Biduum Latinum 2012

Posted on April 6, 2012 by



by Keith Toda

During the weekend of March 10-11, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the Biduum Latinum Angelopolitanum, a 2-day spoken-Latin immersion workshop held at the Getty Villa in Malibu, CA. Sponsored by Septentionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum (SALVI), an organization dedicated to the promotion of Latin as a communicative language, Biduum’s focus was to offer participants new to spoken Latin a taste of immersive Latin and to provide the confidence needed for those planning to attend a week-long workshop in the summer. In addition, Biduum offered a mid-year immersive “fix” for those more experienced speakers.

20 participants were in attendance, a mix of Latin teachers and of college students, but the majority of participants were new to speaking Latin (called Tirones). Though I myself had attended two Rusticatios in the past and had some experience speaking Latin, I myself was not too sure what to expect or what my own ability would be like.

Our instructor for the weekend was Nancy Llewellyn, associate Latin professor at Wyoming Catholic College and founder of SALVI. She informed us that yes, indeed for the next two days we would be speaking entirely in Latin, but that this approach had been the common method of teaching Latin until the last 100 years or so. Quoting Dr. John Rassias, Nancy told us, “We are not learning to speak Latin, but rather (we are) speaking Latin to learn.” In regards to speaking, she gave us the following pieces of advice:

  • “Be patient with yourself. You Latin teachers are going to be very hard on yourself, because you will want to be perfect right away. When speaking, you are going to make the kinds of mistakes that if one of your students were to make the same type of mistake on a test, you would skin both knees, racing to grab a red pen to correct it. So be patient.”
  • “Say what you can. Do not try to say more than you are capable.”

Following this opening talk in English, our time in Latin began.

As the theme of Biduum was the Roman house (since we were meeting at the Getty Villa), Nancy’s opening lecture, done completely tantum Latine, was about the various areas/rooms of a Roman house; since most of us were already familiar with the Roman house in English, having this background knowledge immensely aided in our comprehension.

In the beginning, this tantum Latine environment was quite difficult, as we were experiencing a side of Latin to which we had never been exposed. One would think that since we were Latin teachers who were intimately familiar with declining nouns and conjugating verbs, conversing in Latin should be just as easy, right? For us, though, Latin had always been about translating into English but not for communicating. For most participants, this was their first experience hearing Latin spoken. We all definitely fumbled around trying to find the right words to say to each other, as our conversations resembled Tarzan speaking and were full of quomodo dicitur? and simple ita as responses. Suddenly, we all felt like what our own students must feel like in our own classes.

What I enjoyed most about Nancy’s teaching was how much modern language pedagogy she used in her lessons, something which we (having learned Latin the grammar-translation way) had never experienced before as students ourselves. Nancy did her best to put us at ease by making herself understood in Latin, employing as much comprehensible input as she could. Following this opening lecture, she then demonstrated a Rassias substitution language structure drill with us, as well as doing a micrologue (telling of a story through the use of pictures). All of these were practical activities which we Latin teachers could easily take back to our classrooms.

Even our lunchtime was done tantum Latine, as we were given the task that following lunch, we would be introducing to the group those participants with whom we ate and telling what they had they for lunch. This required us to be deliberate in our conversations with each other, as we endeavored to learn the neo-Latin vocabulary for various food items (e.g., Greek chicken wrap = tortilla convulsa cum Graecā gallinaceā, pepperoni pizza = pitta cum botulīs sectīs).

Following lunch, we devoted our time to reading, where in groups we read various Latin passages and then discussed them in Latin. For most, this was a completely new experience, as traditionally, “reading” Latin has always meant translating into English. Nancy once again showed us various practical ways to discuss a passage without the use of use of English (comprehension questions, e.g., quis ianuam pulsavit? “cur is ianuam pulsabat? quid est tabellarius?; summarizing in Latin what we read; acting out the passage for comprehension purposes; restating sentences, using other language structures).

Our first day ended with a tour of the Getty Villa tantum Latine, led by Luke Henderson. Patterned after the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, the Getty Villa is a grand example of a Roman villa. Luke took us through various parts of the villa, and since our morning lecture had covered the Roman house, once again, this tour built upon our background knowledge. I personally had been to the Getty Villa many times before and was quite familiar with the grounds, but never had I experienced it tantum Latine – definitely a whole new enjoyable experience!

Our second day began with an icebreaker, where we had to match up Latin facts with the participants who had written them. After one day of tantum Latine, all of us were becoming more accustomed to speaking Latin and were more comfortable communicating with each other. Following this, in groups, we did an ABC scavenger hunt in the galleries of the Getty Villa, where we had to find objects which began with the letters of the Latin alphabet. By far, the scavenger hunt was my favorite part of Biduum, because it naturally lent itself to having to communicate Latine with each other in a very Tiro-friendly way.

When the Biduum was over, most participants commented that after the initial shock of being in a completely immersive Latin environment and struggling with communicating in Latin, to their amazement, they were able to understand much of what was being said. Many came away with a whole new view of Latin as a spoken language:

  • “Despite having been told, until I went to Biduum, I didn’t really believe that there were people who could speak Latin fluently. It was very beautiful.” MaryClare Lawrence, lawyer.
  • “I would have enjoyed my Latin 1 class a lot more if it had incorporated spoken Latin into the curriculum.” Robert Porter, student at Santa Rosa Junior College
  • “I’ve noticed that I’m now able to read without “decoding” each word and its function in the sentence. Reading has become more natural and fluid since I’ve begun to practice speaking Latin. And, I find written Latin to be beautiful rather than complicated.” Edie Barry, student at Santa Rosa Junior College

I know that as a teacher, I definitely came away with a number of activities to add to my arsenal of spoken Latin tricks. Even more, though, Biduum definitely helped boost my own confidence in my conversational Latin ability; I do not feel as scared to speak Latin as I did before, and I definitely want to practice conversing in Latin more.

I would definitely recommend a Biduum Latinum for anyone new to spoken Latin, because the two-days give Tirones a taste of what it is like (and by the time, one starts to feel overwhelmed, it is over). In addition, Nancy Llewellyn is an outstanding teacher and a master speaker of Latin. One cannot help but walk away feeling motivated after an experience like this.

Perhaps a Biduum Latinum Atlantanum in 2013? If so, I hope to see you there!