Children do not teach themselves Latin.
Children. Do Not. Teach. Themselves. Latin.
Okay, now that we have that cleared up:
If you purchase the book set from Kolbe, it comes with the book, a test booklet and separate answer key, a teacher’s manual with answers to the book exercises, and a pronunciation CD. Easy to overlook is the Supplemental Exercises, which are called for in the course plans, and which you need to purchase separately. It will not surprise you to learn that I have no idea what is in the Supplemental Exercises.
The book is a vintage-rescue. Originally written in 1941, it was republished by St. Mary’s publishing in 1996, and St. Mary’s has written the teacher’s manual and test books as well; together they are designed for the Latin enthusiast hoping to learn enough Latin to follow the Mass with ease. The teacher’s manual provides explanations and encouragement for how to teach yourself the language.
The text drops you straight into depths of Latin grammar with a minimum of warm-up. It was originally written for students who were hearing and praying the language weekly if not daily; therefore the text centers on helping students make sense of, and use intelligently, a language with which they are already familiar. I like the book, but I’d recommend it to others only if:
1. You actually want to learn Ecclesiastical Latin. We do, so this is great for us.
If you prefer to study classical Latin complete with Siege of Troy and all the best monster stories, consider using the Oxford Latin Course, which the boy and I have used and we both liked. It is fun. I like fun. Here’s a link to professor Robert Cape’s Internet Workbook for that text. It is not designed to be a self-study course, but you can make it one by supplementing with a few references along the lines of Latin for Dummies and so forth. [Notice this is supposed to be a college textbook. Except that when I saw it in my public library, I assumed it was a middle-school textbook. Goofy cartoons. Thin book. Anyway, it’s entry-level classical Latin. If you move slowly, it will work for young students once they can read (English) fluently at a middle-school level. Read the historical notes yourself before having your children read them, so you can provide any necessary parental guidance.]
2. You can provide some amount of “Latin Immersion” to go with the program. That could be your conversation, the memorization of select prayers in Latin, or the singing of Latin prayers or hymns. We do a little bit of Latin-fun, but not as much as we really need to. It shows.
3. You have time to learn with and teach your child. This is the part that is kicking my rear this year. Even with the teacher’s manual and course plans, you may need to do a little researching around to get all your questions answered. I’m a firm believer in picking up bargain-table texts so that if I have a question I can go see how someone else explains it.
4. Your child has studied a foreign language before, or has an incredibly sound grasp of the analysis of English grammar.
Kolbe suggests Latina Christiana as a possible supplement in 4th grade, and that would make a good warm-up program. (I’ve looked at bits of Latina Christiana and I did not fall in love; I prefer the monster stories and goofy cartoons at Oxford Latin.) But there are any number of early-years Latin choices, including just doing some memorization work. Studying a different language would work as well.
The important thing is to be able to accept foreign languages as something other than merely English Re-Coded, and be able to understand how words sometimes work as objects, sometimes as subjects, sometimes show possession, etc. If you’ve mastered Seton-quality English grammar in the early years, that would be sufficient.
The Kolbe Course Plans. The course plans provide instruction and explanations for each chapter. I find them very helpful to have on hand. Recommended.
If you are enrolled with Kolbe, make sure you request the course plans for the year of Latin you are actually studying, which may not be the default for your student’s grade level.
Where to begin? Although the boy and I had done Latin in the past, we opted to start in with New Missal at page 1, and I am happy with that decision. The grammar is intense from the very beginning, much of the vocabulary was new to us, and frankly I needed to be able to coast for a while.
If you are switching into this program after several years with something else, I’d take a look at the book and judge for yourself. If you are enrolling with Kolbe, call and explain your situation, and ask for some guidance. Remember that you can request a limited number of extra course plans. So you could decide to speed through year 1 as a review, and pick up with year 2 (or later) when you reach the point where the material begins to be more difficult for you.
Should you study Latin?
Note that if you like Kolbe overall but are hestitant about the Latin, you can choose to skip it altogether. For high school, Kolbe does not have a wide variety of foreign language offerings, but you are entirely free to study whatever language you like, using materials from another program or taking a course in your community.
You can also delay starting Latin until 6th grade or later. If the pace of the course is too intense for your addled mom-brain, you could choose to cover the material more slowly. There is nothing dumbed-down about this course, and it would be valuable even into high school.
We Catholics have a longterm interest in the language. Even if you study Latin only lightly during elementary and middle school, this is a handy course to have around for continued use as an adult wishing to dabble and slowly learn more and more over the years.
- The boy begged me — not a whining beg, but a non-nonsense plea of manly desperation — to please go back to OLC. So I’m going to let him, even though it means more work for me. We both like it. Cartoons, you know? I made a little sidebar section with various internet helps for that book. He loves the hangman games at the Internet Workbook.
- You’d be remiss not to check out Dr. Peter’s Ecclesiastical Latin Page before making a decision on what Latin program you wanted to use.
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