Latin by the Dowling Method

Has anyone come across or used the Dowling Method? I think the opening gambit may strike a chord with some of you and/or your students and maybe encourage you to read the whole article which, amongst other things, offers a “recipe for disaster” and a “recipe for success” – and what seems to me a whole lot of angst!

The Problem About Latin

The problem about Latin is that you can study it for six years and still not be able to read a Latin sentence.

If you study French, you get pretty quickly to a point where you process a French sentence in much the same way you process an English one: “J’ai lu tous les livres” comes across to you as “I’ve read all the books” and you don’t think much about it.

In Latin, you can still be looking at a sentence six years later and doing what I call a “crossword puzzle” reading of it. You find a masculine noun in the ablative singular, then you go hunting around the sentence for an adjective to go with the noun, and if you find one you set those two words aside mentally and go back and look at the verbs.

 ……In short, you’re trying to read the sentence somewhat as one assembles a model airplane from a kit: looking at the directions and fitting the parts together and hoping it all makes sense.

The reason this happens is that Latin is a “highly inflected” language and the other modern European languages mostly aren’t.

I’ll explain “highly inflected” below, but what this means for the short term is that French syntax or German syntax or Italian syntax works pretty much the same way as the English syntax you’re used to (subject-verb-predicate, subject-verb-predicate), while Latin doesn’t. So you can study it for six years without really learning how to “sweep up” a sentence the way you’re reading this sentence right now.

Read the whole article here

6 Responses

  1. Hans Orberg, W.H.D.Rouse, Terence Tunberg and others who have employed an oral/aural approach to teaching Latin will be discussed together with a system of teaching in this way (TPRS) based upon the theories of Stephen Krashen at the CSCP one day conference on Saturday June 13th. Teachers in the USA have been employing this method with apparent success and producing resources to support teaching the CLC in this way.

    Keith Rogers

  2. It seems to me, somebody’s out to promote some books.


    The trouble with Latin as a spoken language ( among other things ) is that we do not have a record of the Latin that the hoi polloi in the streets of Rome spoke. With the exception of graffiti and the plays of Plautus, we don’t have much, And I’m sure that the native speakers of English and those of Latin in ancient Rome don’t babble away like Gilbert & Sullivan or Shakespeare.

    That’s the problem I have with those that insist upon teaching Latin like a modern language. One, that Latin is a modern construct, and therefore I would argue lacks authenticity. Two, unlike those who take up Spanish or French or any modern language and can communicate with a vastly larger group of people, outside of that constructed Latin world, where will this constructed language be used? Three, I think a preference for teaching a spoken, constructed language precludes quickly dipping into the original world which has so deeply enriched our modern world.

    I would grant that this modern constructed language could be considered a natural growth of Latin from the original tongue through medieval or Church Latin to the modern age.

    But that would bring up another problem, related to my third point above.

    Which Latin is it that one wishes to study? So confusing.

    If one wishes to learn and use the modern constructed Latin in the cloistered bubbles of those who do that, that’s fine.

    But I’d argue, repetitively, what’s the point?

    • I do not stand to gain financially from any book sales if that is the implication about promoting books.

      I did recommend some books as supplementary reading resources but the talk was actually about using the CLC with spoken Latin. Rouse’s books are all available for download online.

      My purpose in using spoken Latin in the classroom is not to equip students to speak in ‘cloistered bubbles’ but because current linguistic theory suggests that it is a more effective way of acquiring a language.

      Stephen Krashen’s books are all available online at his website so please do not accuse me of promoting his books. I plead guilty to promoting some aspects of his theory.

      You may care to read on the Latin Best Practices and CLC discussion lists about the impressive results some teachers in the USA are having using a system called TPRS.

      Keith Rogers

  3. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of European history, would know that Latin was taught orally, and used actively as a spoken second language, uninterruptedly from Roman times, until well into the late 1700’s. Universities across Europe conducted all their business in Latin as well. In some European countries, this tradition continued into the mid 1800’s. Waquet’s “Empire of the Sign” is instructive reading. Certain schools forbad speaking anything but Latin on the school premises. It is, quite simply, a canard that spoken Latin dies with the Romans. for centuries, educated Europe was di-glott, with Latin as a second language learned and used actively.
    It is simply faster to learn to read, if you are immersed in the language. Any other method only caters to the 2% of students who can learn a language from grammar alone. To teach them this way, is to fail them.
    The issue is, we are using literary Latin when we speak, the Latin spoken on the Palatine Hill – we are not concerned with the hoi polloi and vulgar Latin. We are using the Latin that was handed down to us, and in more recent times, refined by the likes of Erasmus,Vives, Comenius etc, for colloquial and practical use as the European second language sine qua non.

    Students who learn their declensions, tenses and sentence structures though talking and listening to Latin in class, learn them fast, and can understand a text much better – they reach a stage where they can READ LATIN – i.e. not translate it into English into Latin as they go, but only to have a Latin discourse in their heads. This is ‘reading’. It is not the same thing as ‘translating’. Most Latin teachers nowadays do not teach their students to read Latin, and few can actually do it themselves.
    Sentence structure becomes intuitive when taught this way. If you are taught orally, you have to rely on your intuition. You cannot ‘hunt for the verb’ when dealing with Latin orally, your brain is forced to do what it does when learning other complex languages, like Russian. Sentences flow by, and you have to deal with them as a Roman did……and everyone in Rome could speak Latin, as father Foster likes to say, even the prostitutes.

    The sad reality is, the standards in the early 21st Century are now very low – with most higly fluent speakers aged over 60, the last survivors of an unbroken line of speakers of Latin going back to the Romans, without a break.

    However, there is hope – over 1000 members are registered on Schola, an all-latin social networking site, its chatroom is active every day. Over 4000 students are using Latinum, a full 3 year free course for oral spoken Latin online and the growing resource of Latin readers on the tar heel reader website – infants books in Latin, designed to promote the kind of intuitive fluency that is sadly lacking, are making an impact. These are all free resources.

  4. I give the so-called Dowling Method very high marks. Of course, my only frame of reference is my own experience as a fumbling, self-taught student. However, on that basis, I believe I started to make real progress when I stumbled on Prof. Dowling’s web page. It rang true when I first read it, and it seems to be working some months later.

  5. I created a webapp to help with the Dowling Method’s memorization of the Wheelock tables. It’s called “Dowling’s Wheel”:

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