Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lucia The value of teaching Latin to young children

o - s - t - mus - tis - nt ~ Latin verb endings for memorisation
I started teaching my children (boys, ages 7&11) Latin from the start of this year using Memoria Press's Prima Latina for young children. It's very basic Latin which could almost be a bit too young for my older child, but I thought that it would be far easier to teach the same thing to two children and that it would be a gentle lead-in for my older child who really didn't like to work too hard.

A few weeks back we started really getting into the grammar rules for types of words. Not having learned anything like this at all myself beyond passing references to nouns, verbs, etc, I'm finding that the classical approach to learning for younger children looks to be very beneficial. The idea is that they memorise (dirty word in modern education!) facts so that they are easily assessable in their minds when they need them. I'm finding in teaching of grammar facts, for example, as they relate to Latin, that I do not have them readily assessable at all, and therefore I'm having to memorise them myself in order to spot-grill my kids on what they remember. So I can see the massive advantage they will have over me in the future in having these facts readily available as our study of Latin increases in complexity.

I was prompted to write about the concept of memorisation and how handy it will because of the following passage from an article by the lady who designed the Latin course we are using.

More than a decade ago, I began to try my hand at the forgotten art of teaching Latin grammar to students in grades 3-8. I knew that middle and high school students learn English grammar with much difficulty and little success, yet up until the 20th century students regularly completed the much more difficult Latin grammar before high school. How could this be? Were students a lot smarter in the past?

The key to this riddle is found in the nature of the two languages (Latin and English) and in the inherent difficulty of understanding grammar by analyzing one's own language. This problem was pointed out years ago by R.W. Livingstone:
"In English, grammar study is artificial, we know the language already and have no real need to dissect it; while in Latin we must master the grammar in order to understand the language at all, and the study is therefore spontaneous. Again, if our object is to train exactness of thought, modern languages are far inferior to Latin, which has, in a unique degree, in a degree no modern language exhibits, that logical quality of which so much is said in these discussions. He (the Roman) disciplined his thought as he disciplined himself; his words are drilled as rigidly as were his legions, and march with the same regularity and precision. Modern languages, and English most of all, are lax and individualistic; in our grammar, as in our politics, we are nonconforming, dissenting, lenient...; we have almost as many exceptions as rules..In the ideal language, law is supreme; Reason governs its grammar and the expression is exactly measured and fitted to the thought which it expresses. Latin is such a language."
Since grammar is the study of the structure of language, the best subject for that study is a language that is a model of organization, logic, and discipline. Latin is such a language and its study teaches grammar in a way no other language can. When English grammar is learned side by side with Latin grammar, it produces a level of understanding and mastery far surpassing anything that can be achieved by the study of English alone. It also makes the separate study of English grammar unnecessary.
It really struck in me in reading the whole article that exactness of thought and ability to really get to the core of problems and how to fix those problems is woefully missing in modern times. Could it be that in order to improve everything requires that we get back to basics? But what basics?

Ah, for the answer to THAT question, you need to read the following article:
The Lost Tools of Learning
I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.

Related Links: Taking Latin seriously ~ Memoria Press

5 comment(s):

libertyscott said...

Absolutely agree.

and it sounds and reads so beautifully.

The ex-expat said...

I agree with part of your post.

Learning any second language is going to have benefits, firstly it makes you more aware about the rules in your first language. But also there is a significant amount of literature that suggests that learning a second language makes learning the third and fourth one a lot easier. This is because language acquisition is a skill that needs to be continue to be utilized or it fades. Unfortunately a lot of English speakers switch off the part of the language acquisition part of the brain sometime in our teenage years because we speak the lingua franca as a mother tongue.

So while learning Latin is good
because it is the base for many European languages, there are similar benefits to learning any language whether it be Latin, Te Reo, German , Spanish etc.

Indeed if I had kids, I would be teaching them Chinese characters as learning those makes learning other Asian languages that much easier. But to each their own.

Great job in expanding on your children's education, they are lucky to have you as a mum.

ZenTiger said...

Learning any additional language is good for sure, but I thought part of the point about learning Latin was also the inherent precision of form and thought, and the benefits that accrue from the discipline this particular language teaches.

If I was to summarise: Learning Mandarin is quite practical; learning Latin quite educational.

The ex-expat said...

"the inherent precision of form and thought, and the benefits that accrue from the discipline this particular language teaches."

That was my point of disagreement. I think learning any language requires a precision of form and thought that Latin does.

I am in the process of learning a second language where the verbs and sometimes nouns change completly depending on which register you are using (because there are seven).

Obviously knowing and utilizing these registers effectively requires a precision of a different kind but that doesn't make it inherently less valuable of an intellectual exercise than Latin.

But I think we can all agree that learning a second languages are great and anyone who takes time to teach their children one deserves major props.

Lucyna Maria said...

ex-expat, have you ever learnt Latin?

ZenTiger is correct - the advantage of Latin over modern languages is it's precision and discipline. Other languages have this as well, but not to the same level. As the writer of the Lost Tools of Learning says:

Those whose pedantic preference for a living language persuades them to deprive their pupils of all these advantages might substitute Russian, whose grammar is still more primitive. Russian is, of course, helpful with the other Slav dialects. There is something also to be said for Classical Greek.

What language are you learning?

My plan with languages to is also introduce a modern Romance language - I've chosen French for it's links to the ancient Roman world through Gaul, as well as France's place as a building block of Western civilisation.

Even though I'm Polish and I'd like my children to know Polish, the advantage of French over Polish is huge.

I really don't consider every language to be equal at all, and for that reason will not be teaching the kids Maori.

Also, in my opinion, the amount of time and effort spent teaching NZ children Maori is wasted.

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