Our final Author of the Month for 2014 is none other than Jean-François Mondon, Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages at Minot State University, USA. In a new extensive interview, Professor Mondon discussed his career, the appeal of continuing to learn Latin in the modern era, and key points from his two recent publications, Caesar’s De Bello Gallico and Intensive Basic Latin (publishing later this month).
Jean-François Mondon is also author of Intermediate Latin, which will not be released until July 2015.
Tell us about your academic career, and what spurred you to teach Latin.
History and geography had always been my favorite subjects in grade school. Then in high school, I was required to take Latin and realized how much I loved it. From there, I dabbled in other languages and began to be intrigued by the structure of languages and, combined with my interest in history, I fell upon 'historical linguistics' which studies how languages develop through time. I was fortunate as an undergraduate to know from the beginning that I wanted to study linguistics and I was even more fortunate to go to the University of Pennsylvania, which not only has the oldest linguistics program in the US, but also a fantastic faculty. I liked it so much that I stayed there for my MA and PhD. I pretty much studied the litany of ancient Indo-European languages (e.g. Greek, Sanskrit, Old Irish, Hittite, Old English) as well as modern linguistic theory.
As far as teaching Latin, I always felt that I would love to teach in general, especially Latin. I just love the complexity and intricacy of its grammatical structure and love seeing students come across things they never knew could exist in a language. Mixed with the great cultural tangents I can take because of the rich history Rome offers, it really is an enjoyable language to teach that gives the instructor a large arsenal.
What do you think is the future of languages at university level?
I think with respect to modern languages, the future is bright. As the world becomes smaller and smaller due to increased connectivity, people will be continuously bumping up against people from different walks of life and will see the immediate need for learning their languages.
With respect to classical languages, it's a difficult question. I think there's no doubt that learning a language with the complexity of Latin and with such a deep influence on English can only prove beneficial, especially with vocabulary and analytical skills. I think the fate of language at the university level really depends on the fate of language at the high school level. People need to realize that studying a language like Latin can affect multiple components of your brain in ways similar to studying chemistry or math on the one hand or art and music on the other. They need to realize that studying Latin is not just for the sake of being able to read great literature, but it's to shape your brain in positive ways across a breadth of areas which other subjects simply can't mimic.
Why did you decide to write these books?
Caesar's De Bello Galico: I've always been motivated to write those books I wish had existed when I was a student. I remember finishing up learning Latin grammar and I was very excited to jump into reading real literature. It was a rude-awakening, however, trying to read Vergil's Aeneid. Besides the fact that it was poetry, which is usually harder to read than prose, I just had not had sufficient practice reading real Latin and the step from grammar to real literature seems to be something which is consistently ignored by most books. I tried to circumvent this noticeable chasm when I became a teacher myself. I would retype passages from the textbook with sentences broken up into their various constituent parts. I found that this was so successful I thought about applying it to a popular author such as Caesar. And voila!
Intensive Basic Latin: I've been a very big fan of the Routledge Grammar Workbooks series. I worked through Gareth King's Welsh set and Nancy Stenson's Irish one and just loved the structure of them. Finally there was something which minimized the flood of vocabulary and actually let a learner focus on grammar and structure. I am very happy to have been given the opportunity to write the Latin edition.
What's the one thing you hope readers take away from your books?
Caesar's De Bello Gallico: That Caesar was a great writer and that it's not that difficult to read his Latin.
Intensive Basic Latin: Latin has some beautiful structures and the readers may be interested in either pursuing Latin further or linguistics and some other languages.
Is there anything you'd like to highlight?
Caesar's De Bello Gallico: The technique used in this book is something very unique which I haven't seen before. I really think students and teachers will be quite surprised by how effective the syntactic parsing technique is.
Intensive Basic Latin: You'll be picking up vocabulary without even realizing it.
What is a common misconception about Latin?
A common misconception is that Latin is dead,useless, and difficult to learn. It's such a part of Western Civilization and has left such an influence on English and other modern languages that learning it really is a grammar course, language course, and history course all wrapped into one. How has Latin affected my own life, for instance? Well, growing up my worst subject in school was English. Despite my French name, I'm a native English speaker, having been born and raised in the US, and English class was always the worst for me. I just hated grammar and it made no sense. All that changed once I took Latin in high school. Latin quite simply taught me grammar and made me interested in languages and pursuing a career in linguistics. Can I go and speak it with people? No, not really. But it helped give me a career and discover my passion, so it's been pretty useful for me in my life.
About the Books
Caesar’s De Bello Gallico: A Syntactically Parsed Reader is an innovative Latin reader presenting selections of Caesar’s Gallic wars texts. Its unique approach tackles the two most common problems a student reading unedited Latin faces: abundant vocabulary and a maze-like sentence structure. Breaking down the sentence structure of the texts and providing vocabulary glosses throughout, it ensures better comprehension and enables students to make an easier transition from using artificial and doctored Latin to working with the unaltered language found in authentic texts.
Intensive Basic Latin: A Grammar and Workbook comprises a dynamic reference grammar and related exercises in a single volume. The book presents forty individual grammar points, covering the core material which students would expect to encounter in their first year of learning Latin. Grammar points are followed by contextualised examples and exercises which allow students to reinforce and consolidate their learning.
Intensive Intermediate Latin: A Grammar and Workbook comprises an accessible grammar and related exercises in a single volume. It outlines every major grammatical point usually taught in an intermediate college Latin course, as well as other grammatical topics which may be introduced in the first…
Paperback – 2015-08-03
Intensive Basic Latin: A Grammar and Workbook comprises a dynamic reference grammar and related exercises in a single volume. The book presents forty individual grammar points, covering the core material which students would expect to encounter in their first year of learning Latin. Grammar points…
Paperback – 2014-12-15
Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō: A Syntactically Parsed Reader is an innovative Latin reader presenting selections of Caesar’s Gallic wars texts. Its unique approach tackles the two most common problems a student reading unedited Latin faces: abundant vocabulary and a maze-like sentence structure.…
Paperback – 2014-12-01