I received this sad (and, oh so frequent) question:

I have an 11th grade student who is in Classical Conversations. 

She has been doing Henle Latin for the last 4 years (Henle 1 and 2).  I have not been doing it with her. 

Now she is in Challenge 3 and supposed to be translating Caesar and Cicero and she is really struggling.  I don’t think she has truly mastered the concepts from Henle.  I am not sure if I should start her from square 1 and have her do your Henle 1 class or have her do Visual Latin, or just have her do Henle 2 in your class. 

I don’t know how to assess her true understanding.  She uses the blue grammar book and the latin dictionary to do any translations and is not very strong in them.  I feel like I have failed her in Latin and I want to make a good decision now to save this sinking ship.  Thank you for your help.


Here is my reply:

Well, first of all, you have not failed. 

The system has.

And, second, I am afraid Visual Latin would probably not be much help at this point.  Unless she just wants to review.  It would all be review.

Unfortunately, the truth is disappointing, but I am going to tell it to you anyway.

The truth is, First Year Latin by Robert Henle does not prepare students for Second Year Latin by Robert Henle.  And, Second Year Latin by Robert Henle does not prepare students for Third Year Latin by Robert Henle.  At least not in my experience.  And, I have been teaching all of these books for a decade now.  (I do it to help those in Classical Conversations.  I get emails like the one you sent me every single week.)

I don’t want to give you a long history lesson, so to make things short, here is what happened.  At some point in history, some academic decided students should read three main Roman authors.

Caesar, Cicero, and Vergil.

Not to put too fine a point on it… that was a lame decision. 

I’ve read these guys.   All of them.  They are very difficult authors to read.  Caesar (Second Year Latin by Robert Henle) is the easiest, and he’s not that easy.

Cicero (Third Year Latin by Robert Henle), whom C.S. Lewis called the “great bore” is very difficult.  I’ve been doing this over 20 years now and I still struggle to understand his writings.

Virgil (Fourth Year Latin by Robert Henle) wrote poetry in Latin.  Poetry is tough in any language.

That said, your student is the inheritor of a long, ineffective tradition.  We are finally (in large part due to Covid-19) finding out that much of the academic world is an ineffective tradition, and it’s about time.

So, what do I recommend?

Fortunately, there are couple of things you could do. 

You could have her join my site.  I teach all of the Henle books except the fourth.  No one ever asks about it.  I doubt many students ever make it that far.  She could finish the year out using the classes on my site.

I record every class I teach, and I only take them down if I am updating them.   Currently, there are around 2,000 videos all arranged by units.  In other words, you could go from beginning Latin to advanced Latin easily on my site.

I have quite a few students who use the previous classes only.  In fact, many prefer this as they can move at their own rate.  Students are always welcome to contact me if they have any questions.

There are also forums for each class.  In the forums students can interact with each other and ask questions.

Alternatively, you could have her switch to Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg.  The book is a novel, written in Latin, and unlike the Henle series… is actually interesting.  I have classes on my site for that book as well.  However, she could likely read Lingua Latina on her own given her background in Latin.  There may be no need to join my site at all for this book.  Also, it counts as two years of high school Latin, and if she finishes it, you could get away with calling it three years.  Most schools that use the book count it as three years of high school Latin.

And, finally, though it’s probably too late at this point, you could have her switch to a modern language like Spanish, French, or Italian.  Those languages are actually practical.  You can fly all over the world and use them.