Tag Archives: Latin

When schools fail…

I received this email:

After reading several blog posts, I am wondering (again) about Henle. Yes, I admit that I am also one of those people who HATE Henle. I find it cumbersome, confusing, limited (vocabulary ), and just plain aggravating. Our son has struggled with Latin at Classical Conversations and I have several times considered jumping ship. However, if I reveal this to anyone in CC, I am quickly put down and told to just keep pushing through. Our son is a freshman and he is a math/science guy. He has convinced himself that he will always struggle with language but to me, Latin actually seems like it would be the easiest language for a logic minded kid to tackle. I think we just need to find the right curriculum. Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that. What I do know is even if that may be true, he needs to fulfill his language requirements for graduation. Nonetheless, we can neither take Henle nor Lingua Latina because of co-op and a math class that conflict with both times. Could you give us some guidance?

Here’s my reply:

Ugh.  First of all, I hate that you are being belittled for not studying Latin, or for wanting to stop studying Latin.  How absurd is that?  Very absurd, in my opinion.  Good grief.  People are weird.

I have met many happy people who have never studied Latin. So have you. Life goes on without it.

That said, you have the same problem we all have with high school. The law of the land says that we have to take two years of a foreign language.  After all, government bureaucrats know best.  That has worked well.  Most Americans are fluent in several languages.  (Read that last sentence with a sarcastic tone.)

I strongly suspect that your son’s difficulty with Latin is caused by First Year Latin by Robert Henle.  My suspicion is based on hundreds of emails like yours that I have seen over the years.  I am not simply mad at First Year Latin by Robert Henle.  I am basing my suspicion on feedback.  Lots and lots of feedback. 

The worst part is that your son now thinks he is no good at languages.

No.  School is no good at teaching languages.  THAT is the problem.  Of course, in this country, when school fails we blame the children.  And then…  we ask them where they’re going to college.  

I grew up in Europe. I have met many Europeans who are fluent in multiple languages and who are also good in math and science.  So, there goes that argument.  The problem is the schools.  The problem is not the human brain.  In other words, the problem is not your son.  

Actually, you can still join my classes if you like. I record everything I teach.  I rarely take those classes down.    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. 

And, by the way… a subscription grants access to every live class I teach. It also grants access to every recorded class on my site.   This means that he can still take First Year Latin by Robert Henle with me, if he wanted to finish the book.  On my site, you don’t have to choose between classes.  You have access to them all.

Let me know if you need more help!

Which meaning?

I received this question:

My son came across a problem on Visual Latin 1 Lesson 15. On the answer sheet it says that the word “feminam” means wife and “feminas” means wives but on the vocabulary list, it is not listed. It is listed as woman.

Also, we ran into issues with “bestiarum” which means beast but on the answer sheet it says animals towards the end of the second paragraph.

Here is my reply:

I apologize for the delay. August is the busiest month of the year for me.  Finally catching up this morning…

English has over a million words in its vocabulary.  And, it is climbing at the rate of about 150 words a day, or so I have heard.  We have a word for everything.  In fact, we sometimes have multiple words for everything.

Latin, on the other hand, has a vocabulary of about 75,000 words.  Compared to English, Latin is puny, tiny, small, or itty bitty.  (See what I did there?)

Anyway, Latin words have to work extra hard.  Sometimes one word will have many meanings.  So, yes.  Bestia means beast.  It can also mean animal, creature; wild beast/animal, beast of prey in arena.  

Femina means woman.  It can also mean woman, and sometimes wife.  

I hope this clears it all up!

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.

If you can’t skip, I can help you.

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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/

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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.

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A note to a discouraged student…

I received this email:

I am very worried that I am not doing well with my Latin. Up until around Chapter 32, I can read most of the chapters pretty well, even if I read pretty slowly. But I can hardly read Chapter 32 at all, and I know we’re supposed to be starting Chapter 33 now, but I can’t even begin to read and understand it. I don’t have any problems with understanding the grammar: I think it’s just vocabulary. Is there anything you could suggest that would help me study and memorize the vocabulary for Chapters 32 and up? I am afraid I am going to fall behind and get abysmal grades otherwise…

Here is my reply:

The process of learning a language is more a marathon than a sprint.  It takes a long time.  The reason I choose Lingua Latina is that, believe it or not, it actually speeds the process. 

For example, First Year Latin by Robert Henle is really a grammar book with a lot of English explanation.  Students finish the book knowing only learn about 400 words.  That’s not enough.

