January 30, 2011

Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet. In English: "A learned person always has wealth inside himself."

The crucial phrase in this proverb is in se, inside himself. The wealth of learning is wealth that people carry inside themselves and which they always have with them. Unlike a big house or a big car or fancy clothes, these riches are invisible, an inner wealth that is part of your personal identity. There is an Aesop's fable which illustrates this idea. The story goes that the poet Simonides was in a shipwreck. The rich men on the ship tried to grab their money and other belongings, but this only weighed them down, and they drowned. The survivors of the shipwreck washed ashore, naked, hungry, friendless, and had to beg for food. Simonides, on the other hand, was a gifted poet, famous throughout all of Greece. He was able to "sing for his supper" (the ancient Greek poets were singers, not writers), and thus he was well clothed and well fed by the grateful people of the town who were delighted to have such a great artist in their midst. The learned Simonides, truly a homo doctus, carried his wealth inside himself. Like Simonides, I hope that I too have acquired some knowledge and skills that will help me survive life's shipwrecks, both literal and metaphorical. Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet.

In terms of Latin grammar, there is no getting around the fact that doctus is a masculine adjective. I personally don't have any problem with the masculine form being used in a proverb that is general and applies to any learned person. After all, the Latin here uses the noun homo, meaning "person," rather than the more exclusively male noun vir. Of course, if you want to apply the proverb strictly to the ladies, you can go ahead and do that, too: Femina docta in se divitias semper habet. :-)

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Homo doctus in sē dīvitiās semper habet.


January 29, 2011

Repetitio mater memoriae

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Repetitio mater memoriae. In English: "Repetition is the mother of memory."

I promised last week that I would cover this Latin saying about repetition, which is of course very similar to the English saying, "Repetition is the mother of learning." I think I prefer the Latin phrase to the English one, because memorization is a kind of learning which really is best aided by repetition. There are other methods you can use to commit things to memory, but repetition is one of the best. Plus, don't think that repetition just means when you repeat something over and over again. There are other kinds of repetition that are an aid to memory, as you can see in the phrase mater memoriae, "the mother of memory." In both the Latin and the English there is the repetition of the "m" sound, and this kind of alliteration - a sound repetition inside the thing itself - actually makes it easier to remember. So, repeat after me: Repetitio mater memoriae, "Repetition is the mother of memory."

In terms of Latin grammar, it is worth noting that the reason repetition is the mother, mater, of memory is because the Latin noun repetitio is feminine in gender. There are lots of these "family" proverbs in Latin, and whether a particular abstract noun gets to be the father or the mother of something depends on the grammatical gender of the noun. In the proverb Labor gloriae pater, "Work is the father of glory," the noun labor, masculine in gender, gets to be the father of glory, just as repetitio, feminine in gender, is the mother of memory.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Repetītiō est māter memoriae.


January 27, 2011

Week 1: Repetitio

Since Repetitio est mater memoriae ("Repetition is the mother of memory" - a proverb I need to write up at some point), each week I will finish with a review of the previous week's proverbs. So, here are the proverbs from this week, along with a link to each podcast:
I'll be back next week with more! :-)

January 26, 2011

Scribendo disces scribere

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Scribendo disces scribere. In English: "By writing you will learn to write."

The students in my classes write A LOT: they write for me, for each other, and for themselves, using various online formats, including websites and blogs. If you want to see some of their websites, follow this link; I am really proud of the work that they do. Because I can teach in an online environment where all our class activities take place in written form, I finally feel able to focus on writing. When I taught in the classroom, the emphasis was on oral communication and it was hard to put writing at the center of my teaching - and just practically speaking, since I am a short person, I sure had a hard time writing on the blackboard! But seriously, when we met in the classroom, I did not think of myself as a writer, nor did my students. Now, however, my students are writing all the time, and they think of themselves as writers. By writing, they will learn to write, I hope - and the same is true for me, too! Scribendo discemus omnes scribere - by writing we can all learn to write!

In terms of Latin grammar, you can see here another example of the very useful Latin gerund, a verbal noun often used in the ablative, as here: scribendo, by means of writing. Compare the similar use of a gerund in a saying earlier this week: Errando discitur, "We learn by making mistakes."

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Scrībendō discēs scrībere.


January 25, 2011

Dubium sapientiae initium

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Dubium sapientiae initium. In English: "Doubt is the beginning of wisdom."

I thought this saying would make a good pair with yesterday's proverb, Errando discitur, "We learn by making mistakes." Knowledge can emerge from a lack of knowledge; certainty can arise out of uncertainty. The Latin word dubium has as its root the word duo, two. Something that is dubium, a matter of doubt, is about possibilities, the existence of two or more things that make claims to be true. Wisdom is then the process of discerning among those possibilities. The saying Dubium sapientiae initium is famously attributed to the philosopher Renatus Cartesius, or, to use his French name, Rene Descartes. Descartes made doubt into a philosophical method, which is called "Cartesian doubt" in his honor. You can read more about the method of Cartesian doubt in this article at Wikipedia... and hey, if you have your doubts about Wikipedia, just remember that doubt is the beginning of wisdom! Dubium sapientiae initium.

In terms of Latin grammar, the trick again here is to recognize the division between subject and predicate. You have dubium on the one hand, and initium on the other - "a matter of doubt" and "beginning." You then have to decide where the genitive sapientiae belongs. Grammar cannot answer that question for you; it is a matter of meaning. The only solution that makes sense is to let dubium stand as the subject and sapientiae initium as the predicate: A matter of doubt is the beginning of wisdom.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons - except there are no macrons; the single vowels are all short!

