Familia Romana is an amazing book, plunging the reader into actually being able to read Latin, but it does have one problem: each chapter is so rich with words and concepts that it can be hard to fully digest before moving on. We need more repetition, and more chances to practice. Even reading it twice (as in the suggested weekly schedule) does not necessarily lead to practice and mastery. So I have been asking myself: what would be a better way to fully learn this text?
I am proposing a new approach based on the way actors learn their lines. Many actors will tell you that they don’t exactly “memorize” all those scripts—at least in the way we often imagine memorizing—they simply live in the lines until they know them by heart.*
Here is my new system in a nutshell:
- Legāmus (let’s read): Listen to the passage you have chosen, following along with your eyes. Enjoy what you can understand, but don’t stop to figure things out.
- Interrogēmus (let’s ask questions): Look up any words you didn’t understand, then ask yourself questions and answer them in Latin. The questions should move from very simple repetition of the text, to careful observation, and even speculation about the deeper meanings.
- Simple questions: who kissed the apple? what was it that she kissed?
- Observation questions: why is this word in the ablative? What are the verbs in this passage? What words are emphasized?
- Interpretation questions: why does the author have her kiss an apple? Do you kiss fruit?
- Recitēmus (let’s recite): Read the passage out loud several times, but differently each time
- Listen, then repeat each phrase, closing your eyes and imagining the scene vividly
- Decide how you would move your body as you acted this scene; choose motions or expressions to go with each phrase
- Try out different emotional interpretations of the passage: how does the meaning change if you sound angry? if you sound cheerful?
- How much of this passage can you recite from memory at this point? Cover the book or close your eyes and take the challenge!
I am preparing a series of videos to walk through these steps with a particular paragraph of Familia Romana. Try them out, experiment with “learning a lesson” this way, and let me know how it goes!
*see, for example Annie Murphy Paul, “What Actors Can Teach Us About Memory and Learning” Time Magazine online Feb. 22, 2012. I am also indebted to the actors who taught my children through the Much Ado About Shakespeare program, and to Luke Ranieri’s system of re-reading texts (https://youtu.be/JTWKpNy96EM).