In the summer of 2005, with the help of a Teece scholarship, I attended an 8 week Latin program in Rome. I first heard of the program from my fellow Latin teacher, Hether Ludwick. Hether told me it was a wonderful experience led by a one-of-a-kind teacher: Fr. Reggie Foster, a Carmelite priest from Milwaukee who has been one of the Pope's Latin secretaries for 3 decades. He is so steeped in Latin that he speaks it in class and encourages students to "responde Latine".
Father Reggie's classes ran from two in the afternoon until 9:30PM seven days a week with all-day field trips on Sundays. To start class, he would hold court for a bit, chatting in Latin and English with the 60-70 students, telling stories or asking the class how one might say particular things in Latin. Other times he would have the class sing Gregorian chant or translate headlines from the International Herald Tribune. After the opening segment, the rest of class was usually spent reading various Latin authors from the last 2300 years. We read, among many other things, Galileo's telescope assembly instructions, a love letter from Heloise to Abelard, an account of Julius Caesar's assassination, graffiti from the walls of Pompeii, Cicero's letters home to his family while he was abroad, and even a 300 line Renaissance ditty about pugnacious pigs, written in flawless epic meter and consisting entirely of Latin words that begin with the letter "P".
Fr. Reggie had very clear ideas about how Latin should be taught. According to his way of seeing things, people spend too much time studying grammar rules and reading made-up textbook Latin instead of immersing themselves in the real thing. Comparing Latin to a piano, he'd say "people spend their whole lives figuring out how all the little hammers work, or how to tune it, but never actually sit down and play some Mozart." Then, after reading through an easy bit of Seneca or a funny part of a play, "I wouldn't hesitate to show this to students the FIRST DAY." He also had the class alter sentences we had just read by changing the tense, supplying synonyms, or adding participle phrases. "You keep doing this until you can hear Cicero talking on the phone." he would say.
The program was invigorating and inspiring, and has changed my ideas about what a Latin class can be like. I hope to slip more authentic texts into my classes this year and have students practice changing sentences around, making them their own. Fr. Reggie asked us to imagine what an everyday conversation between Cicero and his young son might have sounded like. What a wonderful question!