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The importance of translation: a begginer's question

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The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby Sempernunc » Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:11 am

Salvete, amici!

My question is: How important is translation (forward and backward) in learning Latin to the point where I can fluently read relatively simple prose, say de Bello Gallico?

I would be very grateful for any advice or tidbits of personal experience you can offer.

I am a college freshman with exactly four months of Latin (At a point at which I am still unable to puzzle out a poem of Catullus, though probably not far from that point). Our class is using the textbook "Reading Latin" by Jones & Sidwell. My daily Latin routine consists of, in order of time:
i . Translating passages of adapted Latin into English
ii. Translating English and Latin phrases back and forth.
iii. Memorizing word parts and endings (chanting amo amare amavi)

I wasn't aware there was a different approach to learning Latin, until I read some essays by Prof. William Harris (http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris)
Latin is often still taken to be a matter of discipline, enforceable by automatic conversion of words to English as the daily "translation exercise", along with instant parsing of the grammar on command. This method would not be tolerated nowadays in a modern language. It is linguistically and pedagogically obsolete, and ends with students deserting the Latin class as soon as possible.


This seems to me (based on my experiences of learning French and English) very reasonable - I know little French grammar and even less of English, yet I am fluent in English and semi-fluent in French (my native language is Russian). There seems to be no connection between fluency and grammar.

If that is the case, am I wasting time in the class? Would it be a better idea to immerse myself in Latin via, say, Lingua Latina, then Latin children's books, then something like Harrius Potter, etc?

Thank you in advance, and apologies for the long post.


PS: My posts are still being screened by moderators, so my reply won't appear, it seems, for a while :/
Last edited by Sempernunc on Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby lauragibbs » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:20 am

I'm glad you found Harris's essay online; I'm definitely of the persuasion that English translation is an obstacle to learning a foreign language. If you are looking some short little stories to read in Latin, there is a book I put together last summer containing 1001 Aesop's fables in Latin, Mille Fabulae et Una - you can download the PDF here, it's free: http://pdf.bestlatin.net - I think Aesop's fables are great for reading without translating because they are short, and focused on a simple plot. You can tell right away with a fable whether you got the basic idea of what happened in the story... and as soon as you get that basic idea, you can just move on to another story, reading and reading and reading in Latin without any English translating.
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby adrianus » Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:15 pm

Sempernunc wrote:...am I wasting time in the class? Would it be a better idea to...

Hello, welcome. If you want to pass the course, Sempernunc, you need to do what's required. Don't skip class. Study the lecturer and listen because they will assess you. Sic, Sempernunc, semper erat et semper erit. If you want to do better, you should do more than is required, as you propose.

Salve et gratus nobis tuus adventus. Si cursum sustineas. Sempernunc, necessaria facienda. Noli lectiones omittas. Magistro stude et eum audi qui te ad examen vocet. Sic semper erat et erit. Si antecedas, ut proponis, excellas.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby dlb » Thu Jan 06, 2011 1:35 pm

Sempernunc,
My 2 cents worth:
Why did you enroll in the course? If to learn Latin then (1) you are to be commended & (2) in order to obtain a passing grade you need to perform as requested by the instructor.
Now, with that said, if you want to learn Latin and you think that the instructor is approaching the subject matter inefficently or in an archaic manner then withdraw. At this point you can begin to take on Latin in a manner which is more suited to your learning style.
Concerning fluency and grammar: you can build a Potemkin village w/o knowledge of grammar with which you can only go so far but eventually you will need to know it. Even LL requires it of you.
Learning a language without learning the grammar is like learning to play a musical instrument without knowing what notes you are playing. Its great to strum the guitar and make beautiful sounds but if you want to delve deeper into music you will need to understand the 'whys' & 'hows' of the makeup of music - the same applies with learning a foreign language.
Good Luck with your decision.
Deus me ducet, non ratio.
Observito Quam Educatio Melius Est.
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby lauragibbs » Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:08 pm

Speaking about grammar: I am a big fan of Latin grammar, and that's exactly why translating all the time into English can be so perilous. The grammatical principles of Latin and English (syntax, morphology) are fundamentally different. I find it's harder to get into the Latin while constantly being distracted by the structures of English. A lot of Latin teachers assume, simply because it's traditional, that English translation is essential to teaching Latin grammar. Not at all! Latin grammar can and should be learned on its own terms. Parsing is a great exercise to reinforce the grammar of a Latin sentence, and it's probably more productive to parse all the words of a difficult Latin sentence, spending time on morphological analysis, rather than spending that same amount of time on translating into English. Just my opinion. I love parsing, but cannot stand to translate...
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby Sempernunc » Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:11 pm

Study the lecturer and listen because they will assess you

Adrianus, you misunderstood me. I have no intention of skipping classes I've paid to attend; it's just that for me, getting the credits and transcript entry for the Latin class comes at a distant second to actually developing a reading knowledge of Latin. So if the former isn't actually helping me with the latter (or even hampering it, as Prof. Harris seems to say) I would be better off just withdrawing & pursuing Latin independently. Or perhaps, as you suggest, doing both at once.

But I intended the question to be a little more theoretical - I wanted to find out what people thought of the "traditional" classroom model vs. what Prof. Harris suggests in terms of how they help to achieve reading fluency, which is my goal.

From the replies so far, I glean that while english translation may be unnecessary and even harmful, learning grammar is unavoidable. But learning grammar without translation seems to me an almost impossible task - I would essentially have to infer grammar from reading, rather than being able to compare it to an English equivalent (for instance, all the genitive uses that I've seen so far have been equivalent to the use of "of").

By the way, Lauragibbs, thank you for the PDF link - that seems to a wonderful resource, and not very far from the reading level I'm at now. Thank you so much for compiling this material, and even moreso for providing it for free :D
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Re: The importance of translation: a begginer's question

Postby Hampie » Thu Jan 06, 2011 11:30 pm

Buy Lingua Latina per se illustrata, it’s really cheap, and since you’re already learning grammar at school, it will be nothing more than a progressive reader – which is not that bad. I personally has taken and been approved more than half a semster of latin – yet halfway through LL I’m totally lost.

If you speak French, I’ve heard very good things being said about Latein sans pain by Dessard – the prpnuncion is a pain, but the material is really interesting (and you learn how to get a room in a hotel or how to order at a resturant if you’d ever need to!).
Här kan jag i alla fall skriva på svenska, eller hur?
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