January 21, 2011

Exercitatio optimus est magister

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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.


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