Today’s blog was guest written by CPLS Latin teacher, Sarah Gannon.
The Latin word for “tongue” is “lingua,” from which the English word “language” derives. It is no accident that languages are sometimes called “tongues.” Students must stretch the parts of their mouths in new directions and with new patterns as they pronounce the sounds of a new language. So, it is fitting that food should play a significant role in Latin class.
Food has a very practical purpose as an effective motivator for middle school students. One may try to inspire them with all the ways Latin will train their minds and benefit their future, but from a 6th grader’s perspective the future seems impossibly far away and not worth hard work in the present. Similarly, many students at this level are not motivated by grades, since those rewards seem so distant and intangible. But the promise of a delicious treat in the classroom can elicit tremendous effort and success in learning Latin vocabulary.
Engaging the senses can also make a Latin lesson more memorable. Student memories from 7th grade Latin class often feature the Pharos lighthouse they built out of graham crackers and frosting, or the Alexandrian glassware they mimicked with melted Jolly Ranchers. Rarely do they reminisce about a grammar lesson on infinitives or relative clauses.
Feasting can be a literal representation of a Roman holiday, such as the Saturnalia festival that the 8th graders celebrate in December. Like the original, CPLS’s version features bread and olive oil, apricots and stuffed dates, seafood and pomegranate juice. Students can more fully enter into the ancient holiday spirit as they taste the actual foods that may have been consumed by Romans two millennia in the past.
On a more metaphorical level, it is appropriate to pair a feast for the mind with a feast for the body. Students can comprehend and digest more of our world by learning Latin, since Latin is a language that forms the building blocks for so much of our culture and so many modern languages. Students eat a veritable feast every time they understand more Latin or when they understand it more fully. One way to learn Latin more completely and to feast on its riches is by writing original Latin poetry. When 9th graders present their own original Latin poems in imitation of Martial’s epigrams, it makes sense to eat a real feast at the same time.
Food makes Latin more motivating, more memorable, more authentic, and more fitting. Treats, edible projects, and feasts feature prominently in the Latin program at Cair Paravel, because it is good for students to savor the Latin and enjoy its beauty in a holistic way. It is appropriate for them to use their tongues to taste as well as to speak a new tongue.