This year, I am teaching a Latin course for students in Classical Conversations. We are reading through the text First Year Latin, by Robert Henle.
I am going to be honest. Mr Henle’s book is not my favorite Latin book. It is no secret that Lingua Latina, by Hans Ørberg is my favorite Latin book. More on that book in a bit.
Even though Mr. Henle did not write my favorite Latin book, he did write an effective book. Let’s take a look at the strengths.
As I said, he did write an effective book. If you read First Year Latin, by the end, you will be able to read the New Testament in Latin. Any book which takes students from zero knowledge to reading the New Testament in Latin, is an effective book. If this was Mr. Henle’s goal when he started out, then he hit the goal. This alone makes First Year Latin worth the price.
The second strength of Mr. Henle’s series is this: It will teach you all of Latin grammar in two years.
C.S. Lewis once said it should take only two years to learn Latin grammar.
Latin, like all languages, is a complicated creature. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Yet, when you compare Latin to English, Latin seems almost tame.
English… is not tame. English is filled with more exceptions than an insurance policy. And, that, my friends, is a lot of exceptions.
If you read through First Year Latin, you will learn almost all of Latin grammar. You will still have some grammar to learn in the next book in the series, Second Year Latin grammar. For example, you will not learn deponent verbs until book two.
Still, If C. S. Lewis was right, if it only takes two years to learn Latin grammar, then Mr. Henle nailed it.
Third, First Year Latin is a serious Latin text. No fooling around, Mr. Henle is going to teach you the language. There are more than enough exercises, and, later in the book, more than enough reading exercises. If you are serious about learning Latin, this is a serious way to do it. There are some silly Latin programs out there. This is not one of them.
Almost every week I receive email from what I call “Henle refugees”. These are people, usually mothers and students, who are painstakingly working their way through Henle Latin. They are struggling.
Here is one email I recently received:
“We are at the point where he is beyond me. I tried to continue to learn it with him, but I am not keeping up. But he is also getting to where he really isn’t understanding everything and the Henle text just isn’t very friendly for those of us who do not know Latin. I’m hoping to buy your DVDs and then follow your lessons. Will this work? Or could I follow Visual Latin only and do the work from your lessons but do it in the Henle order and learn the Henle vocabulary so we can keep up with the class? Just wondering how this will work. He spends at least an hour a day on his Latin work and sometimes it takes an hour just to go through one exercise that is Latin to English. It’s often discouraging for him – but he does like learning it and I think he’s doing well.”
Notice a theme? This poor mother thinks she is the problem. I disagree.
If she is a problem at all, she is only part of the problem. It is true that she is still learning Latin herself, and is therefore at a major disadvantage. It is hard to teach someone something you do not know.
She may not realize it, but she isolated the real problem. Early in the email she pointed out, “…the Henle text just isn’t very friendly for those of us who do not know Latin.”
Actually, she could have left off the latter part of the sentence. She could have simply said, “…the Henle text just isn’t very friendly.”
She is right. The book is not user friendly. I have read all the Latin books out there. I am not bragging, believe me. I am simply announcing that I have desperately looked for the most user friendly Latin book. I have read Wheelock’s Latin, Jenny’s Latin, Latin for Americans, Cambridge Latin, Henle Latin, Matin Latin, Minimus, Latin for Dummies, Latin Made Easy, Learn to Read Latin, Latin for People, Ecce Romani, Oxford Latin, and Get Started In Latin.
I’ve probably read other Latin books that I have now forgotten about.
Henle Latin is not the worst, that is for certain. But, it is also not the best.
Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg, on the other hand, is the best. There is nothing like it. After all, it is a novel! And, unlike Ecce Romani, it is an interesting novel.
Students reading through Lingua Latina encounter family squabbles, sibling rivalries, broken bones, runaway slaves, romance, pirates, battles, school fights, frustrated school teachers, and mischievous school boys.
I’m sorry, but no other textbook, with its multiple, random sentences of Caesar beating up Gauls, is able to compete with Lingua Latina.
But, what is all this to you? What if you are reading this, and you are required by your school to read one of the boring textbooks I listed above?
“Great”, you think. “Lingua Latina is a better book. Big deal. I am in a school that uses Wheelock’s Latin and I have a test on Thursday. Why should I care that Lingua Latina is better?”
If you are learning Latin simply because you have to, then it may not matter what book you use. If, however, you are learning Latin because you want to, then it matters.
The boring textbooks I listed above will likely kill your interest in Latin.
I know this because I experienced this. Boring Latin books almost killed my interest in Latin. In fact, I was going to quit teaching Latin because I was sick of it. I was already in negotiations with a property management company. They were going to hire me to manage apartment complexes in the Nashville area. I was not excited about the new job, but it was better than torturing students in Latin.
Then, I discovered Lingua Latina. Hans Ørberg’s book saved my teaching career. I am still a Latin teacher today because of this book.
Here is what I recommend. No matter what Latin book you are using, order Lingua Latina. Learn grammar from the textbook. Finish your class homework. And, when you are done with your regular Latin homework, read Lingua Latina.
Treat it like a novel. Read it like you would read the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games.
Just pick it up and read it. If you like Latin at all, you will love Lingua Latina. And, if you already hate Latin (I don’t blame you. Boring textbooks have that effect), Lingua Latina just might bring you back.
P.S. Here is a shameless plug. If you want to read Lingua Latina, but don’t feel ready, I can help. I teach the book online every year: https://dwanethomas.com/schedule/
If you are stuck in Henle Latin, I can help with that, too. Here again: https://dwanethomas.com/schedule/