To create a dichotomy where there is not necessarily one, I would like to ask my very small group of followers/anyone who happens across this blog what they think about a grammar-translate approach to teaching Latin (Wheelock/Jenny’s Latin) vs. a reading based one (Orberg’s Lingua Latina/Ecce Romani). I’ll get to Cambridge/Oxford Latin Course in a bit. I will try to be unbiased in my descriptions of the two methods, and as I understand them (which may not be very well), here are the pros and cons of each):
- Grammar-Translation – An better understanding of Latin & English grammar is one of the major benefits to studying Latin. Since most of what we have is fairly formal, natural language doesn’t really enter in to the Latin we read. A grammar approach teaches the students the principles underlying the actual Latin they will encounter so they can identify the formula when they see it. The intense study of grammar is good brain exercise – it hones a student’s ability to memorize large quantities of information and to draw connections between what they have learned and the practical application of those lessons. So a student who memorizes the present system of all four conjugations has practiced memorizing, following a formula, and then practices making the connections between the abstract concept of ‘present system’ and what the see in a piece of Latin literature. This prepares the student for a deeper and more exact understanding of a text. Students also gain a deeper understanding of how languages can use syntax, morphology, and phonology to produce meaning. Students who are successful will not need to rely on context to arrive at the exact meaning of a sentence of Latin.
- Reading – The Reading method is more focused on developing a student’s ability to read Latin than their ability to understand grammar. A reading approach considers grammar to be be secondary to the main goal, which is reading literature. Students learn to pick up grammar from their readings and attempt to read Latin more naturally (left to right, as opposed to hunting for the verb). Memorization is aided by the addition of context. Students may not know that the present indicative active of the verb amo, amare, amaui, amatum is ‘amat’, rather, they see the word ‘amat’ and it triggers the concept ‘he/she/it loves’. Students who find memorization difficult or who find the application of abstract concepts to practical situations difficult will usually do better when taught with this method.
- Grammar-Translation – The majority of students find this method of learning difficult. It doesn’t treat Latin as a language, but rather as a puzzle to be solved. Students who have learned imperfectly with this method are likely to produce ‘word-salad’ sentences because they haven’t been trained to use context to guide their decisions. Their teachers tend to tell them that ‘they will know which form is being used because of the context’, but they are not often taught how to use the context until much later in their education, and in some cases must figure out how to do so on their own.
- Reading – Students who learn with the reading method find identifying grammar difficult. When asked to produce the ‘present indicative active 3rd S.’ of a verb, they may find themselves overwhelmed by the terminology and uncertain of a form they actually know quite well, even if they have heard these terms used before. They find it difficult to apply abstract grammatical concepts to what they are reading. When precision is needed to understand the meaning of a sentence, the student may have a general idea of what is going on, but be unable to pinpoint exactly what.
Are these assessments fair? What have your own experiences been? How were you taught Latin? How (if applicable) do you teach Latin? If you use one of the above methods, why have you chosen to use it and what have your experiences been?
Of course, there are some textbooks which seem to have combined these two methods rather well, for example, the Cambridge/Oxford Latin course.
If you have experience with these textbooks, what do you like about them? What don’t you like about them?
Personally, I prefer an emphasis on the reading approach with strong supplemental grammar. I remember encountering Orberg’s Lingua Latina in my 2nd year of College and thinking it was magical. I still really like it, especially when combined with the college companion, but apart from using it as a refresher for myself, I don’t have much practical experience teaching with it. I’m also finding Moreland & Fleischer to be really good – it’s giving me a grammar workout but I’m still able to read the sentences in a natural way. Is there a textbook with the same sort of quality of Moreland and Fleischer that would be appropriate for high school Latin?
If your subject is Greek, how do you feel about Athenaze? Wilding? Another book? What methods do you find successful?
I’m really curious to know what people’s opinions are on the topic.