14 May 2013

Learning Latin the easy way

Latin is a language
As dead as dead can be.
It killed the mighty Romans
And now it’s killing me.
You will know from previous posts that if there is an easy way of approaching a subject, that’s probably the method we’ll be using in our Peaceful Home.  'Keep it Simple' is my motto.

Latin is a case in point. There are some pretty erudite homeschooling mammas out there, and some of them are teaching some rather impressive Latin.  Their kids are learning the five declensions and four conjugations while still in primary school.  They know the indicative, imperative and subjunctive, and are perfect in the pluperfect. Remarkable.

Now I know my student fairly well, and I am quite aware that she is not going to enjoy that sort of teaching.  She really isn't.  To begin with, her English grammar isn't anywhere near the level required for serious Latin study.  Possibly, neither is mine.  Okay, definitely.  Secondly, she just isn't up for the type of rote memorising that goes with that method of instruction.

To be honest, neither am I. It sort of doesn't fit with my philosophy, y'know?  It smacks of Classical homeschooling rather than CM homeschooling, I reckon.  There is a difference.  Even if I'm not quite sure what it is.

Charlotte Mason realised that studies of this type are not attractive to young children.
Of grammar, Latin and English, I shall say very little here. In the first place, grammar, being a study of words and not of things, is by no means attractive to the child, nor should he be hurried into it...Therefore, if he learns no more at this early stage than the declensions and a verb or two, it is well he should learn this much, if only to help him see what English grammar would be at when it speaks of a change in case or mood, yet shows no change in the form of a word.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p295
AO introduces English Grammar very slowly into Primary School at Grade 4 level, the same year that Latin is begun.  Over the next three years the student gradually learns the nine parts of speech and a few other things in preparation for serious grammar study in secondary school. I figure that that's the time for serious Latin study too - Secondary School.
Moods and Tenses
Bother my senses
Adverbs, Proverbs make me roar.
Irregular Verbs
My sleep disturb
They are a regular bore.
When Jemimah moves into AO7 - next year, oh my! - we will be studying Latin using the Cambridge Latin Course that her father and I both used at school.  It's a rigourous English Classical Latin programme (that is, it was published in the UK) and is highly regarded, but the main reason I'm using it is that in my memory, Latin using this course was fun. Each of the first year's lessons contained a little story about Caecilius, a banker in Pompeii, his wife Metella, Quintus their son and Cerberus the family mut. There was a list of vocab, and a little bit of grammar and culture, introduced where it is necessary to proceed.  I want my daughter to learn Latin like this too.  Caecilius and Metella are my friends.  (Pompeii is not the best place for you to be living, people. Please move!)

But enough about Cambridge Latin - we're not using that yet.

In the mean time, while Jemimah's in Primary School, we decided on Minimus Latin.  It, too, is published by Cambridge University Press, which is the reason that I first looked at it, and has a similar layout to the Cambridge books, but the real reason I chose Minimus for Jemimah is because it looked like it kept Latin simple. Simple and enjoyable.  There are two books - Minimus: Starting Latin is for kids 7-10 (We started in AO4 when Jemimah was 9) and Minimus Secondus: Moving on in Latin for 11-13 year olds.

If you were keen you could easily complete a book easily in a year - there are 12 lessons per book. We've managed to find plenty to keep us interested for what will be the three years AO4-6, though, doing Latin for two short lessons a week.

What I have loved is how many of Charlotte Mason's methods we can fit into our study using this course.  The year, in particular, as our history rotation is in ancient times, I've also loved all the overlap between Latin and our history subjects.  Education is the Science of Relations, and it has certainly not been difficult to make connections this term!

Most lessons we read a little story first, which introduces the subject and grammar for the chapter.  The stories are in picture form, so you can guess intelligently at what you're reading without having to look up every vocabulary word. The vocab lists are arranged according to the parts of speech, allowing similarities of form to be discerned more easily. After Jemimah narrates back in English - or occasionally using a few Latin sentences if she really wants to impress, we might have a bit of a closer look at the grammar and do one of the short activities to reinforce what we've learned.  The Teacher's Guide (which is critical unless you're a much better Latin Scholar than I am) contains worksheets - some of which are time-wasting busy work, and most of which are not. Sometimes there's a game to play - Jemimah loves those - or a map for CM style map work - I love those.  Sometimes there are craft activities.  We generally skip them.  Sometimes the book explores the Latin roots of English words and we orally run through a few.  Sometimes, but not too often, there's a written activity. Each lesson also contains historical information about Roman life, and often a myth as well.  This information reinforces what we are learning in our literature and history subjects just beautifully!  All so easy!

