Category Archives: Education

Book Review #5: First Year Latin by Robert Henle

Some time ago, my students and I finished reading First Year Latin by Robert Henle.

I read this book every year.

First things first.  Praise where praise is due.

First Year Latin by Robert Henle will take you to a New Testament reading level.  Sort of.  More on this in a bit.

Every time I start learning a language, I have one primary goal.  Within six months, or so, I want to be able to read the New Testament in the language.

Why do I try to read the New Testament in the language I am studying?  There is a reason.

Since this post is about First Year Latin by Robert Henle, let’s focus on Latin.

To read the New Testament in Latin, you need a vocabulary of about 1,000 words.

Since the New Testament is written at an elementary, perhaps middle-school level, these 1,000 words will become the foundational vocabulary on which you will build the rest of your knowledge.

The Bible is a perfect first Latin reader for many reasons.

First, it is repetitive.  Truly, truly, I say unto you, the same words are used again and again.

Second, the background doesn’t really change.  Everything happens in Judea,  Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee, and Nazareth.  With the steady geography comes some steady, and basic vocabulary.  You learn the words for hill, road, village, lake, sea, city, wall, house and so on.

Third, the characters rarely change.  Mary, Joseph, Jesus, John, Herod, the apostles, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  Sprinkle in a few Romans from time to time and you are good to go.

What does all of this mean?

It means that you will be encountering the same words again and again.  And again.  Repetition is the perfect way to absorb new vocabulary.

Fourth, the New Testament is filled with subjunctive sentences.

Try learning the subjunctive while reading a few examples from a textbook.  That’s like trying to learn about married life from a book.  Have fun with that.

On the other hand, the New Testament is filled with the subjunctive mood.  It’s all over the place, and… it’s in context.   Learning the subjunctive in the context of a story is a bit like learning about married life while being married.  It just makes sense.  I mean, it’s still confusing and all, but if you are going to learn about it, this is the way to do it.

Back to First Year Latin by Robert Henle.  This book will take you to the New Testament.  That it is the goal (one of them) and that is a good goal.  Any book that gets you reading the New Testament in another language is worthy of your time.  So, kudos to Mr. Henle.

That said, I am now going to leave the reservation.

I have taken thousands of students through this book.   I have spent thousands of hours grading the work of students plodding their way through this book.   And, I have received hundreds of emails from what I call “Henle refugees”.

I have received hundreds of emails from tearful mothers who don’t know what to do because Henle Latin shattered their love of Latin and because Henle Latin shattered their children’s interest in Latin.

I have also received five or six emails from parents reprimanding me because I am too hard on Henle Latin.  Here is one: https://dwanethomas.com/not-happy-with-me/

When it comes to First Year Latin, the fans have their thousands and the haters have their tens of thousands.

Actually, the fans seem to have their dozens.   Maybe.

Soooo… why?  Why the hate? 

I believe it is, in part, because Latin is hard.  In fact, I recommend students start with Latin Lite before they attempt Latin.  What do I mean by Latin Lite?  I mean Spanish, French, Italian, or any of the other Romance languages.  Start with one of those languages and then study Latin.   After learning Spanish, you will find Latin so much easier.  Best of all, if you never make it to Latin… you will still speak Spanish. 

Latin is hard.  This has nothing to do with Mr. Henle.  Not his fault.

Henle Latin takes a grammatical approach to the language.  Again, not Mr. Henle’s fault.  The book was written in the mid-1900’s.  Every Latin book took the grammatical approach back then.  Well, every Latin book in America.  This is the academic approach.  The problem is, the approach doesn’t really work.

Don’t believe me?  How many Americans take a foreign language in high school?

I will give you a clue. 

ALL OF THEM.

How many bilingual Americans do you know?

Crickets.  Crickets.  Crickets. 

Mmmm-hmmm.  I rest my case. 

First Year Latin by Robert Henle takes the academic and grammatical approach to Latin.   I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings… but, don’t be surprised when you finish the book and you can barely read in Latin.

