I recently got a request to blog about teaching Latin to elementary school students.
First, I went through old blog posts to dig up what I can on the subject of Latin:
- Latin begins (June 2007)
- Language learning observations (July 2007)
- Co-schooling: Latin (July 2010 -- part of a series I did on co-schooling)
- Attention all Latin-teaching homeschoolers who are barely staying one step ahead (an online resource) (June 2011)
I also embarked on a project to use what we've learned in Latin to experiment with teaching a sort of accelerated, but reading-and-writing focused, Spanish:
- A language-learning idea (October 2011)
- Spanish from Latin, update (November 2011)
- Spanish from Latin - more information (November 2011)
- Searching for words (April 2012)
- So how did that whirlwind overview of Spanish for Latin speakers go? (January 2013)
- Newfangled language-learning (July 2014)
A side note: Since I tried that, by the way, I've come to believe that it's simply NOT true that the only valid way to teach a living language is with the goal of fluent conversational speech. I can think of lots of reasons why it's worthwhile to teach a foreign living language with a text, translation, and grammar focus.
(1) There's plenty opportunity to practice what you've learned even if there are not many native speakers or you don't travel, because there is plenty of text-based interaction out there: literature, news articles, and Internet fora
(2) Some kids enjoy translation and grammar; it's a myth that only being able to speak motivates kids.
(3) It's less important to work directly with a native or fluent speaker, and can thereby be self-taught.
(4) It teaches the standard syntax of the language.
(5) It can lay the groundwork for a conversational course later on.
(6) It's better than not learning at all because you're afraid to try to learn the language on your own.
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But this is a post about teaching elementary- and middle-school-aged kids Latin...
When I was teaching a single, reading child at home, we started with Prima Latina from Memoria Press. I have relied on Memoria Press from the beginning because they publish materials that are laid out for the teacher who is not herself an expert in Latin. The teacher can easily learn along with the student, which is exactly what I needed for the first several years that I was facilitating children.
I followed Prima exactly as it was presented in the curriculum. But then, when we moved on to Latina Christiana and I picked up some other students, I began to run into problems.
The organization of Latina Christiana I is... kind of spiral? The grammar marches along in a reasonable succession; but the vocabulary is added erratically. Ten or twelve new words are learned in each lesson along with a new grammar concept. But the new words are often a mix of parts of speech: you might learn six nouns, three verbs, and a preposition.
I think there are probably kids who could handle this with no problem, but it proved to be very difficult for the learners I was working with. I wound up adapting the program. As soon as we'd get to the first lesson on, for example, second-declension nouns:
- I would halt the new grammar lessons -- we'd stop right there at the first lesson on second-declension nouns.
- I would go through the rest of the workbook and flashcard pack to find all the second-declension nouns that they would encounter in the rest of the course.
- I would teach the second-declension vocabulary words all at once.
- We would practice -- flash cards, reciting the cases, copywork, games like charades and "carnifex" (hangman), etc. -- until I had maybe 70--75% mastery of the vocabulary.
- We would go on with the grammar lessons.
I had a hunch that it would be easier to remember which declension a noun belonged to, or which conjugation a verb belonged to, if they were always introduced in like groups. This turned out to be correct, at least for my particular group of kids. The method lent itself well to flashcards and games, besides. Frankly, I liked learning the words this way too.
Later I began to stretch the LCI curriculum even more. Near the end, LC1 introduces a spate of third-declension nouns -- without teaching the declension or specifying the gender of any of the nouns. I halted the grammar lesson; then, I looked them all up myself and taught them in three groups, one for masculine, one for feminine, and one for neuter. I also taught how to decline them. It took a really, really long time.
(It turned out that I had missed some of the subtleties of the differences between "i-stem" and "non-i-stem" nouns, and a couple of years later I had to un-teach some of my mistakes. The kids eventually figured it out and it turned out okay anyway.)
Meanwhile, they were all getting dissatisfied with the slow progress of the grammar. Everything in LC1 is in the nominative case, but they enjoyed making sentences and they wanted direct objects! So I taught myself how to construct [Subj]-[DO]-[Verb] sentences, and then started making my own translation worksheets. The queen loves the girl. The slave carries the table. The waves frighten the sailors.
Before long I had almost entirely abandoned the LC1 workbook, at least in the order that the lessons were presented. I started doing them out of order, in a way that made sense to me.