Friday, June 13, 2008

Classicum

Last week a copy of Classicum- the journal of the Classical Languages Teachers’ Association- arrived in the post. There were a couple of interesting articles, including one by Dexter Hoyos (who taught me Latin at Sydney Uni), on why we translate from Latin to English. It seems an odd question, but his point is that focussing on translating Latin makes us overlook the skills we need to read and understand Latin. Here are a few excerpts:

Why do we translate Latin into English in our Latin courses? The answer might seem incontestable: to enable students to practise their grasp of Latin grammar, and teachers to have a ready check on their progress. Another question is perhaps more pertinent: why does translating from Latin (and, in some courses, into Latin) persist right through secondary school study and then university study too? And most pertinent of all, why do we in effect kiss goodbye – from the very beginning – to all hope that our students will understand what Romans wrote without making it into English?…

[Translating] does have its uses. We cannot teach elementary Latin without it to clarify points of grammar and meaning. Even at advanced levels it can be useful for explaining some points to students. Translating well is also intellectually satisfying in itself. Even so, as an element of Latin study it is like using a teaspoon to eat a meal: at best , useful but not ideal; at worst, a misdirection of effort…

There are two critical drawbacks to this [approach]. The first is obvious: if to understand one has to translate, how much of one’s life is needed for ‘reading’ the twelve books of the Aeneid or twenty-nine of Cicero’s extant speeches (not to mention all fifty-eight)? ... The second drawback is still more damaging. Translating-to-understand encourages learners to assume… that the proper medium for understanding and absorbing Roman literature is English… This is killing to any in-depth comprehension of a text…

The full article was originally published in CPL online and can be down loaded here. Professor Hoyos is also the author of the book Latin, how to read it fluently : a practical manual (read more about this book here- you'll need to scroll down the page a bit to find the relevant info).

2 comments:

veritas said...

usually appreciation of latin texts come after exams- just a theory- because i feel that after i understand the content, i can begin to relate it back to the latin and the context, etc and realise that it's not just a bunch of words, but something much more beautiful. this time, it's not livy but virigl.

p.s. livy isn't as bad as he initially appeared to be. feel free to disagree.

clemens said...

ur rite veritas. livy isnt as bad as weall 1st tought. its funni u neva wouldve thought wed eva say dat afta evrythin we had 2 do 4 our livy assments bt dere u go!!!

de ting dat rlly annoys me bout virgil is dat hes so hrd 2 trnslte cuz hes so poetci n stuf. nt kool.