Beginner’s Guide to Speaking Latin and Impressing Your Friends

Have you ever wanted to sound like a master orator and appear sophisticated in front of your friends? Well, never fear — Latin is here. While your friends might be learning one of the common modern languages such as Spanish, French, or Mandarin, they most likely will not know much Latin beyond a few phrases like Carpe diem, Vice versa, and Status quo. Many think that Latin is dead, boring, and only studied by old, European men. However, that could not be farther from the truth. Latin is alive and learned throughout the world from America to Asia, and is actually the foundation of the Romance languages. Unlike other languages, Latin is not tested through an oral exam so there is a lack of emphasis on practicing spoken Latin, which makes it even more impressive when you rattle off (nonchalantly, of course) some fancy-sounding phrases in front of others. 

So, how can one begin to sound elegant and cultured in Latin?

First: greetings. The most common greeting in Latin is Salve (pronounced “sal-way”) which means “Hello”. Now, this greeting is arguably one of the most well-known words in Latin. But, if you are going for a more suave-sounding greeting, Heus (pronounced “hay-oos”), which is similar to “Hey”, would be another option. You can accompany this subtle phrase with a toss of your hair or a cool wave. 

Next: asking questions. As a start, I suggest saying Quid agis (pronounced “quid ah-gis”), meaning “What’s up?”, which does not even require the other person to know any Latin, since this is often a rhetorical question or greeting. In fact, a quick nod could even suffice as a response! If you want to sound more advanced, you can ask questions such as Quomodo te habes (pronounced “quo-mode-o tay ha-bays”) which means “How are you”, or Quid nomen tibi est (pronounced “quid no-men tib-ee est”) which means “What is your name”. However, if you want a reasonably intelligent response, it would be helpful for your friend to know some Latin. If the other person actually knows a little Latin (P.S. all middle schoolers at Nobles learn some Latin through their Class VI English-via-Latin course), you can facilitate a back-and-forth conversation with your Latin question of choice, and look even smarter and more knowledgeable in front of your friend groups. This would make a great first impression. 

Finally: goodbyes. Vale (pronounced “wall-ay”), which simply means “Bye”, is another common word in Latin and the most frequently used goodbye. However, if you want a more distinct phrase, you can say In Posterum (pronounced “in pos-tear-on”) instead, which means “See you later.” This phrase can be especially useful if you plan on seeing this person in the near future. But, if you want to say goodbye with a quick joke as you leave, you can add something witty under your breath and have the last laugh. One example is Tu es fatuus (pronounced “too es fat-too-us”), which means “You are stupid.” I know this sounds cruel and insulting, but sometimes, you may be in a situation where you just need to let out your frustration without directly hurting anyone’s feelings. This is not only straight-up funny since your friend would likely struggle to understand what you just said, but it also displays the irony of this phrase: they are stupid because they do not understand the language. 

These introductory Latin phrases will not only allow you to stand out as an intellectual, but also show that Latin is alive and fun (and even funny). If you are interested in practicing spoken Latin, consider joining a session of Virtual Spoken Latin (VSL). VSL is a program that I created in 2020 as COVID-19 spread across the globe. As you remember, all school and extracurricular activities went virtual in Spring 2020, and most summer programs were canceled. After finding new ways to adapt to a different way of life, I began to research online courses, especially in Latin, one of my favorite subjects. I was surprised to find a lack of high school-level, conversational Latin programs, so I decided to create my own. I knew if I had support from one of my Latin teachers, I could create a credible curriculum. Ms. Glenn was on board, so I created a free online course using an easily accessible technology platform (Zoom).

The result: Virtual Spoken Latin (VSL), a free and accessible program for middle and high schoolers passionate about Latin.

​After designing the curriculum, I set out to recruit students. Ultimately, twelve of my classmates enrolled in the inaugural six-week VSL course. Through various activities and fun exercises, Ms. Glenn and I taught students essential vocabulary, pronunciation skills, and tools to speak Latin. The program culminated in a ten-minute drama, written and performed entirely in Latin – a memorable moment to cap off a challenging summer.

In 2021, VSL expanded to two academic levels (Beginner/Intermediate and Advanced), and included students from five different schools (Nobles, Milton, Winsor, Roxbury Latin, Park) in the greater Boston area, and is currently expanding! Let me know if you are interested in participating next summer, or want to take part in a special one-day event that may happen during the school year where you can build up your skills as a Latin scholar and orator! Until then, In Posterum!

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