Our students begin to study Latin in Upper Elementary and continue with the language in our Middle School program. We find that working with Latin is valuable to our students in several specific ways.
First of all, on the subject of the language itself: knowledge of Latin contributes strongly to students’ understanding of English – not only are English and Latin cousins within the Indo-European family tree, but English has borrowed nearly 60% of its vocabulary from Latin and from French, a modern dialect/variant of Latin. Learning the Latin roots that appear so frequently in our own language increases students’ vocabulary and their ability to interpret and learn new words. As such, the early study of Latin is of great help to students who wish to go on to careers that make heavy use of English – writing or journalism, for example. An awareness of Latin is also of great value to students who wish to become lawyers or doctors (Latin legal and medical terms being still in continual use) or scientists of any kind, given the wide-spread use of Latin terminology in scientific fields. Needless to say the study of Latin is also of great benefit to our students in their continuing study of Spanish, another modern descendant of Latin, and in the study of any other Romance language in their future work.
Another reason to study Latin and Roman civilization is the fact that our own Constitution is based in many ways on the governmental institutions of the Roman Republic. Our ‘founding fathers,’ especially James Madison as a main contributor to the Constitution, had undergone an education firmly based in Latin and ancient Greek politics and philosophy, and when the time came to construct our government, Madison and others drew on the models and anti-models of the Roman Republic and Greek democracies. A real understanding of our government and its continuing development depends upon an awareness of the Classical sources upon which the founders relied.
Finally, while English and Spanish are the kind of languages referred to as ‘SVO’ (Subject-Verb-Object), i.e. languages in which word order is the primary indicator of syntax (cf. the difference in meaning between ‘dog bites man’ and ‘man bites dog’), Latin relies on other clues – primarily changing endings on nouns and verbs – to indicate how the various pieces of a given sentence fit together. The study of such a language, while challenging, is beneficial to developing minds – it requires students to engage in a complex process of memorization and synthesis of information, a process that leads them to think about language in a whole new way.
The students in Upper Elementary are exposed to a variety of materials as they begin their work in Latin. We use the ‘Keepers of Alexandria’ materials (a scroll, the ‘Great Story,’ and other materials based on that ancient city) that have been developed through continued use in Montessori classrooms, and later the Cambridge Latin Course, a reading-based approach to learning the language that encourages the students’ own discovery of the relationships and differences between English and Latin.
In their final year in Upper Level the students begin the textbook they will also use in Middle School, Ecce Romani. ER is a high-school course with a formal approach to Latin grammar that aims for a systematic understanding of the different forms of nouns and verbs. This textbook offers a different approach that is accessible to continuing Latin students as well as to children new to the school who are studying Latin for the first time. After two years of study in the MS, successful students are ready to take a final exam in Latin that can earn them one high school foreign-language credit, and are prepared to enter Latin 2 in high school.