There is another reason the book is not as effective as we would all like it to be.  First Year Latin teaches students about 500 Latin words.   This falls way, way, way too short. 

You need about 1,000 words to read the New Testament in Latin.   You need about 3,000 words to be able to speak fluently in a language.  It’s a simple math problem.   First Year Latin just does not provide enough ammo for the fight.

In contrast, my favorite Latin book, Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg, equips students with about 2,000 Latin words.  By chapter 28, students are reading straight from the gospel of Matthew.   With ease.

By the way, Henle students are often annoyed to find they can’t read Lingua Latina fluently after completing First Year Latin.  Again, it’s just a numbers game.  When you show up to Lingua Latina, you are about 1,500 words short. 

Again, credit where credit is due.  Henle Latin does teach the grammar of Latin.  In fact, it teaches the same grammar that Lingua Latina teaches.  This is good.  This simply means you need to catch up in vocabulary. 

As far as I can tell, First Year Latin has two major goals.

The secondary goal is to get students to a reading level in the New Testament.   Empowered with a vocabulary of 500 words, students are left a bit short.  They do have the grammar.  They just lack the vocabulary.

The primary goal of the book is to give students the ability to read Caesar’s Gallic Wars.

This, by the way, is the reason there are so many morbid words in the book.  Students never learn the word for sister.  But, by the end of First Year Latin, they do know how to say kill, attack, assault, capture, conquer, danger, do harm to, enemy, hostage, hurl, repulse, slaughter, sorrow, sword, and wretched.

They also know how to translate the sentence: “There were dead bodies floating in the river.”

I wish I were making this up. 

Here is the saddest part.  I teach Second Year Latin as well.  After completing First Year Latin students still are not ready to read Caesar’s Gallic Wars.   Again.  Numbers game.  You just need more vocabulary. 

Here’s the thing.  If you have to read First Year Latin, I can help you.  I take students through the book every year.  In the spirit of ripping the Band-Aid off quickly, we read the entire text of First Year Latin in… well… the first year. 

If you have to read the book, I can help. 

But, if there is any way you can avoid the book, I recommend a completely different approach.

Combine Visual Latin with Lingua Latina.  The moment you finish these two, read one of the gospels in Latin.  You will be able to. 

It’s still Latin.  It’s still going to be difficult. 

But, I get the emails.   Every single day, I get the emails.   I’ve seen the damage.   I’m telling you, Henle Latin could destroy your interest in Latin.  Lingua Latina could ignite it. 

If you can, skip First Year Latin by Robert Henle.

Book Review #4: Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg

A few months ago, my students and I just finished another trip through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, by Hans Orberg. 

Since I had to cancel class in April, we were a bit off schedule.  I promised students we would continue until we finished the book.

Every time I read this book, I am amazed. 

I am amazed at how well it teaches Latin.  And, I am amazed at how tough it is.

Did you catch that?  Let me repeat that.  

Lingua Latina is tough.

Hans Orberg wrote Lingua Latina in Latin.

That’s right.  If you have not seen the book yet, it is completely in Latin.

There is no English explanation.  There are no sidebars with English notes.  There are no grammar points in English at the end of each chapter.  Most shocking to my students, there is no “Latin to English” dictionary at the back.

Lingua Latina: Per Se Illustrata means: The Latin Language Illustrated through itself.

In other words, Latin will teach you Latin.  The reader will use the Latin he knows to learn the Latin he does not know.  

Chapter 1 begins with pictures of new words and a map of the Roman empire.  Students read Roma in Italia est. 

Looking at the map, students see that Rome is in Italy.  This simple sentence just taught four words in Latin.  Each sentence, each paragraph, and each chapter from this point forward will add to your knowledge.  

By the time you finish the book, you will know almost 2,000 words in Latin.  This is significant.  I’ve been studying languages for twenty years.  As best I can tell, a learner with about 2,000 to 3,000 words in another language possesses the foundation needed for basic conversation and possesses the foundation for more advanced reading.

