Latin through Stories
I. General Questions about how the curriculum works
We have scripted the teacher guide in such a way as to allow teachers/homeschoolers with no or minimal background to learn along. We also provide audio tracks for all components so you can listen to all sentences in preparation for teaching them. All you need is a positive attitude, willingness to spend some extra time initially to listen to the audio, and excitement to learn along with the kids! Sometimes people new to Latin are a bit overwhelmed at first. If that is the case for you, we recommend simply going more slowly, e.g. by breaking lessons in two, or repeating some of the lessons, or just doing some rather than all of the curriculum components until you feel confident to move on. Please feel free to contact us for guidance if you feel overwhelmed, we’re here to help!
In Charlotte Mason’s schools, as in many European schools then and now, children learned multiple languages well because they didn’t drop one language when they started another. Children in Mason’s schools started with French or German in Kindergarten or even pre-school and then added Latin in 5th grade. Unfortunately, in US schools today, when a new language is started, the previous one is invariably dropped. Since we work with classical schools who all want Latin, it makes more sense to have them start Latin in an age-appropriate way, rather than suggesting that they do Spanish or French or German in the early years only to then drop that language.
Moreover, the reason Charlotte Mason delayed Latin until 5th grade is because in her time there was the widespread idea that the main reason to teach Latin was to teach grammar. This was the predominant approach in the 1800s and 1900s; however, it is not the way Latin was approached in the many centuries before that, and it is not the way Latin is seen now by many people. An analytical approach is certainly not fit for children under 5th grade; a living approach works for any age, because it is the way children around the world acquire their own, as well as second and third languages. There is no reason a child could not acquire Latin just like they would any other language.
In the first few levels, our goal is to bring the Latin language into the child’s world, not vice versa. Using classic picture books that children are already familiar with in English helps tremendously with easy comprehensibility. Especially Eric Carle’s books are ideal for first year language classes for young children for various reasons: they are colorful, and the art usually appeals to kids, and they have simple and repetitive language yet still are engaging for young kids. They are really wonderful for creating syntax patterns in children’s brains.
Another reason we have chosen the books we’ve chosen is that they are children’s picture book classics that every child should be exposed to, and they combine beautiful language with beautiful art. Our curriculum tries to emphasize exposure to Beauty throughout.
Note that the first few books of Level 1 are more “pattern books” than story books really, in that they don’t even tell a story (e.g. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or From Head to Toe). Subsequent books do tell a story and are therefore richer. With students in 3rd grade and up, if you feel they get bored quickly with these initial three, feel free to repeat them less often and substitute more of the grammar extensions in place of reviewing those books.
Think about how long it takes English speaking students to read and understand Shakespeare. And that is after they have been fully immersed in English all their lives! Also, reading the original Aeneid and church documents requires a certain amount of maturity and cultural and historical knowledge beyond specific vocabulary and grammar. Moreover, when students have Latin only two or three times a week for half an hour, it will take quite a bit of time to get there. Students before the 20th century were able to get there much sooner because they spent a whole lot more time being exposed to (often, being immersed in) Latin. I found some documents indicating that children in the mid-1800s had around 10-12 hours of Latin per week. Also this article on the role of Latin as the language of the Church and its role in education is very interesting and gives a good idea of how much more students used to be immersed in the language. So, it’s a bit hard to say when your student will be reading the Aeneid or Church documents (and it also depends on what you mean by reading – but that’s another conversation), but realistically, that won’t be right after finishing our curriculum, because it is exclusively meant for elementary school.
We teach language for acquisition, not for the ability to decode a particular text or author, or worse yet, a particular part of a text that’s on the AP Latin exam.
Levels 1 and 2 aim to bring the Latin language into the child’s world, not the young child into the world of the Romans. Language acquisition in young children needs to be tied to their own experiences, as master teachers of previous centuries recognized. For example, John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching (1884) emphasizes, in his chapter on “The Law of the Language,” the importance for the teacher of expressing him or herself “in the language of your pupils” and using “the simplest and fewest words” (62). Similarly, Comenius emphasized that “the Study of language, especially in the young, should be joined to that of objects, that our acquaintance with the objective world and with language, that is to say, our knowledge of facts and our power to express them, may progress side by side” (John Amos Comenius Didactica Magna, 1633-38).
Thus, in a curriculum aimed at elementary children, we focus on words appropriate to the child’s world and their range of experience. High frequency words of classical literature like bellum, vinculum and miles are generally not.
However, we do use the Essential Latin Vocabulary frequency lists to guide our word choices to some extent. This book contains lists of the 1425 most frequent word in classical literature and indeed, many of the highest frequency words are in fact used in this curriculum: of the top 50 words, around 31 are used in Level 1 and 2 – so by the time they are in 2nd grade they have already encountered over half of the top 50 words! (Note that we say “encountered” not learned, because it takes many, many encounters with a word to actually acquire it, and among the highest frequency words are relative pronouns and demonstratives which have many different forms and take a very long time to be really acquired).
Lastly, it is worth keeping in mind that even when the words students are learning are not ones they’ll need to read Virgil, they are still acquiring important structural patterns of the language. For example, in a sentence like pueri virum nivis faciunt (the children are making a snowman) students are acquiring the accusative of the high frequency noun vir (man), and the structure of the genitive of a 3rd declension noun is reinforced (the -is ending on nivis) so that at some point it becomes second nature to the child.
