In praise of notebooks (and friendships)

While I was reorganizing my old high school notes some days ago, I found some little notebooks, which I used to bring with me every time I went to a summer Latin conventiculum.

For those of you who have not attended one yet, conventicula, or septimanae Latinae, or Latin summer schools, are events that are organized every summer around the world. They can last a minimum of a few days to a week or more, during which participants attend Latin lessons for different levels by some (usually very good) teachers. In the afternoon or at night, they are often offered some leisure activities such as visits to museums and cities, games or songs – and all of that, from the lessons to the excursions and the discussions during dinner, happens in Latin.

As you can imagine, a conventiculum can be a wonderful occasion to develop our Latin speaking skills, which is sometimes very hard to do during the year because of the lack of other people to talk to. (They are also wonderful occasion to make friends and know other craz… people who share our passion for Latin).

Not only we can learn a lot during the official lessons, listening to teachers who are often masters of Latin speaking, but we can do so all the day long. When we use Latin to communicate with other people, chances are that we will be exposed to many new inputs (new words, new idioms…) every day. And if we want to be sure not to forget any of these new words and expressions we notice during informal conversation, one very effective way is writing them down in a notebook. That’s why it is not uncommon, during such conventicula, to see people who start scribing in their notebooks in the middle of a talk with friends…

How to take note of the new words and how to use them afterwards is up to you, and, as I always say, everyone should find the method that is the most effective and sustainable for themselves.

However, I will tell you how I personally have be doing – even if I must admit that, although I used to be very meticulous during my first conventicula, now that I feel more confident about speaking Latin I tend to take notes only during the lessons. However, that’s something I think I should keep doing, because in this field as in every other, we literally never stop learning…

As I’ve said before, I’d always go around with a little notebook and a pen, and every time I’d hear a word (or and expression) I didn’t know, or I knew but thought I should start using more, or stroke me for any reason, I’d immediately open my pad and write it down. I used to note just the Latin word, without any translation, and even so, I could be sure not to forget its meaning (you find a picture from one of my notebooks here).

That’s not because I have a miraculous memory (even if the words we learn in real life situations, while we’re talking to people we care about and about interesting things, tend to stick to our memory much more than those we read in a book), but because every night, before going to bed, I’d go through the entire list of the words I’d noted during the conventiculum, just trying to remember their meaning – and, sometimes, also the context within which I’d hear them for the first time.

This is a very effective way to learn new words, especially those everyday words we don’t usually find in books (like nucifrancibulum, nutcracker, one of my all-time favorites in Latin, or fuscinula, fork, or telephonum gestabile, cell phone…). And even now, when I happen to re-read those lists of words I noted years ago, I can usually recall the meaning of most of them – and actually, some have become very natural and obvious to me and got into my everyday vocabulary.

So, go to conventicula (you can find several lists on the internet), make Latin friends all over the word and… always be sure to have a notebook with you!

Now tell me: if you have ever attended a conventiculum, what have you done to enrich your vocabulary? Can you reveal us, if you have one, the method you use for remembering the new words you encounter in your everyday life?