I commented a few times on Rich Leonardi’s post on learning Latin – he was asking for suggestions for what text to use next and stepped into the direct method (sometimes called “natural”) vs. traditional method vs. modern linguistic method trap.
Me, I firmly believe in the direct method to be used by native or highly competent non-native speakers who are instructing little children (what? You don’t want to hire someone as a live in tutor?), the traditional method of grammar and extensive memorization for anyone past puberty, and the modern linguistic method for someone working in a classroom with a modern linguist. Resources for all three types exist for learning Latin, though some are more available than others.
Rich Leonardi was wondering about the decision between the workhorse traditional Wheelock’s Latin, Collins Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, and Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina. I own the first two and was criticized for criticizing the third without having seen it (I swear I criticized the method, not the book or its otherwise unknown-to-me author). I do, however, own a different direct method course from a group called The Family of St. Jerome which denounces the ‘traditonal’ grammars in the same terms in which the advocate for Orberg’s series denouced Wheelock. Let’s see what the two have to say:
Rich’s commenter Scott said about the non-direct method:
If you want to learn to _puzzle_ through syntax, and _decode_ Latin (rather than understand it as a language), pick up Wheelock’s or Collin’s.
The Family of St. Jerome says about the direct method over others:
…you learn from the very beginning to think in Latin and to avoid the usual method of “deciphering and decoding” by grammatical analysis and by constructing “translations”.
Do you see a pattern here? You should. This is a pedagogical position that attacks other methods. That makes me feel better about attacking their approach (not them, their approach).
The direct method is indeed the way babies learn languages. Adults have great powers to puzzle through problems and decode – it’s part of what separates us from the pre-pubertal.
That’s why the “direct method” is not how adults learn languages best, even in a total immersion environment – and that’s not an environment that most of us can pull off for home instruction. I tried it for Italian in 2002-03, including a 5 month stay in Rome. I had a 30 day immersion course and then during the five month stay 4 lessons a week – all with extremely well-prepared native speakers. Yes, I learned to speak Italian, but I’m still not sure if I did it as well as I did French at 19 – and I know my Italian vocabulary will never be as large as my French vocabulary. One of the serious problems of teaching languages for speaking rather than reading is that the repetition rate has to be much higher for aural (ear-aimed) learning; therefore there’s just less vocabulary and fewer syntactic patterns presented in an oral/aural course than in a paper-based course. Here’s an earlier posting of mine on spoken Latin in the modern world.
I learned Latin the unfair way – I went to a reasonably old-fashioned school that offered 5 years of Latin (8th-12th) and I took it all. I learned using Jenney – and not the new fangled edition with color pictures! Then I went to a college where the requirement for getting AP credit, if I remember correctly, was taking a course at level placed — and I continued with Latin. We used to joke that the only requirement for majoring in classics was 4 or more years of high school Latin, and that rings reasonably true (though one of the two classicists here at these Colleges didn’t take a classical language until college, but she’s smart as a whip and had 4 years of German and at least some French in high school).
Have you ever heard the old saw “What’s the best Bible version?” “The one you READ!” I feel much the way about the following. Anything you do and do consistently will work, but . . . here’s a list of my suggestions for those learning Latin divided by the kind of learner.
First of all – decide on your target!
This is essential. Every professional language text author has made a selection of vocabulary to teach and has repeated the most important words frequently in example sentences to drill your memory. What’s the goal? To read Caesar in 2nd year Latin? To let you read the Aeneid in 4th year Latin? To participate in the Mass? To pray the Breviary in Latin? Those are very different vocabulary lists! If you bought an old edition of Jenney and then tried to follow the Mass you’d be lost. If you memorize Scanlon & Scanlon perfectly you’ll find Caesar very, very hard going – let alone Virgil.
Are you an adult who wants to read Cicero?
Why on earth? Oh – pardon me – I don’t wish to question your motives! Latin is wonderful, whyever you want it.
1. Sign up for formal courses with someone who knows Latin.
2. Buy Wheelock and hire a tutor (I tutored someone through Wheelock once myself).
3. Buy Wheelock and join a self-study group – here’s an online one called Atrium which I found through Rich Leonardi’s follow up posting.
In at least the first two cases there’s money involved – that is a fine mechanism to motivate an already interested adult to keep up with assignments. Adults need puzzles and interesting sentences to read. Some of us do better at memorizing verb conjugations than others, but an adult learner can see the pattern and extend the pattern much more readily than a 12 year old.
4. Don’t buy Wheelock and do it all by yourself. It’s way, way, way too complicated. So is Latin grammar in general – you need a guide.
Are you an adult who wants to understand the Mass?
1. Buy Scanlon and Scanlon’s Latin Grammar and Second Latin – especially if you are a devotee of the 1962 Missal. They were designed, as far as I can tell, for previously unlucky (pre-1968) religious and laity who hadn’t been tracked into Latin in high school. They’re the two dullest books in the world physically, but they have a controlled and graduated vocabulary list based on the Mass and the Psalter. If you memorized every word in the Grammar you’ll do o.k. with the missal and breviary. 2nd Latin is aimed at the same audience who now want to read philosophy, theology, and canon law.
