Written by Dyami Millarson
I always pay attention to spoken Dutch and recently I caught myself saying ‘Waar is het rietsuiker?’ and ‘…een artikel die aantoont….’ These are congruence mistakes. Daily situations and conversations happen fast, so there is often no time to correct yourself. For years, I have noticed mistakes in our daily speech, especially when we are exhausted or stressed. However, when I heard myself making those congruence mistakes recently, it made me think about learning to speak and write Latin, which has been my explicit goal since 2008 and possibly earlier (the earliest memory that I can recall right now of myself writing a Latin text is from 2008, but it is likely possible that I started writing Latin texts earlier, but I do not recall that right now and I would need to think about it for a bit longer to recall all the details).
As I was pondering, I came to the realisation that Romans must generally have spoken Latin with mistakes as well. If I pay so much attention to Dutch and I am so careful in my daily speech yet still catch myself making mistakes occasionally, I am sure that the Romans were like that as well. This brought me to the following: If you wish to speak Latin, then do not be distracted by mistakes but just focus on expressing yourself fast and clearly. Simply do it, then continue and never stop. Errors are to be accepted. I am not saying that one should not care about errors. Just notice it and try to do better next time, but do not let it interfere with your performance. Make errors gratiously without correcting yourself if the error causes no misunderstanding.
I always notice mistakes and tell myself afterwards to pay more attention to it next time. When I say ‘het suiker’, other Dutch speakers know what I mean so I do not need to correct myself after committing the error. However, I will obviously make sure to say ‘de suiker’ next time because such a mistake could cause social embarrassment, and that is of course why we try to speak any language as best we can. Errors are to be learned from, but performance in the moment is the most important. One’s attention should not be distracted from that. It is all about focusing on what truly matters in life; when it is a critical or urgent situation, no one cares, for instance, whether ‘de suiker’ or ‘het suiker’ is said in Dutch. This is not the most important.
So I wish to emphasise that output should be the main focus of communication. Granmar is something you must respect, but it should not be something disabling or crippling you in interactive situations. Instead, you should get over yourself and accept that you may commit errors. All that matters is that you continue shamelessly. If you let feelings of shame or fear control your life, then there is no way you can express yourself in Dutch or Latin or any other language properly. Language-learning is a process of getting over your emotions and persuading yourself to focus on what truly matters for communication.
If you wish to write and speak a lot in Latin, just do it. Practice makes perfect. I know it is a cliché, but it is definitely true. You may write a lot of Latin and cringe if you read back your old writings in a few years time, but production is the only way to achieve progress if you truly wish to learn. Errors are a fact of life and when you are trying to learn a language, you are going to make mistakes. Just like with how you learned to walk: You stood up, fell, stood up again, and fell again, but never gave up, because that was the only way to learn a vital skill. Mistakes are part of the learning process. One may even say mistakes are vital for the learning process because they offer momemts for reflection and improvement. Mistakes are small steps towards progress. Let me wrap up this article in an appropriate fashion with a Latin saying: Errāre hūmānum est. To err is human.
My Latin teacher claimed that learning his subject, as I did to A level, was ‘gymnastics for the mind’. Good luck with it!