By contrast, another text I use to teach Latin, First Year Latin by Robert Henle, teaches students about 400 words.  Really, that isn’t much.  When you finish the book, you are not going to be able to read much in Latin.

By chapter 28, in Lingua Latina, students are reading from the New Testament in Latin!  In other words, if you tackled a chapter a day, starting today, you could be reading the New Testament, in Latin, 28 days from now.  Admittedly, that would be one tough assignment to hand yourself, but… theoretically, it could be done.

At the end of the book, chapter 35, students read Latin poetry, Latin wit, and a few Latin jokes.  If you can understand jokes in another language, you are either fluent or almost fluent.

I think I have read almost every Latin textbook out there.  I spent years looking for something like Lingua Latina.  The day I found it, I was hooked.

Mr. Ørberg was brilliant.

He turned a tough subject, one almost always taught from a grammar-based approach into a novel.

Instead of reading dry disjointed sentences, students read about family squabbles, school fights, pirates, dramatic rescues, runaway slaves, and stolen money.

Not only is the story completely in Latin, it is actually interesting!

Lingua Latina takes the reader from completely ignorant in Latin to near fluency.  Keep that in mind.  When I tell you that this is one of the toughest books you will ever read in your life, I am not kidding.

If you are plowing through Lingua Latina and you are struggling, be encouraged.  You are supposed to struggle.  Push through.

Soon you will be able to read in Latin.

That, my friends, is worth the struggle.

Of course, if you don’t want to tackle this book on your own, you are welcome to join me as I read it again.  We start over in September.

To read my other book reviews, go here: https://dwanethomas.com/bookreviews/

Want to join a class?  Click the blue button below: 

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Ouch.

One thing is sure: conservative American Protestantism is not future-oriented. In this sense, it is lower class.  Lower-class people and movements do not shape history; they are carried along in the back of the bus in order to be milked by those future-oriented people and movements that do shape history.

I wrote this book for Christians who are tired of being milked, bilked, and forced to ride silently in the back of humanism’s bus.

Gary North in “Crossed Fingers, How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church

I could earn more money…

I received this question:

Comment: Hello! I am wondering where to place my children in your classes. They were at a classical Christian school until January of 2016. My 14-year-old has had 4.5 years of Latin before we began homeschooling. As we started mid year, I decided to not do Latin that first half year while we were getting used to homeschooling but then we did not pick it up this year either as he was WAY beyond where I could help and there just wasn’t time for me to learn it. My daughter had 1.5 years but will for sure need to be in the Latin 1 again as I’m sure so much of it has faded away with little use. Can you help me figure out what the best place to start would be and then let me know if he could just upgrade to the next level if he needs to? I’m only seeing the 3 years of Latin on here…do you go beyond? The school they were at did Latin from 3rd grade all the way through graduation with them reading and translating many large works. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

Here is my reply:

Schools spread Latin out over too many years, in my opinion.  Students should learn a modern language when they are young, and should then learn Latin in high school.  They should learn the grammar of Latin in one to two years and then spend any more time in the language reading.  This is my approach. 

I could spread Latin out over six or seven years and earn more money.  But, I don’t think this is necessary.  I think students could learn Latin grammar in two years or less. 

I know that I am leaving a lot of money on the table, but I don’t care.  I am in the business of helping people.  I can sleep better at night knowing that I am not ripping people off. 

My students are reading and translating the New Testament in their second year of Latin.  Some are reading and translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars in their second year.  For those who want to go on, I offer classes with the writings of Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, and Vergil. 

That said, here is what I suggest.  Order a copy of Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg.  If your kids have not read it, they will like it.  Unlike every other grammar-based approach to Latin, Lingua Latina is a novel.  With the Latin your kids have learned, they should be able to read it. 

If they can finish the book, they are welcome in any class I teach.  If they can only read the first 19 chapters of the book, then I suggest they join the Lingua Latina 2 class.  If they can’t read the first 19 chapters of the book, I suggest they join the Lingua Latina 1 class. 