This curriculum is right for you if:
…you agree with us that language learning happens through interacting with children in the language.
…you understand that children require lots of exposure to complete sentences in order to acquire a language, rather than vocabulary and grammar drills.
…you agree with us that testing young children does not increase their language acquisition, and that young children should be motivated by interesting content, not grades.
…you are willing to spend some time reading through lessons, familiarizing yourself with the sentences, perhaps listening to some of the audio recordings for pronunciation help.
…you are willing to learn along with your students (if you’re new to Latin) and enthusiastic about learning to interact with your students in Latin.
This curriculum is NOT right for you if:
…you want a workbook-centered curriculum (we do have a student book, but it is not the center of the curriculum)
…you want lots of tests and quizzes (none are provided at this point; please see the question about grading below)
…you want students to work on Latin on their own (this curriculum is all about interacting with students in Latin)
…you want vocabulary lists and grammar charts to memorize (no vocab lists are provided, see question below; some grammar charts are included, but this curriculum does not focus on memorizing isolated endings and charts)
II. Questions about Teaching
We are deliberately not providing vocabulary lists because we want to focus on learning vocabulary in context: not as isolated words on a list, but through hearing and saying the words repeatedly in songs, stories, Gouin series and little Socratic talks. If you feel like students aren’t retaining it all, don’t worry, what little ones need at first is just being exposed to it a lot, by hearing it from you, they don’t need to be able to produce it themselves right away. In time you’ll see they’ll pick it up and learn a ton without the need for a list.
Making flashcards typically takes up an inordinate amount of time that is much more efficiently spend hearing the words repeatedly used in complete, meaningful, and comprehensible sentences. Think about how many individual word flashcards the average 3rd grader could make in 5 minutes, and how many complete sentences they could hear in that same amount of time! Memory connections are strengthened much better by making direct connections, either from a word to an image or a gesture/movement or by placing it into a context that makes the meaning clear and presents a memorable idea. Keep in mind, you don’t have to remember everything perfectly before you can move on, language learning is gradual and cumulative. For your little ones, exposure and comprehension of the sentences they hear is much more important than their being able to produce single word meanings.
There are two reasons for this: first, it creates a comfortable atmosphere in which no one feels put on a spot. Being asked to speak in a new foreign language in front of a group is terrifying for most people! And everyone learns best when they are not in a state of anxiety. Secondly, when everyone speaks, everyone is practicing and everyone is engaged, especially if you have a large class. A student who has just answered can reasonably conclude you won’t call on them any time soon if you do individual answers, and everyone gets much less practice.
However, with students in 4th and 5th grade, more individual accountability can sometimes be helpful, so it’s fine if you decide to do individual answers at times. But we’d still recommend doing choral responses and recitations for the songs, Gouin series, and readings.
Short answer: No! Longer answer: it depends on what you mean by “completely mastered.” The main underlying principle of this curriculum is that students need to be exposed to a vast amount of comprehensible as well as interesting language before they can be expected to produce language themselves. So, yes, students should comfortably understand what you are saying, should be able to demonstrate comprehension through gestures and by responding yes/no or by speaking or singing along with you. But they are not expected to produce complete sentences by themselves right away. Also, the curriculum reviews everything at regular intervals in old and new contexts, so their comprehension, as well as their confidence to respond in Latin, will increase as time goes on.
First, please keep in mind that your students will learn a lot more by being exposed to Latin more, rather than by being tested more. Young children acquire a language by being exposed to lots of input and by having meaningful interactions in the language. Especially in a school that has Latin only two or three times a week, it would be ideal not to waste valuable class time on testing, so that you can maximize students’ exposure to Latin in class. Also, especially in Level 1, the expectation should be more about students’ comprehension than production. It takes a lot of meaningful exposure to words and structures for students to acquire them. If you need to assess and grade, consider grading students on participation during class activities and on positive classroom behavior such as listening attentively, and speaking and gesturing appropriately. If necessary, some creative ideas for taking a “quiz grade” might be to write out at home, from memory, as much as they remember from one of the Gouin series and to illustrate each sentence. It would give students a way to share their work with their parents and wouldn’t take up valuable class time. Or if you want something for in class, you could ask them to write any 2 or 3 sentences from a series that they remember. If necessary, you could also grade their work in the student book.
Everyone should start in Level 1, even 4th graders, unless they’ve had a good amount of Latin before. Since our approach is sentence-based and focused on providing a lot of language input to children, there’s really enough there even for older kids. What changes will be mostly the expectations you have of what kids will be producing themselves. Kindergarteners, for example, aren’t necessarily expected to produce complete sentences on their own (they can respond with one-word questions or even just with signs until they are ready for more, and parents/teachers should speak along with them for everything longer). By third grade, we would expect them to gradually, and somewhat sooner than the younger ones, be able to answer in complete sentences and to rely less on the parent/teacher speaking along (although that can still be helpful to ensure correct endings). Also, there are optional grammar components that aren’t supposed to be done until 3rd grade, so you could decide to add some or all of those in if you’d like to challenge your older students a bit more. So, it’s really not a matter of moving faster, but more like going deeper (being able to produce more and going further in their understanding of how the language works).