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My teachers did as well. Although I agree it is good to challenge oneself with the learning of any language, they saw Latin as a subject where no mistakes should be made, and some, rather than welcoming my efforts, looked upon my desire to actively speak and use the language with suspicion and derided me for it. I still recall the first day at grammar school when I told the teacher I could already read and understand a bit of Latin because I had studied it on my own when I was still a primary school student.🤓 Instead of giving the response I expected, the teacher was not amused and said self-study would lead to errors and believed I would fail the subject.🤔 I’ve had 5 different Latin teachers in total. When I passed my final exams for Latin, the examinator came to me personally (they never do this) to tell me that I had done very well. Although I have had both teachers who encouraged and discouraged me, I think I may conclude safely that school taught me not to make mistakes, which is exactly the opposite attitude for what is needed to speak and write the language actively. For much of the time I attended school, I had to hide the fact I was writing the language as well as able to speak it. There were a few teachers whom I could share my texts with for correction, but not all were like this. I noticed that I made most progress outside school hours and when I no longer had to attend school in 2012, my progress accelerated because I was completely free to study on my own and create my own safe study environment. However, up to this day, I would still like to polish my active Latin language skills, because I wish to be as fluent in it as English or Dutch, where I care more about communication than a few writing or speaking errors along the way.🤗 At some point, I had reached enough confidence to share my self-acquired knowledge with others and teach Latin online as a living language. Furthermore, owing to my experiences at school, I wanted to be a completely different kind of teacher for the people whom I met online; I wanted to be a coach who encouraged them for all their efforts rather than a know-it-all teacher who points out every single mistake students make, because I have experienced myself what the fruits are of such perfectionism,🤕😢 and I know the language will stay dead because of it.🤐 Latin as a living language is not perfect, and neither is Dutch, English or Clay Frisian. What I am thankful for is that I have developed a thick skin and I am not at all discouraged when minority language speakers point out mistakes to me; rather than fearing this and being afraid of speaking endangered languages, I am intrigued and want to learn as quickly as possible, with the help of the native speakers. The difference with my Latin teachers, who never made an effort to speak or write Latin for fear of making mistakes😨😷, is that I hear the minority language speakers making mistakes themselves as well, which helps me to understand perfection is not at all the reality of daily communication, and as I do not need to worry about getting high scores on my exams, I can fully embrace the fact that errors are a natural part of the learning process. I always try my best so as to avoid unnecessary mistakes, but when I do notice myself making mistakes, I move on without even shrugging my shoulders because making mistakes is such an ordinary thing.😌 Historically, the Latin teachers of later ages have often derided the medieval Latin writers for making mistakes in their Latin😲, but the latter actively used the language while the former usually only translated texts. Although I want to be fluent in Classical Latin as well as pre-Classical Latin, I did take inspiration from my medieval predecessors who did not fear making mistakes so much that it stopped them from writing or speaking. They actively used the language for communication. I have read stories about medieval teachers being strict as well (and teachers in Roman times were like this as well😅), but I have also seen clear evidence they were more tolerant of mistakes that went along with the active use of the language, and the fear of mistakes had not yet grown out of hand to the point where the language was being artificially kept dead.🤐 This is what I hope to correct with my efforts😀, because I see that similar processes are killing endangered languages in modern times. By applying my experience from Latin to mimority languages, I make an effort to save them in the same manner that I brought Latin back from the dead on my own without being encouraged or told to do so at school.💕 I learned to go against the grain, and I hope to inspire others to do the same for the sake of both saving modern languages and bringing ancient ones back from the dead.👄❤️👅 I have experimented with bringing back Ancient Greek and Gothic in the same way, and it worked. But while I was writing a book in 2010 about learning to speak Ancient Greek as a living language, I had learned to notice there are so many living languages dying around me in my environment, and this observation gradually led me in the current direction. I had realised that I could do so much more than just revive Latin, Ancient Greek and Gothic; after my successes with the revival of other languages than Latin, I had soon developed the idea that I could use this knowledge to the dying languages in the modern world as well and prevent them from dying.💀 I was convinced that I had, so to speak, found the fountain of immortality for all languages.😃 I knew at some point that my ‘method’ or ‘idea’ could be applied to each and every language, and that is what my charity work is based on today.😍 As my Latin students became persuaded of the same idea as well, they started helping me out with saving languages. I hope you do not mind my long message offering some background information, and thank you for the encouraging words!😇
Since you’re a new commenter here, please make yourself comfortable and feel free to comment anytime. Please make yourself at home, for we wish to create and maintain that kind of safe environment around here. 😏😌
– Dyami Millarson
What other languages would you be learning next my friend? 🙂
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Hello friend, thank you for asking!😁 We are currently working on 3 language projects: Saterlandic, Heligolandic and Elfdalian. Our next projects will be the remaining living North Frisian languages.
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Wow, I must say I’m very impressed! Wish you all the very best! I’m sure you will thrive on it! Also that is an excellent approach to self-growth so thank you for giving us insight into that method!! 🙂
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