Learning Latin

Wheelock's Latin

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As a middle schooler in an Episcopalian prep school, a minimum of two years of Latin were required of all students through 6th and 7th grades.  Those that received high marks could take a different high school level language (e.g. French, Spanish, German, et al) in 8th grade or continue on in Latin.  Despite my choice to move on to French, I still remember my Latin classes fondly.  In fact, I had a lot more fun with Notar Nicola than I did with my French teacher who seemed to have never actually visited a French-speaking country (and I had lived in one!). Also, the curricula were constructed so that my English teachers were providing links between Latin and Greek to English, making English grammar classes easier.  (I still secretly wish I had my 7th grade grammar book, but I called the school and they don’t have records of what they used back then and I can’t recall which text book company produced it.)

That being said, Latin is important to me in my daughter’s education, and I’d purchased a pair of Wheelock’s Latin books at a Half Price Books last spring in preparation for sixth grade level work.  One book is a full text book, 6th edition, and the fact that the reader is 2nd edition shouldn’t be a big deal.  I started researching Latin to see if there were better options for her curriculum.  I’d rather get the “right” texts to start with then a lot of similar or equivalent texts that jumble the information.

I read The Devil Knows Latin by E. Christian Kopff, and while we disagree on politics and religion, we do seem to share a similar passion for and belief in the importance of Latin in modern day education, at least in Western countries or among those who wish to understand Western cultures.  In his argument, he included an education model that seems rather intuitive to me: start the kids out with English (assuming that’s their culture’s native or dominant language), include bridge work between English, Latin, and eventually, Greek and possibly Hebrew (for those interested in learning more about the major desert religions).  Teach history (incl. mythology, culture, human development, ancient scientific development), mathematics, and cultural behavior relevant to the modern day . . . all in elementary school.  As these basics are established, move forward into harder sciences, philosophy, modern languages, and personal interests in middle school.  Allow the student to become more focused on those areas that interest her around high school and beyond.

I’m simplifying it too much, I realize.  There was much built into his arguments that just resonated with me (except for the heavy Christian tie-ins), and if I hadn’t had to return the copy to the library when I did, I’d have quotes and resources to share.  Now, there’s The Well-Educated Mind that also supports learning Latin in a Classical education format, but Susan Wise Bauer’s arguments didn’t appeal as much as Kopff’s, whose style of writing feels more a dialectic than a sermon.

But I’ve digressed enough.  I read a few books, several web sites, and many more reviews of Latin education products.  There was one system I really enjoyed The Latin Road with beginner’s guide called Bridge to the Latin Road that starts with English words with Latin roots, but it was so expensive — priced for large institutions — that even the used copies on Amazon were well beyond my coffers.  Cambridge and Oxford both have units with workbooks that are well reviewed and considered among the best, but Wheelock’s was equally revered.  I was having trouble finding the Oxford books, and despite all the positive reviews, decided it was either to be Cambridge or Wheelock.

After carefully picking through all the reviews for both, I decided it would be best to complete the Wheelock’s books we already purchased by ordering a workbook (I can get the answer key online through the publisher).  I also bought Fairy Tales in Latin by Victor Barocas, considered a master of translation, and a Latin vocabulary reference card (although I meant to grab the grammar — oops!).

I let my daughter decide which fun reader she wanted.  There’s also Winnie Ille Pu I thought would be good for a starter, with future books slated for her enjoyment including, Learning Latin Through Mythology and Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.

What surprised me was that when I told my daughter what I was ordering and what options I was giving her, her eyes widened and sparkled!  She bounced in her chair and said, with great enthusiasm, “Thank you, mama! Can I start reading this tonight?” (This being the Wheelock’s text book). I was caught off guard and asked, “You want to learn Latin?”

“Yes! I love learning languages.”  It was news to me.

“Well, if you progress in Latin, then I’ll get you these other books,” and I showed her the ones mentioned above.  The mythology book made her happy, the Harry Potter book made her laugh.  She decided the fairy tales would be more interesting to her and help her learn more than the Pooh bear book, which is the exact course recommended by almost everyone else teaching their children (fairy tales were easier than Pooh according to reviewers).

I mentioned offhand that when she really got comfortable with Latin she could read classic tales in their original language, and I might then let her learn Greek and she could read The Odyssey and The Iliad in their original language.  That sent her soaring, and I flipped through her text book and showed her the opening quotes the author included before the introduction including one from my ancestor and another from my grandmother’s not-so-secret crush:

This is the exact image gracing my grandmother's steel sewing box that remains in my possession.

“He studied Latin like the violin, because he liked it.”
–Robert Frost

“I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat.”
–Sir Winston Churchill

So it looks like Latin will be an easy sell, and maybe even Greek.  I’ll enjoy relearning the former and learning the latter along with my daughter.  For now, I’ll be hunkering down with my Sanskrit Grammar text tonight, and trying not to think too hard on how little I know of history and how much I want to teach that as well.



QUICK EDIT: Oh, and more as a reminder to myself and recommendation to other parents interested in giving Latin as an educational option in the home, I hope to purchase in the near future (as I want them for early portions of her learning) the English from the Roots Up flashcards Vols. 1 & 2. Reviewers have said that the flashcards are worth a great deal, and the books aren’t necessary if you have them, but supplement other Latin studies well.


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