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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Got Latin?


TO teach Latin or NOT to teach Latin? WHEN to teach Latin? When the kiddos are young or wait until middle or high school? And HOW do you teach Latin? For those of you how are asking "Why teach Latin at all?" let me speak a little from personal experience, here. Although my public school career was far from illustrious, hem hem, one highlight was a year of classical Latin. This course had a tremendous impact on my academic career. True, I did not pursue the language further (lack of opportunity at the time), but it gave me a much stronger command of the English language and greatly expanded my vocabulary (not to mention helped me with the verbal part of the SATs). And what I did learn has stuck with me---I would love to study Latin at some point in the future. Did you know that about half of the English language gets its roots from Latin? And did you know that being able to read Latin will also increase your ability to understand any of the romance languages? And if you continue with your Latin studies, maybe one day you'll be reading classical Latin texts. As a Roman Catholic, there's another reason to study Latin: the Latin Mass. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to participate in the beauty of the Latin Mass with better understanding, engaging both the heart and the mind?

Memoria Press
is well-known for Latina Christiana as well as their other classical curriculum including courses in Logic and Rhetoric and the Famous Men series. This company was founded by Cheryl Lowe and is run by her and her family. As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was honored to receive Prima Latina (beginning Latin for grades K-4) and Lingua Angelica (a hymn translation program) for review.

Prima Latina was written by Leigh Lowe and is designed to be taught by a teacher with no experience in Latin to elementary students who've had no exposure to Latin. The set comes with a Teacher's Manual, a Student Book, and a pronunciation CD. I also received the optional DVD set which contains 9 hours of instruction. The program consists of 25 weekly lessons, each about 4 pages long in the student book, including review lessons and tests (contained in the teacher text).

Prima Latina, as well as Latina Christiana, use the Church (or Ecclesiastical) Latin pronunciation, instead of the Classical pronunciation. Classical pronunciation is an approximation of how Latin was pronounced in Classical times, whereas Church pronunciation is how Latin is pronounced in the Liturgy and in Latin hymns. There are pros and cons on both sides concerning the pronunciation to use and I won't go into that here, but here is Memoria Press' take on it.

Each lesson begins by introducing a practical Latin word or phrase, continues with grammar, introduces new vocabulary and a couple of lines from a Latin prayer, and finishes up with some English derivatives. The student book then has two pages of exercises including review questions, translation, speaking practice and fun exercises. The Teacher's Manual includes copies of all the exercises with the answers. The lessons are rounded out with the pronunciation CD which gives proper pronunciation for all the vocabulary and phrases in each lesson, as well as the prayers covered in the program. The optional DVDs cover each lesson word-for-word, a good way to review for visual learners.

Although Memoria Press recommends introducing each lesson with the book and using the DVDs to reinforce or review the lessons, I found it more beneficial for our family to use the DVDs as a preview of the lesson. On Friday we watch the lesson for the next week on DVD. Since the kiddos have already seen and spoken the words along with the DVD lesson, the new vocabulary is already familiar on the following Monday, when we would go over the lesson in the book and make flashcards. On Wednesday we do some of the written exercises. I've found, so far, that it's not necessary to do all of the written exercises, though that may change as we get further into the program (we're on lesson 4). The DVDs are also a wonderful way of including any younger (pre-writing/pre-reading) children in your lessons---I've found that 5-year-old Mary is picking up nearly as much of the vocabulary as 9-year-old David. The DVDs are clear, simple and easy to understand. Leigh Lowe, herself, presents each lesson with enthusiasm and uses plenty of slides to show the words and their meanings.

Overall, I like the program. The lessons are written simply and are easy to break up into smaller chunks, if necessary. It does not require a bunch of preparation on on my part (always a plus!) and it seems to be a solid program. My only real concern has to do with the rules given for pronunciation in the first lesson. In Prima Latina (and this is true in Latina Christiana I, as well), you are told that the vowels always make the long sound in Church pronunciation. For example, "e" always makes the "ay" sound, "a" always make the "aw" (as in father) sound, etc. This didn't sound right to me, so I checked with a number of different sources, both on-line as well as with a priest and with an acquaintance who teaches Latin, and the consensus was this: both Church Latin and Classical Latin have both long and short sounds form vowels. Perhaps this is a minor point as Latin is not exactly a conversational language and many will say that the pronunciation is largely subjective, but I think it's worth mentioning. It's too early in the program for me to tell if it will be a real issue, though I suspect it may cause some confusion. There has been one instance already of a vocabulary word that was pronounced differently from the rule and David was very quick to point it out.

Prima Latina is available as a set including the Teacher's Manual, Student Book and pronunciation CD for $32.95, or purchase it together with the DVD set and flashcards for $90.90.

I also received the complete Lingua Angelica I set, which includes a Teacher's Manual, Student Book, songbook and music cd. Lingua Angelica is a supplement designed to be used with any Latin program. The idea is to immerse your student in the beautiful sounds of Latin hymns being sung by a six-voice a capella choir to encourage word recognition, memorization and, eventually, translation. Even very young children can learn to sing the words, and familiarity can help them at a later date with their formal Latin studies.

At this stage, we are just using the CD as background music for Latin and our other studies. The beautiful voices are very calming and encourage mediation and reflection. Eventually, we will start reading along with the songbook and memorizing the words. Actual translation will come later, after there's a better understanding of Latin grammar and vocabulary, but the idea is that by the time it comes time to translate, the words will be so familiar that it will be an enjoyable, rather than daunting, task. Set I is intended to be used for 2-3 years in conjunction with your Latin program and covers 4 prayers and 12 hymns. Set II covers the other 12 hymns on the cd.

As with the Prima Latina, the Teacher's Manual contains a complete copy of the Student Book with all the answers---again, this is designed to be taught by someone with no Latin background, so you won't be left to figure it out yourself. The quality of the CD recording is quite good and I find myself popping it in the CD player all the time.

Lingua Angelica I is available from Memoria Press for $39.95. Lingua Angelica II uses the same cd and songbook, so you'll only need to purchase the Teacher's Manual and Student Book.

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