Thursday, July 11, 2013

Conventiculum Dickinsoniense, or What This Latin Teacher Did With Her Summer Vacation

I teach Latin . I suspect that if  my students ever read this post, they will think I am whackier than Ms. Frizzle, the elementary-school science teacher in the Magic School Bus children's series. For part of my summer vacation, I have been attending the "Conventiculum Dickinsoniense," a summer Latin Camp for folks who want to speak Latin, generally considered a dead language. There are, however, users of contemporary Latin, and I wanted to join that group to improve my ability to use the language. It was a worthwhile experience.

"Nostra grex," or our class, stands in front of Althouse Hall, where our classes took place.
Terence Tunberg of the University of Kentucky is not only fluent in Latin but an energetic and enthusiastic teacher

Here is Terence Tunberg in a rarely-seen pensive moment. He is truly kind to his students
Milena Minkova is Bulgarian by birth but is fluent in both English and Latin as well; she trained at the Vatican in Rome

Some folks think Latin is called a dead language because nobody speaks it, or, worse, that it's impossible to speak. But that's simply not true.

Need proof? Click this link to watch Professor Tunberg at work (on another occasion). 

The question of *why* folks desire to speak Latin is harder to explain. Some find that using the language actively helps them learn and retain it, others find it useful as a teaching technique, and some just find the spoken version of the language beautiful and fun. A few might like the challenge of proving it can be done.

Put me down for "all of the above."

Terence Tunberg told us that he wanted to experience Latin the way the great scholars of the Renaissance, men such as Erasmus, had experienced it, really not all that many centuries ago. It was a journey that took him to Germany to find the immersion experience he desired. After studying with him, I am very glad he found it.

The Conventiculum itself is a way to share enthusiasm with like-minded people. The participants are diverse in their experiences and interests, but all are interesting, intelligent, and fun to be around. One, nicknamed "Petrus Australianus," journeys every summer to this Latin-speaking convention as well as to other ones in the U.S. and abroad.

All the way from Australia, every summer, just to attend!

And Petrus is kind enough to carry around a little pouch full of plastic toy Australian animals just so we can talk in Latin about kangaroos, platypuses, Tasmanian devils, etc.

It's certainly nice to be around folks who get the T-shirts, jokes, and riddles:

Here is a riddle written and solved by classmates

Here is a second riddle written in Latin
This third Latin riddle alludes to a character from Greek mythology (Oops! No more hints!)

This T-shirt translates into Latin an old joke by Groucho Marx

Not all our learning took place in classrooms, however. Participants had sworn a solemn oath to speak nothing but Latin to each other until the Conventiculum was over. So at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as in the residence halls, lively conversations took place and friendships were formed. And just as the ancient Roman aristocracy loved to escape to the countryside, so our group enjoyed a splendid outing to and picnic at the nearby Dickinson College Farm. The farm is a model for sustainable agricultural practices and living.

Housing on Dickinson College Farm allows a few lucky(?) individuals to live "off the grid"

This particular Latin convention is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for beginners in Latin. But readers who can read Latin well and enthusiastically should attend at least once. They will learn what a pleasure it is to bring this ancient language back to life.

Update on 3/16/14: I am successfully using active Latin in my own classes now. I am also sharing enthusiasm for spoken Latin with a wonder regional group, the Tidewater Classical Symposium.

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