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.