Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Teaching and Learning Latin the Fun Way

I've recently heard from some parents who are teaching their children Latin, as well as from some adults who are interested in learning it.  There are, of course, a lot of great approaches and books out there, but I highly (highly!) recommend a book and approach by Danish scholar Hans Oerberg called Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata.  I used this text for middle school kids for several years, and it was a rip-roaring success!  My students were not all gifted (Latin was a requirement of all students).  And I only had them in class twice a week.  Nevertheless, my students blew me away with how quickly they progressed, and I am still hearing a lot of success stories from former students.  Some of them are now studying Latin in high school and college and are excelling.  Others are breezing through Spanish.  The most common feedback I get involves an explosion of English vocabulary and very high SAT scores in the verbal section.

Oerberg is solid pedagogy, but it is also fun because it is interesting.  It is not rote memorization of paradigms, but is rather a story.  It is basically an innovative novel all in Latin.  The only English in the entire book is on the copyright page.  You learn Latin by reading Latin, figuring it out by the context, pictures, and clues in the margins, and then the new information becomes old information as you grow in your reading.  Over time, Oerberg introduces vocabulary and concepts that prepare the student for reading Caesar (military terms), the Bible (the Vulgate), ancient myths (such as the Minotaur and Icarus), the Roman Calendar, as well as learning the cultural aspects of 1st century Roman life (Roman roads, geography, homes, money, navigation, clothing, medicine, etc.).  And the story is wrapped up in the day to day life of a family.  You learn the grammar by seeing the language used followed up by very brief reviews at the end of the chapters.

It really works!

In using Oerberg, you are trained to read (and actually think!) in Latin (not translate into English).  Thus you can enjoy the story, as well as other Latin texts you may read (actually read!) later, rather than clumsily parsing and translating (which is terribly boring).  Thus Latin becomes a living language, and you begin to see it in everyday English everywhere you look.

The basic first year text is Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata - Pars I Familia Romana.  You can get by with just the text - but I found that some of the other supporting texts are a great help.  Lingua Latina: A College Companion by Jeanne Marie Neumann is WONDERFUL!  It combines several other books in one volume (such as the Latine Disco student guide, the vocabulary lists, and the Grammatica Latina grammar text).  The Companion is a sort-of one-stop-shopping resource.  It is really well laid-out.  Both of these are also available as PDF e-books (see the links).  I got my PDF of Familia Romana at Books a Million's website.

There is a short companion text of readings called Colloquia Personarum that I really like - just for variety and to reinforce the material.  The readings use the same characters as the book, and are very short and amusing.  I also highly recommend the CD-ROM version ( Familia Romana CD-ROM) of the book - which includes the entire text, audio of the book read by the author, and interactive versions of all the exercises in the book.  

There is a teacher's guide ( Lingua Latina Instructors Materials) that has an answer key.  I also bought Latine Doceo: A Companion for Instructors, but don't find these particularly helpful.  I would not recommend buying them.  Get the College Companion instead.

I found that Amazon, for the most part, has better prices than the publisher (Pullins).  However, they don't sell everything.  If you end up buying all the books I recommend, you may want to order some through Amazon, and others through

One last thing that is a must: there is an e-mail list for Oerberg instructors/enthusiasts from around the world.  The lady that wrote the College Companion is one of the participants, as well as some really heavy-hitting scholars.  They are all so friendly and encouraging, and the teachers share a lot of things like quizzes and teaching methodologies. You can toss out any question, and someone will be able to help.  The publisher also monitors the list and is always looking for ideas for helpful resources.  Here is the info about the list:

To subscribe or unsubscribe via the World Wide Web, visit
or, via email, send a message with subject or body 'help' to
You can reach the person managing the list at

So in summary, if you want to study Latin on your own, or teach your children (or if your children want to do self study), this is my recommendation:

Also valuable, but not necessary:

And of course, have fun!

I would not get anything else to start with (except some of the other texts after completing Lingua Latina, such as the sequel volume and its materials: Roma Aeterna.

This approach is good for adults, college students, high school students, and with patience, for middle school students and even younger.  I am moving slowly through the first chapter with my 8-year old son, and he is doing extremely well.  For younger kids, there are also some great resources from Classical Academic Press.  So far, I'm using those materials to lay the groundwork for Oerberg.  

Bona fortuna!

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