2. Buy Collins’s Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, which is much the same thing. I’ve never used it to teach or studied its vocabulary lists, but it seems less complete to me. It’s a one-volume version of Scanlon & Scanlon and mixes and matches its order. S&S has the virtue of restricting the vocab and syntax in vol. I. Back in September when I was contributing to Rich Leonardi’s question post I spotted an online study community for Collins, though, so that would help.
3. Buy one of the direct methods sets for the sake of hearing it. The Family of St. Jerome (see above) not only offers a course, but has lots of recorded books of the Bible. Father Suitbert H. Siedl, of St. John of the Cross, O.C.D., has a German accent that drives me NUTS, but you may not react that way. Don’t think you’re going to learn Latin by listening to tapes anymore than folks learn Spanish in the car on the way to work who aren’t massively linguistically talented already – but hearing won’t hurt, especially if you stick to the Psalter while using the Scanlons’ book. Oh – and the “direct method” in its pure practice depends on native or near-native speakers and frequent contact; that’s why it just won’t happen on your own. Sorry.
So you’re an adult with long-ago Latin who wants to expose your children to the language?
This is the hardest category. You’re going to have to recommit to learning some Latin. The target is also messy – do you want ecclesiastical (complete with Italianate pronunciation) or classical (with the modern reconstructed classical pronunciation one tends to learn in high school and college in America)? How old are they?
One resource I’d recommend is a phrase book, like the Family of St. Jerome’s Quomodo Dicitur (How is it said?) – that kind of thing is fun and handy for answering questions. Children always want to know things no one can answer without reference books. Bolchazy-Carducci sells a computer based version called Words of Wisdom from the Ancients which looks very interesting – but they admit it’s aimed at high school and college students.
For the ecclesiastically-inclined I’d recommend getting the texts of the standard daily prayers in Latin and starting there (there are any number of books or places on the web to find Latin prayers). You already know what they mean – but finding a decent word-by-word break down of the syntax is trickier. I think the best system is to teach children to parrot the prayers (but to separate the words carefully) and then move on to analysis. I managed to explain the dative better to a bunch of home school children using the Lord’s prayer (give TO US our daily bread) and the Rosary (pray FOR us) than with anything else. Of course, the home schooled tended already to know English grammar. The prayers are a limited vocabulary to start with, but kind of an eccentric one. I mean, is it really useful for any reason other than praying the Rosary to learn the Latin word for belly/womb and no other body parts? Cotidianum is not a word I have run across often in Latin other than in the Lord’s Prayer.
Buy a Cassell’s dictionary – it has Latin/English AND English/Latin – it helps.
While googling I found this great bibliography of Latin for Kids – you have to scroll for the language resources – but just look at all the great books about the classical world! They have some neat things – the one which I’d like to try out is Minimus: Starting out in Latin, aimed at the 7-11 year old set, which comes from the British Joint Association of Classical Teachers. There are lots of resources in that JACT constellation, too. The JACT upper level books are a little ‘direct’ for my taste, but they’re still sound.
No list of classical resources for home or school would be complete without a plug for and link to the Bolchazy Carducci folks! They publish masses of interesting stuff – including Artes Latinae, the mid-20th century linguistics-driven direct method system, which I understand is very popular with home schoolers. Again, I think the promotional literature overstates wildly the accessibility of this material to people without good guides (whether full-time teachers or occasional tutors). The current version includes options for “classical” and ecclesiastical pronunciations, which is an enormous concession on their part to the market. Bolchazy has grammars and readers and workbooks of all sorts.
The best thing about teaching the small is that you get to use games. Even when I taught high school I used chocolate kisses to teach the indirect object (Da MIHI basia mille!) but it can go a lot further. Use post-it notes to label everyday objects Door = porta or janua, floor = solum, chair = sedes or sella. When you get to hinge = cardo you’ll realize that eventually you need to start teaching the oblique cases, because you can’t get cardinal without cardinis, but hey – it’s a process. This, by the way, is how I learned the names for Italian household objects – that and a picture Duden!
Animal noises! All language learning should include animal noises! Here’s Dr. Weevil’s quiz.
Omigosh! I forgot English Grammar for Students of Latin! This is a great series – buy it for every language anyone in your house is trying to learn. I, again, had an unfair advantage. Captain Tate, my 7th grade English teacher, believed in teaching the English subjunctive (after all, weren’t we all going to be begin learning foreign languages that had a lot more of it left?) and diagramming sentences. In 8th grade Latin I Mr. Humphreys seldom had to explain the difference between noun and verb, subject and object. Imagine the luxury!
Thanks to TVG from Atlanta for asking me for more detail. I hope this helps!