Tag Archives: Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg

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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Will Henle 1 prepare me for Henle 3?

I received this question:

Hi!  I am CC tutor and I have completed 1-26 in Henle I four times.  I will be doing Henle 3 this fall with an older group.  Do you recommend I finish Henle I on my own this summer and get as much of Henle 2 done as possible, or jump into Henle 2 now?  What would be the best prep for Henle 3?  I have read before than 1-26 is all that is necessary for 3, but if you think I would be better off finishing the first book, I can do that instead.

Here is my reply:

I have never taught Henle 3 (I start this year) so, I am not exactly sure what to tell you about preparation.  I can say this, though… 

In my experience, Henle 1 does not prepare students for Henle 2.  I fear what is waiting for myself and for my students in Henle 3.  

I think the best thing students can do is simply jump in and start swimming.  

If you are interested, there is an ace you can play.  If you have time this summer, read Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg.  Since you have read Henle 1 many times, you are already ready for it grammatically.  You will have to learn a lot of new vocabulary, though.  Henle Latin 1 teaches students about 400 words.  Lingua Latina teaches students about 2,000.  When laid out like that, it is easy to see the problem with Henle Latin.  

Henle Latin is worth going through.  But, in my opinion, it really needs to be supplemented with Lingua Latina.  

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Am I doing okay?

I received this question:

Is it ok that I can’t translate very well at this point?   It will come eventually, right?   I just want to know if I am on track  OR  if should I spend extra time reading Lingua Latina and going over the vocabulary?   

Here is my reply:

Good morning!

You are in a tough, tough, tough Latin course.  I have seen Latin teachers struggle with this book.  I am not kidding.  When I read your translations, I feel you are getting 85 – 90% of it.  And, that, Amy, is good.  I think you are doing fine.  Forget perfection.  Work toward progress.   You are doing that.  

There is always more you can do.  Always.  I am teaching myself Italian right now.  I spend about 3 hours a day studying.  At the end of the three hours, I usually feel inadequate.  I could have done more, should have done more, etc.  But, if you take a long-term view, you know you will be back the next day.  And, the next day.  Over the course of several years, you will get good at it.  It just takes time.  

If you want specific advice, then yes.  I would recommend going over the vocabulary.  I recommend you review vocabulary every day if you can.  I also recommend you re-read the chapters daily if you can.  

This is a good way to do it.

I received this question:

My twins were in classical conversations and have a foundation from their challenge A & B program for the last two years but their local co-op program disbanded this year when they would have taken the entire Latin year of Henle I.

I think we will be trying the Lingua Latin and will follow along with Henle as well- they both seem to enjoy Latin. 

 My concern is if we take lingua Latin this year but then are able to join back in with the classical conversation Challenge Ii co-op next year, then we wouldn’t have completed Henle I. 

My question is – Since they have gone through at least half of the book of Henle I, I would like your opinion on how difficult it would be for them to also follow along with Henle I while they are learning Lingua Latin.  

Here is my reply:

I wish everyone would do it this way. Henle Latin provides a lot of structure.  Though it’s a dull book, it does teach the grammar of Latin well.  

Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg, on the other hand, is a novel.   Since it is a novel it provides entertaining content for the students to read. Personally, I think this makes the language easier to learn… even though Lingua Latina is, by far, the more challenging book.

 I don’t think it will be detrimental to do it this way. In fact, quite the opposite is true, in my opinion.   I think your children will benefit from both books, and both classes.

Good question.

I received this question:

If we choose the “no grading” option for your Latin class do I just buy a Lingua Latina answer book to correct myself?

Here is my reply:

The answer book is really not that helpful.  It is also completely in Latin.  At the beginning of August, I will be starting a series of videos on Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg and on First Year Latin by Robert Henle.  I will be explaining the sections that I assign for grading.  Parents and students will be able to watch the videos for explanation.  Using the videos, parents will be able to grade the assignments.