If they start reading and find themselves discouraged, encourage them not to despair.  The book is challenging.  I am never surprised when a fourth year Latin student cannot read the book.  Unfortunately, that’s a pretty common story.

Want to join a class?  Click the blue button below: 

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Help me?

I received a cry for help.  To keep myself on track, I responded to her questions in red.  Her questions are in black font.

Ok so I think I get it. Your classes are live? & recorded.  Correct.  Live and recorded.  Come to class if you can, or watch class later anytime you like.  I feel live offers more dynamics & accountability. So how does that exactly work, we watch live at set time & if I have different kids in different class levels they can jump in on different times?  Yep.  Students can jump in at any level.  If they are joining Lingua Latina though, I highly, highly recommend starting at the beginning.  That book is much tougher than people think it is.  25$ a month for my whole family? Sounds to good to be true.  $25 is correct.  I strive for “too good to be true”.  To see what others are saying, check this page out:  https://dwanethomas.com/testimonials/

I have 8 kids & did cc last yr. Henle killed us. I see you offer Henle plus the other book you recommend for your live T/W classes. Do you assign homework or?  I do assign homework.  I used to check it, but I just do not have the time to do it anymore.  Students and parents are able to check their own work now using the resources I have loaded into my site.  I have also created almost 100 tests and quizzes.  That number is climbing and will continue to climb.  The tests and quizzes provide an immediate grade and immediate feedback.  In the past, students had to wait a long time for me to respond.  I realized that I was the rock in the path.  I am now focusing on creating more resources for parents and students.  I havnt had as chance to look at the Lingua Latina book. But we’re almost to the ‘drop Henle’ point. But if we did the online LL fall class would my child/me easily know what homework he’s to be doing?-sort of like the cc guides spell out for the ch programs? Yes.  I provide syllabi for all of my classes.  These syllabi tell students exactly what steps to take.  I will be updating them with even more detail soon.  Help?  I have been doing this for 20 years, and I see no reason to stop.  You don’t have to learn Latin to live a happy life.  In fact, I recommend learning a modern language before learning Latin.  But, if you have to learn Latin, I can definitely help.

A little too ironic…

I received an email from a public school wanting to join my classes. The email included this note.

This doesn’t appear to be Christian, but their (sic) are biblical resources here….as a public charter we can’t pay for non-secular classes….just checking…let me know.

Here is my reply:

I am a Christian and I do teach from a distinctly Christian worldview.  Of course, secular comes from the Latin word saeculum which means 100 years, or the current age.  Since I am living in the current age, one could argue that my classes are secular.  And, so is this email.  🙂

Anyway, I doubt we will be able to work together.  I need no more students.  And, I definitely need no more paperwork.  Last of all, I refuse to take money from any government organizations (though they are quite happy to take mine).  

If you take the king’s dime, you are the king’s man.  The sooner American’s start saying, “No, thank you” to Uncle Sam, the sooner we will experience freedom.  

This includes saying “No, thank you” to that massive indoctrination welfare boondoggle known as the public school system.

I apologize for the inconvenience this causes.  I truly do enjoy helping people. 

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Ironically, I am responding to this on the fourth of July.  For those who do not know, the fourth of July is the day we won our independence from a taxation rate of 1%.  Could have been as high as 2.5% in the southern colonies.   Think I am kidding?  Check this out: https://www.garynorth.com/public/8215.cfm

It gets better.  According to a study by the Cato Institute, the U.S. ranks 20th in total freedom.  The U.K. (we won our independence from the U.K.) ranks 9th.  Among the top ten for freedom in the world today are five former British colonies.  

Ooops.  Maybe we shouldn’t have broken up with our British girlfriend.

In terms of personal freedom, the U.S. doesn’t even make the list.  That’s right.  We are somewhere behind Poland.

Instead of personal freedom, we get this: 

Ready to join the fight for freedom?  It’s easy.

First, pull your kids out of the government school system.

Second, start refusing government money.  All of it.

I don’t expect Americans will do either.

Oh, well.  At least there will be some pretty good food available today.