Prandium Latinum

Posted on April 6, 2012 by


Prandium Latinum by Arianne Potter

Imagine if you will a typical lunch get-together: good food, some wine and excellent conversation. People laugh, they make jokes, they share and acquire and nobody looks down on anyone else. Here, Latin is the language of choice, and it is in Latin that the diners are joking, laughing, sharing and not judging. The speakers have dictionaries, but nobody is trembling, and there are no red pens out. This is a prandium Latinum, a low-stress opportunity for aspiring speakers of Latin not only to practice their communication skills, but also to make mistakes.

Gwinnett County teachers get together now at each other’s houses, taking turns hosting, about once a month. We relax, have a good lasagna and use phrases like “ego est magister” – phrases that would make us wince if we heard them from our students. But as Evan Gardner says, how fascinating! And how impossible it is to get any better at anything if we do not first make the mistake. For all our knowledge about Latin, we frequently have little practice in using our Latin, especially with people at our own level, and even with comprehension of rules, communication is a different animal. It does not improve without proper care and feeding, and we often aren’t able to get this. While ‘puer est in horto’ is great modeling practice, conversation requires us to be able to communicate without necessarily knowing how our companions will respond. Prandium Latinum is a safe environment in which to do this, a place where all of us err and all of us support each other, because it’s not about the grammar – it’s about the communication, as language learning should be. There is no competition; only comprehension and learning. So we settle in, make the errors, move on, and understand where our students are coming from.

Since we began doing this, I have learned what the point of the passive periphrastic is. It is so much easier to say prandium consumendum est! than necesse est nobis prandium consumere. The language as a language, rather than a theory, has become more real to us, and each of us has gone back to our classrooms and our lives a little more comfortable in what we do, more comfortable in our teaching skins, knowing that we are capable of more than we thought. Speaking to our students is turning into the path up the mountain rather than the insurmountable peak of it. Perfectionism, I am discovering, is the death of language learning, following closely by didactic grammar. We aren’t perfect, but we are trying, which is much bigger. A prandium gives us as adult learners the space to grow without shame, without subjugating our fragile egos to grades and judgment, and with nothing riding on it but dessert.

If ever you have thought about speaking Latin with your students, or even just on your own, and said, “That would be nice, but I don’t think I can do it,” give your local Latinists a call. Offer to make pasta and sit down one Sunday afternoon for some good conversation. Leave your inner critic at the door and bring your dictionary and your sparkling wit. You’ll be surprised what you can already do, what is possible if only you decide to do it.