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«How to Teach Latin (A Guide to Using Latin for Children) • By Karen Moore N OTA BENE: This guide is intended for the use of teachers in various ...»

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How to Teach Latin

(A Guide to Using Latin for Children) • By Karen Moore


OTA BENE: This guide is intended for the use of teachers in various settings—whether at home,

a co-op, or a traditional school. The word “teacher” refers to whoever is teaching Latin to the

students regardless of the setting. This guide, while designed to be straightforward and clear, is

also designed to be detailed enough to provide teachers with practical and specific advice that a more general

guide could not provide. For the reader wanting more general guidance, we refer you to the Latin section on the Classical Academic Press website (www.classicalacademicpress.com). Here one can find a variety of guidance and help. Those wishing to review a suggested weekly schedule for teaching the Latin for Children primers, should download the PDF file entitled Latin for Children—Suggested Weekly Schedule (http://www.classicalacademicpress.com/FLASH/lfc_intro.html ).

I. Introduction II. METHODOLOGY: Parts-to-Whole III. PREPARATION: What do I need to get started?

IV. VOCABULARY: The building blocks of language.

V. GRAMMAR: The mortar that binds.

VI. TRANSLATION: Applying the tools of the trade.

VII. ASSESSMENTS: What are you evaluating?

VIII. ROMAN CULTURE: Bringing language to life.

IX. INTEGRATION: Making Latin relevant.


XI. APPENDIX: Supplemental materials for Latin for Children Practitioners of classical education have long asserted that Latin is the foundation for the grammar stage of learning. Indeed, it has even become a kind of trademark distinguishing classical schools from other schools. Most schools that endeavor to teach Latin to very young children are considered classical, and a school of any kind cannot be truly classical unless its teachers train their grammar students in the rudiments of Latin. Latin forms such a key element for the grammar school that it is an essential element to the very foundation upon which the following stages of the Trivium, Logic and Rhetoric, are built. Dorothy Sayers, in her famous essay, goes so far as to declare, “quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.” (Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”) If this language is so very important, even essential to the classical philosophy of education, then it is of the greatest necessity that we train our Latin teachers how to teach Latin grammar effectively.

The first order of business in creating a Latin program should be to determine the ultimate goal, and then how to go about achieving this goal. After all, you would never undertake a family trip by choosing a route, uncertain of where it might end -- particularly when you are bringing a great many young children with you. The greater the number of active young minds onboard, the greater the need for preparation. I Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com will state quite quickly with all the certainty that conviction allows that the ultimate goal of any truly effective Latin program must be to construe original Latin texts. There are certainly several other excellent benefits to studying Latin in addition to the construing or reading of original texts, some of which will be discussed shortly. However, as your studies progress the ability to read Latin ought to remain the primary goal. While students may not fully realize this goal until the Logic stage of learning (7th – 9th grade), the groundwork for it most assuredly begins in the grammar school. I will begin my defense for this statement by defining my terms. The verb construe is a marvelous word defined by Webster as, “1.

to analyze the structure of (a clause or sentence); to analyze grammatical structure 2. to place a certain meaning on: INTERPRET. 3. to translate, especially aloud.” Is it not the end goal of classical education to train students how to think, reason, even interpret what they may hear or read? So, should it not be the purpose of a language program to teach them how to construe (i.e. analyze, interpret, translate) the structure of a language? As Ms. Sayers instructs us the purpose of studying this particular classical language is knowing, “not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself – what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked.” (Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”) The other term in this purpose statement that we should clearly define is original Latin texts.

While many of the young readers involving colors and numbers, or the adventures of a Roman family are wonderful for beginning Latin students, by the end of their Latin studies, students should be able to read the orations of Cicero, the poetry of Vergil, and the theological dissertations of Augustine. In classical education, we often hear talk of reading the “Great Books.” Why not read the greatest books in their original language? Give students the opportunity to truly construe for themselves the writings of these great works, which inspired hearts and changed the course of history, instead of simply reading someone else’s English interpretation. This goal will take several years of diligent study to achieve, but it can be attained by any student whether studying at home or in a more formal school setting.

To some it may seem as though I have laid before you an impossible task. The languages of antiquity often carry with them a foreboding reputation. However, this is not raising a standard beyond reach, but merely placing it once again to the height from which it had fallen. John Adams, French Ambassador, framer of the U.S. Constitution, and our second President, met these same requirements. He grew up on a farm in rural Massachusetts. His father saved up enough money to send him alone of their several children to the nearby Latin school. At the age of sixteen when young John applied for Harvard University, the examiner asked him to translate a particularly complex passage from Cicero as part of his entrance exam.

At first he was a bit daunted by the task before him, until the examiner allowed him the use of a Latin lexicon and grammar. With these familiar tools he was able to conquer Cicero, win entrance to Harvard, and eventually become one of our founding fathers.

However, when it comes time to choose the best Latin program for our students today, many often lose sight of this goal. They instead focus only on the other benefits of Latin study; a list which you can find in the multitude of “why Latin?” articles posted on every classical website. To borrow an old proverb, they do in a very real sense lose sight of the forest for looking at all the individual trees. These other benefits are indeed very worthwhile, but they should not keep us from purposing to teach students to construe Latin texts.

