing is difficult for a lover)

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