Well, well, it has been a long, long time since any of us posted anything here! But things have quietened down again, and I might as well make a post.
This year one of my regular jobs has been teaching my littlest sister Latin. I studied Latin on and off for seven years when I was younger, spending most of my time on the Mars Hill Latin course by Martha (and later, Douglas) Wilson. When I had finished the two Latin primers and the Latin grammar, Mum looked around for a more advanced Latin course (since the Mars Hill course was aimed at primary-age students).
She settled on a recent edition of the classic textbook by Frederick Wheelock. Wheelock’s Latin is basically the Saxon Maths of Latin courses—few frills, and contains most of what you’ll ever want to know about Latin in one dense textbook. I did that for six months before getting completely out of my depth and having to stop—and then university prevented me going on.
Mum was considering whether to start A. on Wheelock’s at the beginning of the year, and feeling somewhat daunted, when I offered to teach her instead. Wheelock’s had conquered me once and I knew now what the problem had been. I had not taken great care to learn everything in each chapter before moving on to the next. I had assumed that I could tackle a new chapter every week. Wrong!
So when I began teaching A. Latin at the beginning of the year, I realised that you had to work through each chapter very thoroughly, taking it slowly. We just finished for the year today and out of the 40 chapters in the textbook, we’ve only got through the first 7.
Had I not spent so much time away from home, especially in the second half of the year, we might have gotten a little further. But this is how we did it: First we would read the chapter together and discuss it. Then, we would start work on the worksheets for that chapter (I recommend getting the Workbook for Wheelock’s Latin, which has lots of supplementary exercises). After this, we would work through the Optional Self-Tutorial Exercises at the back of the main textbook. Finally, we would tackle the translation exercises in the chapter itself. This involves working through the chapter several times in a row, and really helps you to learn it. I also had A. drill the words and their meanings daily.
Why Latin?: Learning languages is an excellent mental discipline. Although English is a Germanic language, it has been heavily influenced by Latin and Greek as well. Latin and Latin-derived languages such as French have dominated world history for thousands of years, from the ancient times of the Roman Empire, to the medieval world in which Latin was the language of scholarship and French the language of diplomacy, to the modern world in which English has only recently replaced both. Learning Latin disciplines a student’s mind to understand words, not just in their current meanings but also in their ancient and medieval meanings. When the finer shades of meaning and history emerge, a writer becomes able to choose words with far greater skill and care than he otherwise would have. He can become a truly capable and powerful user of words.
A solid grounding in Latin is also an excellent place to begin learning other languages. French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portugese, and other languages are derived from Latin. Learn Latin, and not only will you understand your own language better, you’ll also understand parts of others.
Finally, learning Latin is also an excellent way to learn grammar. Although Latin grammar is not identical to English, they share many points of similarity and you simply cannot learn Latin without a rigorous use of grammar. While everyone needs a solid introduction to English grammar, there’s no reason to keep on with it once you start learning Latin. Basically, it’s a two-subjects-for-the-price-of-one deal.