Prayers are some of the first things we memorize as children. This is why they must also be some of the first things we memorize as language learners. I always start with the Hail Mary, because it’s my favorite prayer, then continue adding treasures from there.
Here are the three that I am currently learning, and the methods I am using to learn them.
Latin: St. Michael Prayer
I can pray the whole rosary in Latin and have memorized chunks of the Latin Mass, but the St. Michael Prayer remains a hole in my prayer life. This is extra embarrassing when I remember that I have been praying it at the end of every Mass for over ten years! All that time, I always carried around a veil or other headcovering, in case I passed a church. If I had simply carried around the Latin text as well, I would have learned the prayer in weeks. So that is exactly what I’m going to do now.
In fact, it is exactly what I have already been doing. The Latin-German missal that I use has the St. Michael Prayer right after the text of the Mass! (Can I embarrass myself further?) Again, if I simply read it when I need to, I may end up overshooting my mark and learning it in Latin and German!
German: Grace before Meals
Last week, my German class had a party. Before we started lunch, someone suggested that I lead the prayer. He had heard me recite the Vater Unser (Our Father) a few days earlier and knew I could pray the entire Rosenkranz (Rosary) in German. So he was certain I also knew the traditional Tischgebet (“Table prayer” or Grace before meals). To my great embarrassment, I had to admit I didn’t. So someone else led the prayer . . . in English.
The English-speaking Catholic world seems to agree on the “Bless us, O Lord . . .” formula, but it was much harder to find the traditional Tischgebet for German-speaking Catholics. (The above video is a hymn based on it.) It may be, as someone once suggested to me, because each region had a different one. In the end, I decided for the prayer in my antique Gebet- und Gesangbuch from Cologne (Link to my review). This means that all the additional “work” I need to do is to keep it in the dining room and to say the prayers before and after meals. The next time my German class has a party, I’ll be ready!
If you want to pray along, it is also the version used by a parish in a completely different part of Germany (Link) — which lays that “different regions” theory to rest for a while.
Portuguese: The Fatima Prayers
There are many Fatima Prayers. If you know only one, it is probably the prayer we say after every decade of the rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins . . .”
Part of my “Tourist Portuguese” project is to learn all the Fatima Prayers. (If I really did tour Portugal, I would visit as many historical shrines as possible and pray in all of them!) Since I already pray the rosary every day, it makes sense to begin with this one.
Portuguese is the most difficult language I have studied so far, so what works for Latin and German won’t be enough here. That is, I can’t just keep a copy of the prayer with me to read at the right times. Portuguese spelling and Portuguese pronunciation don’t seem to line up at all! It has helped me more to listen to the prayer over and over until I can mimic the sounds of the words. Although this is harder for me, it’s also closer to the way I learned the prayer the first time: by hearing others saying it over and over.