On the other hand, Lingua Latina teaches students about 2,000 words.  2,000 to 3000 words is about all you need in a language to be fluent in the language.  Of course, you can continue studying vocabulary as much as you want for the rest of your life.  That’s what I am doing.

The problem is, getting to those 2,000 words, especially in Latin, is tough.  I have found that the best way to achieve the goal is via repetition. 

This is why I suggest that my students read the book again each month. On the first day of the month, read chapter 1. On the second day of the month, chapter 2.  On the third day of the month, chapter 3.  You get the idea.  When you stall out, and you will, pause and focus on the problem causing chapter for the rest of the month. For example, if chapter 17 trips you up, spend the rest of the month reading chapter 17. Read it over and over again until you master the chapter.  Then… move on. 

Don’t be afraid to repeat. Just as you can’t train for a marathon by running around the block a couple of times, you can’t learn Latin by reading a book just once. You must repeat the process over and over again. You may be able to pass standardized tests in school, with one reading, but to truly own the language, you are simply going to have to repeat the process multiple times. This is why I choose Lingua Latina.  It’s a novel.  At least it’s interesting. I don’t mind reading interesting books multiple times, and chances are, neither do you.

No one wants to read First Year Latin by Robert Henle, or books like it, twice.

Another thing students sometimes ignore is vocabulary. The vocabulary in Linga Latina is aggressive. Each chapter teaches you about 50 words. That’s quite a lot. This is why I emphasize to my students over and over again that they cannot skip vocabulary training. Review the vocabulary every day. Review the vocabulary for the chapter that you’re currently in. For example, if you’re studying chapter 17, and if you are struggling with Chapter 17, then master the vocabulary for chapter 17.  Study the vocabulary for chapter 17 over and over and over again.

You can create flashcards for yourself if you like.   Or, you can use the flash cards over at quizlet. You can also learn the vocabulary by looking up each difficult word you encounter in the chapter.

This is my favorite way to learn new vocabulary. You learn in context.  Best of all, with Lingua Latina you learn vocabulary via a story. This story helps you remember the vocabulary. This is why I emphasize strongly that students who have learned Latin read the New Testament in Latin.

The New Testament is the most famous story on the planet. You can learn so much and vocabulary so fast if the New Testament is the first book you read once you know the grammar of a language. I do this with every language I study.

I know that you’re discouraged by the final chapters. That’s fine. I, too, was discouraged by the higher chapters when I first read the book. But, I kept coming back. Over and over and over again. Now, Latin is a skill and a knowledge that I will possess the rest of my life. Some things are worth building. A lot of girls from your generation have memorized the lines and lines of the Gilmore girls. Probably nothing wrong with that. I don’t know.  I have never seen an episode. 

However, it will not have the long-term benefits that mastering another language will have.

 

Should we keep going in Latin?

I received this letter:

Comment: Hi, My son is going into ninth grade and is taking Lingua Latina with you. He really enjoys it but also wants to learn other languages. We didn’t do a good job of passing on our Spanish to him and he wants to learn it before he graduates but he also wants to learn other languages. I am not sure what the best way is. I would really like him to finish lingua latina before doing another formal study but I’m not sure he will finish in two years. Ideally, he would finish lingua latina in the ninth grade and move on to other languages for tenth through twelfth. He recently started Spanish on DuoLingo and I encourage him to continue with that. I am also going to be doing some conversational Spanish with him and the little ones so he can grow. He understands well but speaking is difficult. I really think he is capable of learning both languages at once because he already understands so much Spanish but I don’t want to overwhelm his academic load next year. I am thinking about removing something to replace it with Spanish but its a tough choice. What are your suggestions? What is the best way to keep up Latin when Lingua Latina is finished? I would hate to see him forget the Latin he has learned. Thanks!
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Here is my reply:
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You can definitely learn more than one language at once.  Though it’s a bit ridiculous, I am currently working on seven.  The thought of this does not bother me.  I have seen it done, and know it can be done.  Europeans and Africans verify this truth every time I meet them.  It is not uncommon for them to speak four or five languages.
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If you don’t want your son to lose the Latin and that he has learned, continue on with it.  Yours is a good plan.  Jump from Latin to Spanish, or another modern language.
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However, I do think it’s a tragedy when students spend three or four or five years studying Latin and, in the end, are unable to speak it.  They have no one to talk to, and no country to visit.
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Much better to learn Spanish, French, or Italian fluently and then come back to Latin.  Latin isn’t going anywhere.  It will be there when he comes back.  I didn’t start learning Latin until I was 23.  According to his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin didn’t start learning Latin until he was 40.