Helpful Tips for the Latin Trip (Guest Post)

Today’s post comes to us from Angela Reed, who I discovered while listening to the Scholé Sisters podcast. When I heard her passionate interview about Latin’s relevance to our daily lives and how to approach this language as a homeschooling family, I knew I had to have her guest post here! If you’re studying Latin with your children this year, I know that you’ll find her enthusiasm contagious. Many thanks to Angela for her guest posts, and I hope that all of you readers enjoy it!

Of all the options for foreign language study, none seem to provoke more anxiety for homeschooling parents than Latin. Perhaps its designation as a "dead" language implies a stiff, lifeless, and therefore joyless endeavor. Perhaps its reputation as a "grind" brings to mind dark, musty scenes from a Victorian novel. (Poor little David Copperfield!) Or perhaps its associations give the study an elitist vibe, making it feel inaccessible to a mom whose own education was simply “average.” When one considers Latin’s long, laborious tradition, these impressions are understandable. But I hope to show you that these are just stubborn relics from the past, and that nowadays, Latin can and should be an enjoyable journey.

While classical Latin is technically a "dead" language, ecclesiastical Latin is very much “alive” in the songs and liturgy of the historical church. For families of Catholic and certain Eastern Orthodox traditions, Latin lives on in the expressions and practices of the faith. For everyone else, Latin seeps into the day-to-day often unrealized, and that awareness gives us eyes to see our lives in a new way, especially in how we understand our debt to the past—in language and culture, politics, art, and so much more. The study of Latin gives us perspective and helps to humble us; thus, it has a living legacy.

The "grind" label fairly characterizes some approaches to Latin study, especially during certain periods of history. As a disciplinary study—like math, grammar, and music—Latin requires a regular investment of time and practice. Simply put, it requires the discipline of habit, since without it, study can become grinding. But during the last century, educational reformers like Charlotte Mason realized that students could save time, learning efficiently and well, using direct methods for language study—even for Latin. It is a language after all, and learning it becomes more meaningful when we interact with it as a whole (not as disconnected forms and functions) and connect it to the context of our modern lives.

The association of Latin with elite privilege also has a historic basis, extending from times (most of human history, in fact) when education was only available to the rich and highborn. Princes studied Latin to read the literature—which served to develop their virtue and guide them in ruling wisely. In our era, the right to education is a democratic privilege, and though Latin translations are readily available, learning Latin is a still a virtuous endeavor. Anyone can now approach the language because there are many resources available—in print, in person, and online—to tap into the wisdom of the classical world. Latin is not for the elite anymore; it is for every child.

Latin will even enrich your life, Mom and Dad, as you learn alongside your children. It does not matter how far you go; it’s the experience of Latin that will take you places long after the lessons are done. With that in mind, I would like to to offer some tips for the journey:

1) Set out with confidence.

There are a great variety of curricula and resources to help families learn Latin—from completely scripted oral lessons, to systematically-arranged grammar workbooks, video courses, online tutorials and classes, and private tutoring. Latin resources for homeschooling families, in particular, have improved greatly in the last decade, and more helps and aids are coming out every year. There have never been so many opportunities for homeschooling families to take up the study of Latin with confidence and support.

2) Travel in (your) style.

Consider your homeschooling style or philosophy and the unique personhood of your child.

What learning methods or styles suit her best? Will she (or you?) need a lot of handholding? Open-and-go might be a good solution. Do you prefer a parts-to-whole approach, or subscribe to the idea of a "grammar stage"? If so, then a grammar-translation or grammar-first program might be right for your family. Do you prefer a whole-to-parts approach or embrace CM methods? Then a direct method—using reading, immersive, or total physical response programs might be the best fit. With time and a little troubleshooting, you will find your groove.

3) Enjoy the scenery!

There is a lot of pressure on parents to teach-it-all-and-as-early-as-possible. To be sure, there are clear linguistic advantages for children to encounter modern foreign languages early. But Latin presents a different sort of experience: there is no “magic window” for fluency—the language can be approached at any age.

So, take your time...there is no need to rush!! Latin comes to life when you learn about the ancients as you go: what they wore, how they lived, and what tales they told of their heroes, mythology, and history. Look for a program than includes cultural and historical details, or supplement with living books about life in ancient Rome. Do more than parse words: treat Latin as a language and have fun with it. See it as an experience to share, not as a puzzle to piece together. Listen to the Bible in Latin, or find some early readers to enjoy together. Take turns reading aloud. Do voices. Role play...or write a play! Remember, the journey is the thing.

4) Pass the torch.

Be a guide, be a companion, and then when it is time—or when you can’t keep up the pace—let your student forge ahead with more experienced mentors and trail mates. Do not hold him back for your own sake. Part of journeying is learning along the way and growing into independence. This means that at some point your child may need more help than you can provide, and that is good! See it as an opportunity to pass the torch to another teacher who can help him mature in his understanding. This is especially wise when students complete their knowledge of grammar and are ready to explore the land of Latin literature. Find a teacher and thereby secure the map—then, send your student on his way.

Best wishes in your language adventures with your kids! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Latin in particular, or how to make it work for your family. Till then, be well! Or as they say in Latin, Valete!

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Angela Reed is a homeschooling mother to five, living in the sunny state of Florida. A former classroom teacher, degreed in Classics and Latin and persuaded by Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy, she channels these enthusiasms onto Instagram: building community with friends
@charlottemasonirl, researching how Latin fits within a CM paradigm @thecmlatinproject, and documenting family life, homeschooling, and the day-to-day @athena_amidstthereeds.