A lot of the rhetoric behind teaching Latin is applicable to the study of any language—it encourages critical thinking, it enhances students' analytical abilities, it aids memory and retention. The Classical education people also suggest knowledge of Latin is helpful for understanding the philosophy and culture of ancient Rome. But why study Latin if you're not into Classical education? And if it's simply a language you want your kids to learn, why not start with something more practical, like Spanish or French?
Barbara Beers, author of The Latin Road to English Grammar, is one of the few educators who plainly articulates the reasons children should begin their study of foreign languages with Latin, and most of them (surprisingly for some) have to do with English. Besides the fact that languages like Spanish and French both grew directly from Latin, studying the common tongue of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church is like examining the foundations of the language we speak—English.
Did you know 60% of the total English vocabulary derives from Latin, and that those words are the common ones we speak every day? It's true—and Beers presents this and many other facts like it to support her argument for studying Latin. Furthermore, studying Latin and really understanding its grammar is integral to understanding English grammar, especially since scholars in the Middle Ages superimposed the Latin grammar on the English language; otherwise, learning English grammar is reduced to rote memorization.
How Do These Work?
There are three volumes in The Latin Road to English Grammar; Beers suggests starting the course in fifth grade (for advanced students) or sixth grade (for average students). Each volume centers around a teacher's guide in a 3-ring binder which includes lesson plans, answer keys, charts and flashcards to cut out. A set of teacher DVDs is available for each volume in which Beers simply explains the content of each chapter for parents, who then relay the information to their kids.
Some reviewers seem to be confused about the nature of this course—The Latin Road to English Grammar is NOT a student-directed course, and it DOES require preliminary preparation by teachers. While Beers wanted to create a program usable by those without prior knowledge of Latin or English grammar, parents are required to do all the work students do in order to teach each lesson; it's best for teachers to stay about a week ahead of students in the lessons, though two or three days in advance would also work.
Fourteen chapters per volume present the Latin language and English grammar simultaneously, using the former to illuminate and introduce the latter. A glance at the table of contents for any of the volumes make this look exclusively like a Latin course, but while the focus is on Latin, one of the main objectives is for students to understand their own language (and the way language works in general). Students begin with a review of English grammar and an introduction to Latin before jumping in to the study of noun declensions, verbs, tenses, etc.
Along with the teacher's guide, there is a consumable student workbook, pronunciation CDs, and color-coded flashcards organized by parts of speech. Tests, extra worksheets and charts are included in the teacher's guides. Each chapter is further subdivided into daily lessons, with a brief day-by-day scope and sequence as well as in-depth explanations for each lesson; lessons aren't scripted, but everything you need to teach them is included. Beers suggests spending 45 minutes to an hour daily; at that rate, you should be able to finish one volume per year.
Not only are the similarities between Latin and English grammar explored, Beers demonstrates over and over the Latin origin of English words. Vocabulary cards don't just include the exact definition of the Latin word in English, they include other English words in smaller print that came from the Latin word. This builds students' vocabularies in both languages, and fosters an ability to find connections beyond what the text calls their attention to.
The texts (either the teacher's or the students') aren't anything special, just black and white text with infrequent clip art illustrations. Beers is a Christian, and not wanting to instill pagan ideology in young students, she avoids Roman literature and mythology in the readings and exercises, opting instead to present Christian prayers, elements of American history, and Scripture verses. The teacher DVDs are easy to follow, though Beers tends a bit toward verbosity.
Our Honest Opinion:
This isn't your typical Latin course. Beers' defense of teaching Latin from an early age is compelling, and her presentation of the material is comprehensible for both students and teachers. Classical enthusiasts will be disappointed by the lack of Classical civilization references and the focus on English grammar, but for those who simply want their kids to grow academically and learn to become excellent communicators, this is a great introduction.
By the end of Volume 3, students (and parents) should be able to read any Latin text they encounter, and while further study always pays off, there's no need to go further. The course may be a bit old for many sixth graders, but because there's no age-specific content, feel free to wait till your kids are in middle school or high school. Also, though you could teach this course without previously having studied Latin or any other language, it's probably a good idea for both students and teachers to have a firm background in English grammar before starting Volume 1.
It's pretty easy to find Latin programs these days, but it's rare to find one that presents the material in such a genuinely unique way that is clearly not intended to help students understand another dead language purely for its own sake. Beers intends kids to learn Latin in order to improve their native language skills, as well as to lay a foundation for further language study if that is desired. Plus, the simultaneous education of parents and children in a single subject can only improve the remainder of your home learning experience.
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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