The course also contains a series of little readers.  Some weeks we read through one of those for a few days in a row until the vocabulary is learned.  Jemimah tries to narrate these in Latin after she's heard them a few times and know the story well.  These readers are a great way of reinforcing what we've studied in the lessons.

The stories in the Minimus books focus on a real life family who lived at Vindolanda in Roman Britain in 100AD.  Flavius is the fort commander, and his family includes his wife Lepidina, their three children, assorted household slaves, their cat Vibrissa - and Minimus the mouse.  We know of their existence from the famous Vindolanda writing tablets.

This term especially, I've been impressed with the number of times our history and Latin lessons have coincided.  Last week in Latin, for example, we learned about the signifier - standard bearer - the officer that carried the unit's standard into battle.  Today, we read about him in history.  Last week in history we read about Saturnalia.  That features in next week's Latin lesson.  Children can't help but catch connections like those!

Minimus is a really gentle way to learn Latin.  But learning we are.  Recently we commenced translating Latin fabulae mirabiles into English.  The good thing about fairy tales is that we all know pretty well how the story goes, but even so, I have been delighted at how much of these stories we have been able to read. (Don't you love the royal 'We'?  I learn as much as Jemimah, y'know.)

We don't learn Latin in order to honk like a goose when declining pronouns - hic haec hoc; hunc hanc hoc.  We study Latin to understand how languages work. It's logical and teaches us how to think. It will enhance our knowledge of English grammar, but it will also make the study of other languages easier as well.  When you can read Latin you can not only read fairy tales in Latin.  You can read the Classics in the original as well.  I read the Odyssey (which was actually written in Greek, not Roman, but that's what I read), but there is also Virgil, Pliny, Cicero, Lucretius and Tacitus.  Mostly, though, we study Latin because it's fun.
Brutus adsum jam forte
Caesar aderat.
Brutus sic in omnibus,
Caesar sic inat.


  1. What a great idea! We just got Sing Song Latin at a used curriculum sale that we are going to try out. I'll keep this one in mind if we don't like it.

  2. Oh, Jeanne, you've just opened up the whole idea of teaching Latin for me! I saw Latin listed when I was perusing next year's curriculum lined up for AO4 and thought that this would have to be something we would skip. How could I even begin to teach something like that? But what you describe makes Latin seem very approachable. I think we might give it a try after all!

    Does this look like what you used? http://www.rainbowresource.com/prodlist.php?subject=15&category=7087

  3. I don't use the CD although we do have it. I prefer reading aloud. I studied Classical Latin at school though. If I hadn't I would need it for pronunciation.

  4. Yes, that's it Sarah. The teachers book is expensive, but you really do need it. I didn't see the Readers at Rainbow either.

  5. How many readers are there?

  6. There are ten for each year. Twenty in all.

  7. Those must be the "MiniBooks" they mention on the website.

  8. We went to Vindolanda when we were in UK. I loved the digs, and the museum.

    I only studied Latin in Year 7, then went on to French and German. I was always grateful for that introductory year as it really helped with grammar. Our textbook was called Latin with Laughter. I don't recall laughing much but very glad you two are laughing while you learn!

  9. Oh Susan, that would be so fun! Jealous plus!

    Jemimah and I can laugh through almost anything. Except spelling.

  10. Minimus was fun! The other type homeschool mum reminds me of the wonderful clip from the movie "Young Winston." Churchill, as a child of 8 away at school the first day is shown a list of Latin words begining O mensa or something and quite correctly asks "but what does it mean." He probably got beat for that!

    Minimus is much cooler!

  11. Jeanne, you have 'nearly' inspired me to try Latin again. A fantastic post!!

  12. I quite like the idea of the readers, perhaps I should look at Minimus when I get a chance. :o)

  13. This is how I hope to learn and teach Latin down the road.

  14. Thanks for such a helpful post - I studied dear old Caecilius in secondary school and am tempted to take my three down the same path as it was such fun (his family even made it into an episode of Doctor Who set in Pompeii!) but I wasn't familiar with Minimus. We had a wonderful time exploring Vindolanda a few years ago (camping in the rain and our mobiles running out meant we really did feel like we were in the Roman times...) so that would be a very familiar setting. And definitely a place to visit for any of you ever in England!


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