Reciting Latin Verse
One of the great difficulties in teaching ancient languages like Latin is the general lack of a spoken component. Whereas modern language students can reinforce the grammatical material they learn in a book through oral drills and conversational practice, students of Latin are faced with the prospect of studying a complex, inflected language entirely through the written word. While students still manage to learn the grammar and vocabulary, they often lack an appreciation for Latin as a living, breathing means of communication. A sensitivity to the oral aspect of the language not only reinforces material learned through traditional means, but also opens a window into the sublime quality of Latin which can serve as motivation for further study.
With an eye towards the latter benefit especially, I have included an oral component in all my introductory Latin classes. This consists specifically of the study and practice of Latin poetic recitation. Midway through the semester, I offer a general introduction to Latin meter. This introduction includes a series of detailed handouts, a full class session of discussion and examples, and a set of practice exercises in determining the quantity of syllables and the metrical pattern of a given line. Shortly thereafter, I distribute the opening lines of Virgil's Aeneid, which are some of the most famous examples of Latin verse. I specifically choose this passage because I want even the students who will never study Latin again to have some intimate knowledge of at least one small piece of ancient literature. The students are expected to practice reading the passage aloud in the correct metrical verse pattern and ultimately, to recite it from memory at the end of the semester.