“I was terrified going in.” Sophomore Lonna Lindstrom was just one returning student who participated in Conventiculum, an annual advanced-Latin course at the start of the academic year. Four days of nine a.m. to seven p.m. activities, with a strict “Latin-speaking-only” rule, Conventiculum is boot camp for the Latin-loving students of Professor Timothy Griffith, Professor Joseph Tipton, and the other Latin instructors. Participating students are split into teams, and along with classroom study, they are given a litany of activities. From charades to shopping for groceries, Professor Griffth designs all activities to make students “communicate and solve problems using the [Latin] language.” It is a fully-immersive approach that incorporates both high- and low-pressure situations in order to “create a sense of necessity,” which Professor Griffith regards as “one of the best teachers.” Necessity is the mother of invention, as it goes.
Lonna’s fellow sophomore, Olivia Hatcher, admitted the prospect of Conventiculum was intimidating for her as well. “It was difficult,” she said, “not to be able to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it.” The mental exertion required to communicate in a different language (typically considered a dead language) makes for a crowd of tired, hungry students by the end of each day. Participants are required to make dinner using a Latin recipe. To eat, they have to translate it correctly. “One of the desserts was mismade,” Lonna laughs, “I think they doubled the salt!” This creates a good strain, says Professor Griffith, that does more than increase the speed of learning. It is also an excellent opportunity for students to learn and display leadership skills. To manage the disarray, participants step into organizing roles, assigning tasks and dividing labor among their teams.
Thankfully, not every activity is designed to make students sweat. This year, the teams engaged in pottery, which gave students a “frustrating, yet fun and exciting” way to build conversational Latin in a low-risk environment. Playing charades, cooking dinner, and shaping clay, while speaking Latin, changes the learning experience. It engages students beyond the academic mindset—they experience Latin in a spectrum of humor, sarcasm, and creativity. The activities reach more of the students’ intellectual and emotional life. It makes Latin more natural, more intuitive. “It was really fun trying to be sarcastic in Latin,” said Lonna, “I found that I could communicate in a complex way.” This is both the challenge and the appeal of Conventiculum.
The immersive style of Conventiculum had unique effects on the participants. Students like Lonna and Olivia were surprised to be not only speaking but also thinking in Latin. “I was able to understand the Latin immediately,” said Olivia, “I didn’t need to translate from Latin to English to understand the meaning. I understood the Latin itself.” Lonna agreed: “I was talking to myself in Latin when I was cleaning my room after class.” Conventiculum is another small way that New Saint Andrews is breaking the mold in higher education (in fact, its language studies are one of a kind in the country).
Language study, and Latin specifically, is one of the college's academic priorities. It trains the mind in unique ways; it enhances knowledge of our own English language and vocabulary; it makes true scholarship possible; but most importantly, it equips students to understand their own origins, history, and cultural context. If Western civilization were a discussion, Latin would be the loudest voice in the room with the most say. Shouldn't Westerners be able to hold a conversation with their own history? And by converse, it's meant converse. Not simply parse written sentences.