Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reading versus decoding Latin

I mentioned this yesterday. I have been reading Greek for over 25 years and Latin and Hebrew for over 20. Well, that is not quite true, there was a 10 year period where I didn't do any Greek or Hebrew and a 15 year period where I didn't touch Latin.

I have been working at resurrecting my Latin for awhile now, reading Augustine's Confessions in the Latin. So, there has been an ongoing discussion on the Classics-L list about reading versus decoding. The difference is that with decoding, you are always "looking for the verb" whereas in reading you allow what comes next in the sentence as written to be registered by your brain--as you do in English. You don't (I hope) read English thinking, "OK, now where is the verb, where is the subject," etc. Ginny is always recommending a book by Dexter Hoyos, Latin: How to Read it Fluently. The other day she mentioned using a "reading card." I had never heard of that before, so I asked her. She referred me to her blog for this explanation:

"Reading cards can be nothing more than an index card in which you've clipped out the top left hand corner in the shape of a rectangle that's, say, an inch and a half wide and half an inch down. When you place this on top of a text it prevents you from looking ahead in a sentence. You then reveal one word at a time, considering exactly what you have and therefore what you expect...

"...because you take it one word at a time and don't immediately go huntin' that verb, you make yourself retrain your brain. This is one reason why I teach metaphrasing from the very beginning when it is dirt easy. Hey, all I have in 7th grade so far are accusatives and nominatives, but when we are reading words glossed below the story and villam is the item, we say, "Someone verbed the house." There's meaning in that ending, even in isolation, and we shouldn't ignore it."

Sounds simple, and it is. But, surprise of surprises, I did that with Greek, to check myself, and found that after 25 years, I was still "decoding" Greek! :( Try it, you might be surprised, unpleasantly. I am now trying to retrain my brain to see the language as it comes, a bit of work, but I think it will be worth it. I haven't gotten the Hoyos book yet, but am looking forward to it. Maybe Eisenbrauns should think about carrying it—I'll decide after I have read it. If the concepts carry over to other languages, we will.


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


I have been decoding Greek for years and did not know it. Thank God that I am reading Hebrew - but I read a bit every day.

jps said...


I was just reading some Hebrew today, and noticed that I am reading it, not decoding it. Perhaps because
1. I am reading in Kings, simple narrative and
2. Verb first seems more natural to English speakers.

I was reading some Latin (Augustine's Confessions) and found I was reading it, also. Then I went to the GNT. I am in Acts 27, the shipwreck. I found that the vocabulary is a bit unusual for the GNT and Luke loves his syntax :) I was mixing decoding a reading. When I was conscious of what I was doing, I was able to read it...progress!


Anonymous said...

Hello... I was hoping you could help me by translating this sentence for me, "addo adflicto affligo aestivus estivus" It was left in an e-mail...from someone I have not spoken to in years... it would mean a lot to me. If you can, or know someone who could. Please contact me at Thank you for your time.