So I decided to move forward with my idea and experiment with building on Latin to learn about Spanish. Or perhaps you could say I am trying to explore Latin by looking at how it appears in the Spanish language. We're not really sure which it will be.
The first thing we have to talk about is basic pronunciation. We have to know, at least in theory, what the Spanish words should sound like, or else we will reinforce the wrong pronunciation even when we talk about them.
By "what they should sound like" I mean at the most basic level. Accent on the correct syllable; a recognizably appropriate consonant sound (e.g., pronouncing the letter "z" as /s/ and not as /z/); vowels approximately right. I'm not talking about accent, just avoiding mispronunciation.
So I made a little chart of Latin words and Spanish words that are their cognates and that demonstrate the differences and some of the similarities between ecclesiastical Latin and Spanish pronunciation rules. For example:
- In Latin gens (tribe), the g is pronounced like English /j/. In Spanish la gente (race, nation), it's pronounced with a throaty /h/.
- In Latin hora (hour), the h is pronounced as in English. In Spanish la hora, it's silent.
- In Latin signum (sign), the gn is pronounced as in English "lasagna." In Spanish el signo, the g sound and n sound are distinct.
- Vowels are similar: A: pater/el padre (father), E: cena/la cena (dinner), I: vita/vida (life), O: oculus/el ojo (eye), U: mundus/el mundo (world) and aqua/agua (water).
So I figured I would work my way down the chart with the kids. The emphasis is on similarities and differences between ecclesiastical Latin and Spanish. I thought maybe Hannah, who knows more about linguistics than I, could talk to the kids a little bit about consonant shift and things -- why filius became el hijo, why pax became la paz.
But I am taking seriously the need to hear a native Spanish speaker pronounce the words, so I went looking for an online audio dictionary. I think I will be pleased with this one: SpanishDict.com . It has audio pronunciations for most every word I tried, and short video examples for quite a lot of words. The interface should be easy for the tween/teens to manage.
One useful tip: For most nouns, you can get it to give you audio with the definite article if you type in the English and ask it to translate (e.g. if you type in "rey" it will just give you an audio file that pronounces "rey," but if you type in "king" it will give you an audio file that pronounces "el rey."
I think we'll start with just a few words at a time -- maybe some with "b" and "v" in them, just so that we attack a tricky phoneme right away. My plan is to recite the list of cognates in Latin first, and then listen to the recordings for each equivalent (or closely related) Spanish word, and then recite the Spanish words. So we'll start like this for b's and v's:
bonus, ambulare, laborare, vox, convocare, novem;
(listen) bueno, (listen) ambulante, (listen) laborar, (listen) la voz, (listen) convocar, (listen) nuevo.
(Yes, I know that ambulare is a verb meaning "to walk" and ambulante is an adjective meaning "mobile, traveling." Ambulare was the only word having an "m-b" combination in the kids' Latin lexicon and ambulante is the closest Spanish cognate.)
I'm going to incorporate these lists into our twice-weekly Latin oral drill sessions to begin.