Dubium sapientiae initium.


January 24, 2011

Errando discitur

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Errando discitur. In English: "We learn by making mistakes."

This is another proverb that is essential to my beliefs about teaching and learning. Mistakes are GOOD. You cannot learn without making mistakes. To learn, you must make mistakes, and then you study the mistake so that you can avoid making that same mistake again in the future. Every mistake you make and understand is a step on the long road of learning. Yet we have turned mistakes into a source of shame and fear. Instead of embracing mistakes, we punish them, and because mistakes are punished, students try to cover up their mistakes or deny responsibility for them. What a disaster for learning! Every time students take a test but do not correct their mistakes, an opportunity for learning is lost. Every time students do writing which the teacher marks up but which they do not revise, an opportunity for learning is lost. Retake all tests! Revise all writing! That is the way to learn, in my opinion. So, the next time you make a mistake, SMILE and say: Errando discitur!

In terms of Latin grammar, you see two forms here that are sometimes off-putting for English speakers: the verbal noun which is called a gerund (errandum, here used in the ablative: errando) and the use of the impersonal passive (discitur). In Latin, these are both common and they are highly expressive! I'm not sure why the gerund causes such trouble for Latin students. I suspect it is because the future passive participle is taught first, and sometimes the gerund is not even formally taught at all, so that students are tempted to give the gerund a passive meaning, which it does not have at all. The Latin errando here is pretty much exactly equivalent to the English phrase "by making mistakes." As for the impersonal passive, it strikes me as simply perverse to insist on a literal translation: "it is learned." I far prefer a more idiomatic English translation, and in English we often use "we" for a general statement equivalent to the impersonal passive in Latin: discitur, "we learn."

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Errandō discitur.


January 23, 2011

Dies diei discipulus

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Dies diei discipulus. In English: "One day is the student of another."

This is a great little proverb about "lifelong learning" - or what you might call "day by day learning." There are a lot of different metaphors packed into this tiny saying. Here is how I understand it: Each day faces new challenges and has things to learn, but the day does not have to figure things out on its own; one day is the student of another day, of yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. So, let each day learn what it can, so that it can help to teach the days to come!

In terms of proverb style, you can see the wonderful effect of alliteration here. I'm not sure how to even try to render that in English.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Diēs diēī discipulus.


January 22, 2011

Doce ut discas

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Doce ut discas. In English: "Teach in order to learn."

This is a saying whose truth comes home to me every single day in my job as a teacher. By teaching, I keep improving my knowledge, strengthening and reinforcing it. Sometimes, in fact, I feel guilty because it seems that I might be learning more than my students. I'll look something up to answer a student's question, and the answer stays with me, even if the student might soon forget that they even asked me that question. Of course, students can be teachers, too, and one of the best things students can do is to teach something to someone else - to another student in the class, to their friends or a roommate, or to their own children. Lots of the students in my classes are parents with young children at home, and I'm always hopeful that they will use some of the stories they read in class to entertain their own children. I'm sure that telling the story to their children is a far better way to reinforce their knowledge than any quiz or class assignment I could come up with. So, if there is something you want to learn, find a way to teach it to someone else, too. Teaching is a powerful way to learn!

In terms of proverb style, this saying benefits from the alliteration between the verbs docere and discere in Latin. In English, the verbs teach and learn don't have this built-in verbal echo, alas.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Docē ut discās.


January 21, 2011

Exercitatio optimus est magister

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Exercitatio optimus est magister. In English: "Practice is the best teacher."

This is a saying that is very much at the heart of my own philosophy of teaching and learning. It seems to me that people really teach themselves by practicing whatever it is that they want to learn - and the more they practice, the more they will learn. You don't really even need a teacher to learn something, after all. What you need is practice, and lots of it, so that you can become your own teacher. We all know that practice is important for musicians, say, and for athletes. Yet it seems to me we underestimate the importance of practice when it comes to academic learning. In my opinion, we put way too much emphasis on tests and grading, and far too little emphasis on practice itself, for its own sake. You might know the traditional English saying, "Practice makes perfect." Of course, I don't want to fall into the trap of being a perfectionist. So, instead of the saying "Practice makes perfect," I prefer today's Latin saying instead: Exercitatio optimus est magister, "Practice is the best teacher."

In terms of Latin grammar, the trick here is recognizing the distinction between the subject - exercitatio - and the predicate, optimus est magister. That is typical Latin word order, but it is definitely a bit unusual for English speakers. The verb est, whose appearance in the sentence is purely optional, has been sandwiched neatly in-between the predicate noun, magister, and its adjective, optimus. As you hear the proverb in Latin, you get a clue about what is going on because the adjective optimus obviously cannot be modifying the noun exercitatio, as the noun is feminine and the adjective is not!

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Exercitātiō optimus est magister.


Blog Redux

A blog reborn! I've been working a lot of Latin animal proverbs which you can see at the Latin Via Proverbs blog... but along the way I keep running into proverbs that I like so much that I've decided to revive this blog after a very long sleep!

What I've decided to do is to choose a theme to explore each year. This year the theme will be learning and school, hoping to accumulate some words of wisdom for teachers and students alike. :-)