A favorite benefit is the great expansion of a young students’ English vocabulary. So, many prefer to adopt a root-word or derivative based program. Certainly any program you choose should have a very rich vocabulary, and it should take the time to demonstrate to students the etymology of Latin words and how Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com they are transformed into English derivatives. However, if all that students learn is a list of Latin words and their English derivatives, without any understanding of how these words fit into the context of a sentence, I would say they have not truly learned Latin at all.

Latin does increase the students’ problem-solving skills, so perhaps an inductive reading program would prove fruitful. However, grammar school students are well-suited to learning vocabulary and grammar paradigms. They are little sponges who love to soak up data. Children of this age think in black and white. They thrive on memorization and recitation, not on inductive and deductive reasoning. The inductive approach is better saved for the students in middle school.

Another benefit is the advantage that Latin will give them when it comes time to learn a modern language. After all, Latin is the basis of many of our modern Western languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Most of us would love to see our children become fluent in at least one these modern languages. So, perhaps it would be best to prepare them for cultural language study through an immersion course rather than studying Latin grammar and syntax in a dedicated fashion. While this approach sounds entertaining and exciting, it misses the purpose of studying Latin. Such an approach does not enable students to truly understand original Latin texts without also including a significant and systematic study of grammar. Is it our goal to have students fluently speaking with other Romans? No, that is simply not possible. Students may be able to understand a Latin passage, but can they understand why it is to be translated a certain way? Can they speak of its diction and syntax? Blending conversational Latin into a traditional Latin course is an excellent idea, but neglecting the traditional study and mastery of grammar and syntax leave students without the necessary tools to properly understand and construe Latin.

I would suggest that while each of the goals above and the cursus vitae they might suggest has some merit, none of these should be viewed as the ultimate goal, the purpose of studying Latin. The purpose of Latin should neither end with a simple derivative study, nor strive to revive a conversational language that has long been silent. I will say again that the ultimate goal is to be able to construe original Latin texts, interpreting the intent and minds of these ancients, and to convey their thoughts eloquently in our own tongue. If we pursue this goal, then we will gain the many other benefits as well.

METHODOLOGY: Parts-to-Whole The best approach to learning the structure of a language, as Ms. Sayers exhorts us, is what we commonly refer to as the parts-to-whole method. In its truest form, this method instructs students in the various “parts” of Latin grammar, and then asks them to apply those tools in translating “whole” sentences and passages. Opponents to this method argue that this is not the natural way humans learn language.

However, such arguments forget the purpose of studying Latin. We ought not to teach students Latin for the same purpose as we would a modern language such as French, Spanish, or Italian. Instead we teach it as a discipline of the mind that is designed to focus on how language works. One can equate this study in many ways to anatomical studies. Students cannot acquire a full understanding of how a toad’s body works simply by observation and imitation. Instead they must cut the toad open to learn about each part and how those parts come together as a whole to make the toad effective. So it is with language. We do not study Latin in order to converse with or imitate the Romans, we study Latin that we may better understand language and what makes it effective.

The Latin for Children Primer Series is arguably the best parts-to-whole program available for young Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com grammar students today. Authors Drs. Chris Perrin and Aaron Larsen designed each text specifically for students of the grammar stage as prescribed by the classical methodology. While each text focuses primarily on the rote memorization of Latin vocabulary and grammar paradigms, all the texts progressively teach the students how to apply these tools to simple translation. Thus, the primers have found a way to marry beautifully the rote repetition of the grammar stage with the reading so necessary to learning a language well. After carefully considering the many different curricula available for teaching Latin, I have found this series to be the most effective in my classroom. Their many supplemental tools and the support provided on their website make them the ideal resource for the new or inexperienced Latin teacher. I will, therefore, use this curriculum as I share with you how to teach Latin effectively.

PREPARATION: What do I need to get started?

I once heard that, “ten minutes of preparation is worth two hours of labor.” This certainly is true for the labor of education, whether you are planning a class for one or for twenty. Classical Academic Press provides a wealth of materials to choose from. In addition to their series of Latin primers, they provide a DVD & CD combo, an activity book, a line of history readers, and a multitude of worksheets that users may download from their website for FREE. Often consumers ask, “but do I need all of this?” Certainly you do not need to purchase every product on the LFC line. Every child, every class of children, is unique, as is every teacher’s style of instruction. Classical Academic Press provides a wide variety of supplemental materials in order to ensure that all teaches are able to tailor their program to their students’ needs. I encourage you to learn more about each of these supplemental materials and how it may benefit your class by referring to the product descriptions provided in the appendix, or visit www.classicalacademicpress.com.

Once you have decided upon the supplemental materials you will use alongside your textbooks, it is time to prepare your order. I always recommend that teachers purchase an additional copy of the written products for themselves. This is particularly helpful with primers and readers. Well before the first day of class, allow yourself the time to read through each of these materials, marking them up with notes and ideas. Work through the memory worksheets in the primers and decide which of the online worksheets will best supplement them. You should print these out and place them in their own binder. Decide which games in the activity book you would like to use, and make sure you understand how to play them. Peruse the history readers and select the stories you are most interested in using. Discuss these stories with your history teacher to find out which ones might best compliment his or her lesson plans for the year. Once you have made these plans, it is a given that they will change over the course of the year. However, at this point you have become very familiar with the resources available and better prepared to use them. Now you are ready to begin teaching.

VOCABULARY: The building blocks of language.

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