Because no one writes or speaks Latin anymore, many authors of Latin curricula find themselves defending the value of learning a dead language to prospective students and teachers. But, as Martha Wilson points out in her introduction to the Latin Primer series, Latin isn't exactly a dead language—when the Roman Empire fell, its language transformed locally across Europe and became French, Spanish, Italian, and others, languages Wilson describes as "New Latin."
There are three separate Latin courses available from Canon Press, of which we carry two: the Latin Primer books, and the Latin Grammar series (we don't carry Matin Latin). These are for younger and older students respectively, and focus on grammar and vocabulary, with the goal of training proficient readers. The authors of both courses emphasize the importance of Latin to English and other modern languages, its relationship to great literature, and the particular learning skills it imparts to students.
How Do These Work?
The three levels of the Latin Primer series are designed as introductions for 3rd-8th grade students. Book 1 assumes no prior knowledge of, or experience with, Latin; instead, students jump right into learning about verbs and nouns, memorizing vocabulary, and identifying English derivatives of Latin words. This is not a student-directed course, though teachers will have less work than those using Memoria Press Form Latin or Latin Alive!.
For each year, there's a consumable student worktext, a teacher's edition, an audio guide, and flashcards. Though you can purchase the flashcards from Canon Press, we don't carry them as you can also download them free of charge from the Canon Press website. The student worktext includes limited instructional text and exercises, and the audio guide offers practice for pronunciation which is modeled on Classical-style pronunciation throughout the series. The flashcards contain Latin words on one side and their English equivalents on the other.
At the center of each year is the teacher's edition. It includes all the pages from the student book along with answers to all exercises, as well as plenty of teacher support and guidance for teaching the content. There are between 27-32 lessons per year, broken into four theme-based units, each of which ends with a review exam. Lessons cover one week apiece, with a quiz at the end of each lesson.
Every lesson includes a conjugation or declension chant, vocabulary practice, exercises based on a quotation, and review. For the instructor, teaching notes provide optional additional exercises, presentational information, and other important content. You don't need to know Latin to teach this, but parents who don't should complete the student material as well. Glossaries and charts can be found in the back of each teacher's edition.
After completing the Latin Primer series, students are ready for the more demanding work of Latin Grammar, though there is overlap and if you intend to use theLatin Grammar books you may want to switch to them after the first or second year of Latin Primer. This series for older students is less teacher-directed; motivated students could conceivably complete each lesson on their own, though some parent/teacher interaction is invaluable.
The layout of Latin Grammaris much the same as the course preceding it, except much faster paced. Students get a brief introduction to pronunciation, then move directly into grammar and syntax; by the end of the second text they're reading and translating. There are two years' worth of study, with a student text and an answer key for each year. This isn't "fun" Latin, it's a lot of memorization and exercises that will effectively impart foundational knowledge in an important language.
Lessons are straightforward: there is text to read, study, and memorize, and there are exercises to complete. Chants help students to remember declensions and conjugations, but grammar instruction goes far beyond these basics, and includes a fair amount of challenging content. Students won't be ready to translate Augustine after this course, but they'll have a very solid foundation if they want to pursue further study (Wheelock's Latin would be a good choice from here).
A fun resource for beginning and intermediate Latin students is Orbis Pictus: The Natural World, a vocabulary guide based on a 17th-century manual that pairs pictures with words. Each two-page spread features a different theme (trees, animals, anatomy, etc.), with pictures and word lists on the lefthand page, and descriptions on the right. These descriptions appear in two columns: on the right are Latin-only descriptions for advanced students, and on the left are descriptions that mix Latin and English.
WhileOrbis Pictus: The Natural Worldcan be used in conjunction with a Latin course, it can also be used on its own, since so many terms used to describe the natural world are in Latin. A glossary in the back of the book includes the word lists for each section, along with their definitions, singular and plural forms, synonyms, and variations. This could also make a good brief introduction to determine whether Latin study is, in fact, right for your family.
Classical pronunciation is the suggested form throughout each of these courses and resources, though all the authors reiterate over and over that the form doesn't matter near as much as consistency. Whether you decide on Ecclesiastical pronunciation, Classical pronunciation, American scholastic, or whatever, make sure your kids are saying letters and words the same way each time, thus ensuring they can associate correct ideas to the appropriate vocabulary.
Our Honest Opinion
As Classical education becomes more and more popular, there are more and more Latin programs to choose from. Unless you've got younger students who don't like to sit still, your best bet is going to be a straightforward course that gives students what they need without frills and without more information than they require. The Canon Press Latin courses certainly fall into that category, and thus come well recommended.
Some users will doubtless find the pace too rapid, but for students who are motivated and parents who are willing to take the time to present the material accurately, they're a good choice. Students are never talked down to, they'll be kept busy with lots of exercises, and yet they won't be overwhelmed with information overload. All of these are valuable assets, and help the Canon Press Latin products stand out among many of their peers.
That said, students with no previous Latin experience will likely find these quite challenging. Lead-ins are not gentle, and from the first lesson of each book kids are expected to appropriate fairly high levels of information. For younger students, we'd suggest looking at the Latin products from Classical Academic Press; older students are probably best served by starting with the Latin Primer books rather than those in the Latin Grammar series, and moving to Henle Latin or Wheelock's from there.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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