While reading Washington Irving’s book, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the 3rd and 4th graders came across the phrase terra incognita. A student asked what it means, but already knew half its meaning since he knew that terra, a vocabulary word they learned in their first year of Latin at Cedar, means “earth” or “land.” Why do we teach Latin? Latin will help your student make connections to other subjects, learn their own native language better, be effective communicators with the words they use, and prepare them for other language learning.
By learning Latin, students learn to see and make connections between many subjects. Nearly every week, one of the 3rd graders will say in English grammar class, “Well, in Latin, it’s like that too.” The Latin language intersects literature, grammar and composition, science, math, and history. There are few things more enjoyable for a teacher to hear than their student making a connection between different subjects!
More than half of the English vocabulary consists of Latin derivatives. The English language is flooded with Latin terms and sayings.
Knowledge of Latin not only informs English speakers and readers of much of their own language, but it also enriches the experience of speaking and reading in English. There is so much depth and beauty to the history and meaning of words. The more we know, the more we can communicate beautifully and effectively!
Opening the Door into Foreign & Advanced Language Study
Latin develops the four skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening in another language. Not only does this prepare students for close analytical reading of difficult texts and Scripture; it prepares them to learn many other languages. By the time they begin other foreign languages in Rhetoric School, college, and beyond, they will be familiar with countless Latinate words in languages such as Greek and German, and in the “dialects” of Latin (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian).
In this post I hope to:
- explain the basics of the Latin language
- provide some resources for further learning
- list some of the ways we can help you be more successful in coaching your child through homework.
Latin is a language of stems and endings. A stem (or root) is the part of the word responsible for its meaning. An ending (like prefixes and suffixes in English) is the part of the word that gives it its grammatical function.
In our introductory Latin class, students learn about verbs, nouns and adjectives. All of these words have stems and endings. The endings change depending on the grammatical function of the word. Changing the endings is called conjugating and declining.
We conjugate verbs.
- Conjugating is adding appropriate endings to verbs.
- There are 4 different conjugations (sets of endings) for verbs.
- To find the correct conjugations, students consider (1) person: who is doing the action? I/we (1st person), you/you all (2nd person), or he/she/it/they (3rd person)? and (2) number: whether the person doing the action is plural or singular.
We decline nouns and adjectives.
- Declining is adding appropriate endings to nouns and adjectives.
- There are 5 different declensions (sets of endings) for nouns and adjectives.
- To find the correct declension, students consider (1) case: the function of the word in a sentence, (2) number: whether the noun or adjective is plural or singular, and (3) gender: whether the word is feminine, masculine, or neuter.
- The five cases are nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and ablative. Each of these case relates to what we know in English as parts of speech.
- Nominative = the subject
- Genitive = the possessive, indicated by of or ‘s or s’
- Dative = the indirect object, indicated by to or for (“I gave my cookie to Mom.”)
- Accusative = the direct object (“I gave my cookie to Mom.”)
- Ablative = the object of a prepositional phrase, indicated by in, by, with, or from.
When students begin Latin in 3rd and 4th grade, they have peak memorization ability and are well-suited to effortlessly picking up all of these endings, case names, and functions. This serves them well to build vocabulary and grow in their ability to translation ability in 5th-8th grade.
How to Help Your Child in Latin
1. Demonstrate that you think Latin is worthwhile.
Like any subject, your students won’t care to work hard at something if you don’t affirm and praise the value in it. Here are some reasons to think Latin’s worth it:
- Top 10 Reasons for Studying Latin. Memoria Press, who wrote our Latin curriculum, lays out the top 10 reasons for learning Latin here.
- Why Start Latin in 3rd Grade? Memoria Press lays out reasons.
2. Review the lesson’s 2-page introduction.
Read the two textbook pages for each week’s lesson (a very quick read) that lists all the vocabulary and any grammar for the week.
3. Check subject-verb agreement.
Verbs are conjugated in a similar way in Latin as they are in English. An essential part of verb conjugation (and common mistake!) that you can double-check with your struggling student is subject-verb agreement. The number of the subject (whether singular or plural) must “agree” with the number of the verb (singular or plural). In English, we cannot say “She walk the dog,” or “We walks the dog.” If the subject of the sentence is singular, so must be the verb! If the subject is plural, so must be the verb!
4. Quiz vocabulary.
If your child understands the grammatical function of each word (“That’s the subject – the nominative case, that’s plural, that’s a 1st person verb…”) but leaves homework spaces blanks or continues to struggle in Latin, help him gain a solid footing in oral vocabulary. Check your Family Portal in the Resources section for Latin pronunciation rules, or click here to quickly search for vocabulary.
5. Even if you don’t know the answer, ask questions to help your student find it.
If your child has the opposite problem – a firm grasp of vocabulary stems, but is struggling with conjugation and declension – help her slow down to unpack the grammar by reviewing the role of each word, and then assigning the proper ending. Check your Family Portal in the Resources section for an Overview of Latin Grammar and a Latin Cheat Sheet.
How We Can Help
Feel free to reach out to our teachers for resources and assistance in helping your student learn Latin!
K-8 Latin Progression
Latin is certainly one of the toughest subjects to start as a 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th grade student unfamiliar with the language. We do not expect a student who enters in 6th grade to reach the same mastery as a student who enters in 3rd! To avoid “Latin fatigue,” we’re following a steady progression to form a solid cultural base of Latin literacy without pushing students too fast.