The cult that is currently trying to draw me in is the cult of speakers of ancient languages. They don’t just study ancient Greek, they have conversations in it and argue over how it should be pronounced.
I first became susceptible to the thinking of this group nearly thirty years ago. I was learning two languages at the same time: biblical Hebrew and German.
In fact, I was in my second semester of Hebrew when I started my German class, and about six weeks into the German class I felt more confident in that language than in Hebrew. If someone asked me to say something in German I could blurt out, Guten Tag! or Wie Geht’s. If asked to say something in Hebrew, I might mutter, bereshith bara or something like that.
So I thought to myself, what if we could reconstruct ancient Hebrew conversation and learn the language conversationally?
A couple years later I found myself in a graduate program in classics and started asking the same questions. Since the dialogues of Plato were already conversations, I thought, they might be a great place to start.
Then I found out it wasn’t a new idea, in fact, folks had already been doing it with Latin. Not only had it been done, but up until just a year or two previous it had been done at my university. They taught Latin conversationally and continued their Latin conversations outside of class.
The program had been discontinued because the university officials thought it was becoming a cult! The students began to imagine they were medieval monks living in medieval monasteries, and evidently some of the students had evidently converted to medieval Christianity, and the university was threatened with lawsuits for advocating a particular religion. All this I learned through the grapevine.
Soon after learning about this I found myself teaching Latin, strictly by the book, not by immersing myself and my students in Latin conversation. I had a few students in the class who had learned Latin via vocis viventis by the conversational method. I was impressed with them the first few weeks. Their pronunciation was excellent and they had a pretty good head start. But I also noticed that by the sixth or seventh week of college Latin they had reached the limits of their high school students, and from then on no one had an unfair advantage.
More to come . . .