I wrote this back in 2015. I was still teaching in classrooms.
It’s still true.
Yesterday, during class, one of my students asked this question:
“Mr. Thomas. We’ve been studying Latin for three years. Why aren’t we fluent?”
I stopped class. “Let’s do some math on the board.”
Here is what I told them:
We are in school for 40 weeks. Subtract one week for fall break. Subtract another week for Thanksgiving break. Subtract two weeks for Christmas break. Subtract a week for spring break. And, let’s subtract one more week for field trips and standardized testing.
This leaves us with 35 weeks together.
We meet three times a week. Classes last 45 minutes. Let’s remove 10 minutes from each class for all of the interruptions, fire drills, bathroom break requests, lost homework shuffling, arguments between students, repeated instructions for students who never listen the first time, and general distractions. This leaves us with about 35 minutes of class time. (I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. That is a very generous amount of time. in some classes, I bet I spend 15 minutes teaching.)
35 minutes times three days equals 105 minutes a week. That’s about two hours a week. Again, I am being generous.
Two hours a week times 35 weeks equals 70 hours per year. Over the course of four years, students spend about 280 hours with me.
So, why are they not fluent by the end of four years of Latin?
In my book, Via, I demonstrate that it takes about 1000 hours of language training to become fully proficient in a language. To speak at a high fluency level, you will need to dedicate about 5000 hours to training. To speak at near native levels, you will need to dedicate about 10,000 hours.
280 hours is a drop in the bucket.
After teaching in the classroom for almost 20 years, I am convinced classroom education is one of the worst ways to learn a language.
So, how do you do it?
It isn’t that complicated, really.
Though I go into more detail in my book Via, here is what I suggest:
Learn the grammar as quickly as you can. Get it over with. Rip the Band-Aid off! This is why Visual Latin is designed to take two years. This is why my online Latin courses only take one to two years. It is my supreme goal to teach you the grammar of Latin, or Greek, as fast as I possibly can.
Once you learn the grammar, start listening to the New Testament in your target language. The New Testament is available as an audiobook in almost every language you want to learn. This includes Latin and Greek. Listening daily will help you with pronunciation. Turn the radio off. Turn your target language into your background soundtrack. You can do that for free right here: https://live.bible.is/bible/LATNV1/MAT/1?audio_type=audio_drama.
Second, start reading the New Testament. The New Testament is written at about a sixth-grade reading level. This makes it a perfect starting point after you have learned the grammar.
At this point, you will pass the required 1,000 hours for proficiency. Honestly, you could stop here. You have gone further than most people will ever go.
When you are done with the New Testament, start reading extensively in your target language. Read, read, read. You are now working toward fluency.
If possible, get out of the classroom. I have been grading papers in the classroom for almost 20 years. I have been grading papers online for over five years. There is a stark difference. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that classroom education is inferior education, and that online education is far superior.
I believe that it is because, in online education, we have removed all of the interruptions, fire drills, bathroom break requests, lost homework shuffling, arguments between students, repeated instructions for students who never listen the first time, and general distractions.
For the rest of your life, you will meet people who say, “I took two years of French in high school. I can’t speak a word of French.” In the past, this statement may have bewildered you. Now, it should make perfect sense.
Makes perfect sense to me.