Ever since I wrote my Song School Latin review, my older son has been hounding me:“Mommy, can we listen to our Latin music?” “Mommy, can we watch the Latin video with the monkey?”
He loves to sing along to the curriculum’s catchy tunes and "talk like a Roman soldier,” as he says. And while I’m more than happy to play him the CD in the car, for now, Latin is officially “on hold” in our homeschool.
Perhaps that surprises you. After all, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that we’re a language-loving family and that I’ve written before on the value of language learning in early childhood. I’ve reviewed homeschool Latin curricula and even had a recent guest post about how homeschool moms can learn Latin alongside their kids!
Despite the fact that the Guarneras probably should be the poster family for early Latin learning, we are not. Instead, my husband and I have decided to delay starting Latin with our young children, probably until high school. In doing so, we might be going a bit against the trend within the homeschooling community—where some kids now start Latin as early as 4—but we’re confident that this is the right choice for our family.
Reasons why we’re purposefully delaying Latin study
Here are the reasons why our family has decided to delay Latin learning. Some of these are very specific to our unique situation as a bilingual homeschooling family, but I don’t believe that they’re exclusive. You might even find that you identify with some of them.
We have to prioritize our language learning. As a family, our chief language learning goal is to raise bilingual and biliterate children who will be just as comfortable in Spanish as they are in English. Pursuing that goal requires an enormous amount of effort and affects every aspect of our homeschool and family life—from what curriculum we use to what music we listen to at home to how we allocate money for family experiences. In addition, but much lower on the scale of priorities, I’d like for my kids to have basic conversational skills in Portuguese and reading knowledge of that language. That too, will take discipline to pursue, though not quite so much. At this point, there’s simply not time to devote to Latin, while my children are building foundational skills in three other languages (and enjoying their early years). By the way, if you’re also trying to balance more than one foreign language at home, you might be interested in this post that I wrote on the subject.
We want to maximize the key window for language learning with spoken languages. While it’s true that you can learn a new language at any age, there is also convincing evidence of a “pronunciation gap” that starts with language learners at around age 12 or so. That means that generally speaking, children who learn spoken languages before the onset of puberty should be able to achieve native-like accents, while those who learn a new language after puberty are less likely to do so. Since research seems pretty conclusive about that gap, we want to focus our language learning efforts on spoken languages now, rather than miss the boat because we were devoting our time and attention to Latin.
We trust that learning other Romance languages will offer most (and more) of the same benefits as learning Latin. Classical educators are often eager to recite the benefits that learning Latin offers to children, chief among them an expanded vocabulary, a greater understanding of English grammar, and an appreciation for other cultures. However, studying another Romance language offers these same benefits and in fact, has one additional advantage that Latin students don’t receive, which brings me to my next point...
We want our children to see their language skills as a tool to serve others. Over the years, our bilingualism has enabled our family to take on many unique opportunities to serve others—from helping Spanish-speaking friends navigate the health insurance system to serving as short-term missionaries in Peru. We want our children to recognize from an early age that their language abilities are not just an academic skill, but can be a valuable asset to others. For that reason, we want them to focus first on language skills that will connect them to our immediate community, rather than to the peoples and traditions of ancient cultures.
We want our kids to learn languages in a way that matches their developmental stage. While there are many ways to teach foreign language, Latin is most frequently taught through the grammar-translation method—which also happens to be the least suitable method for young children. I much prefer that my kids learn languages through activities that have been proven to work for children at their stage of development.* Speaking from my own experience, I will also add that many, many academics come to Latin late in life and don’t seem worse off for it. It is very common for graduate students in literature (my field) to take a one-year Latin reading course and then end up writing their dissertation on texts that were originally written in Latin. None of my colleagues who did this seemed like they were “behind” for having started Latin at 22 or even 32.
*A quick note here: I do think that it is possible to teach Latin to young children in a way that’s appropriate for them—Song School Latin is an example of that.
Reasons why you might NOT want to delay Latin
Now, those are our reasons for delaying Latin, but your family might be in a very different situation from us. Here are a few valid reasons for why I think you might make the opposite choice from us and not delay Latin in your homeschool:
You aren’t planning on studying any other foreign languages. If you do not think that modern foreign languages are something that you’ll realistically be able to tackle, first, please read more of this site, because I would love to convince you otherwise! Seriously, though, if your family lacks the time, resources, or energy to study another foreign language, by all means, go ahead and get started with Latin at an early age. The best foreign language for you to study is the one that you can be consistent with, so if you have access to good Latin resources and want that to be your family’s focus, starting early is just fine.
You really love Latin and want it to be a part of your family culture. Motivation is such a key part of language learning and in my experience, if mom is enthusiastic about something, her excitement is usually contagious. Just think of the musically or service-oriented families that you know—they share a common passion. Therefore, a love of the language is more than enough reason to get started with Latin.
Your children are enthusiastic about Latin and you want to capitalize on their excitement. Maybe your homeschool co-op offers an amazing Latin class, or your children have become interested in the subject because of their ancient history readings. If that’s the case for your family, run with it! If your kids already have a desire to learn Latin, you’ve won half the battle. Pick a homeschool Latin curriculum that fits your needs and dig in!
Should you delay Latin in your homeschool?
While I can’t decide what’s best for your family, here’s what I hope you can take away from this post:
If you are seriously invested in learning another language, I want to give you permission to delay Latin study. Your child will not be behind because he didn’t begin German and Latin simultaneously. Language learning is a skill that builds upon itself, so starting with a modern foreign language will help any child learn Latin later on.
If you want to delay Latin simply to focus on other academic subjects, you can do that too! If you are a new homeschooler and want to invest your time and energy in other subjects, that is a perfectly fine reason to delay Latin learning. You might not delay it until high school—perhaps just until age 10 or 12. Your child won’t miss out on the benefits of language learning for not having started earlier. In fact, you may find learning Latin easier at that age, since your child will have a stronger grounding in English grammar and be able to “graft” her Latin learning onto it.
If you want to start Latin early, do it for the right reasons. Latin is an exciting, challenging language to learn, but the worst reason to study it would be because everyone else is. Start Latin with your kindergartener because you love it, start it because your child is fascinated by Roman history, or start it because your homeschool co-op has an amazing Latin magistra who gets all of the kids excited about it. Those are great reasons to start Latin early—getting caught up in the homeschool rat race isn’t.
What are you doing about Latin learning in your family? Is it something that you’ve chosen to delay—or to eschew entirely? What are your reasons?