|Marion Smedberg lives in Sterling, Virginia.
As Catholic homeschoolers, we have as our goal nothing less than to
try to pass along to our children the Faith and traditions of the Roman
Catholic Church-in short, to keep Catholicism alive. And yet, dear Lord,
we are so unprepared for such a task. As Father Hardon so pointedly
emphasized at our first national conference, we must first educate
ourselves in the Faith.
But Latin? How important is it to teach our children Latin?
Even the language that we speak with is under attack by the
modernists. "And He was made Man..." No longer do we
genuflect. But that insult is not enough. Now, the "inclusive
language" people would rob our very language of its meaning. I am
told that I am excluded by the language from mankind because I am
female. Surely it is not the language which excludes me, but the very
people who pretend to wish to protect me from exclusion.
And yet, we communicate ideas about our Faith through words. And our
very words are in danger of being robbed of their true meaning. How can
the true Faith survive?
Exactly the importance of Latin! G.K Chesterton responded to the idea
that Latin is a "dead" language: "Every living language
is a dying language, even if it does not die. Parts of it are
perpetually perishing or changing their sense; there is only one escape
from that flux; and a language must die to be immortal."
I was blessed to grow up with the Latin Mass, and to sing the old
Latin hymns in Glee Club. In elementary school we learned Gregorian
chant by heart for the Easter and Christmas Masses; we learned it so
well I could still sing it by heart 20 years later. I only took two
years of Latin in high school, enough to gain a much stronger sense of
grammar and to appreciate the Latin roots of English. And it laid the
basis to be able to learn French, German, and a little of some other
When we started homeschooling four years ago, I began to teach my
oldest son (then 11) Latin using the Henle series available from both
Seton Home Study and Our Lady of the Rosary. Certainly it is an adequate
text, based on teaching grammar and translating sentences. But there are
no easy readings separate from the translation exercises.
Last summer, I was inspired to offer to teach Latin to the
elementary-age children in our local Catholic support group, on the
condition that their mothers would also attend the classes and take
primary responsibility for teaching their own children. Naively, I
assumed that it would be fairly easy to find a suitable text for younger
children. After spending most of the summer reviewing Latin texts, I was
perplexed. Each text had its strengths, but also its glaring weaknesses,
and it seemed I had to make a choice among unsatisfactory alternatives.
At some point I would like to share with you my insight into the
deficiencies of some of those texts, but in this first report I wish to
share my own partial approach to a solution.
What I found most offensive about almost all of the texts was the
immersion of the children in pagan culture. Either you must learn the
myths of Roman gods and goddesses, or you must explore life in the Roman
Empire, or learn sayings of the Roman philosophers, or learn military
terminology so that you can read Caesar. Not exactly a Catholic
I wanted a curriculum which combines a respectful attitude toward
grammar, a logical progression of skills development, and lots of
chances to read easy Latin. Each week, we have tried to have four parts
to our Latin program:
1. Latin hymns or prayers;
2. English grammar, parts of speech and diagraming sentences;
3. Latin grammar and reading;
4. English vocabulary from Latin roots and derivatives.
Each week, I prepare a short tape recording of the Latin hymns or
prayers, or memory chants of grammar, or read short passages aloud. The
families are to sing or read along at home several times each week. This
has been the most successful part of the class.
The children have learned to sing some parts of the Mass in Gregorian
chant — the Agnus Dei, Kyrie and Gloria. They
have learned the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory
Be in Latin by heart. We wrote and performed a Nativity play with many
Latin hymns and carols, letting all the littler brothers and sisters
join us as angels and shepherds. For Lent, we are learning parts of the
Stabat Mater (At the Cross Her Station Keeping).
Even if a Latin course tries to approach learning from the
"Natural Method," it is still necessary to have a vocabulary
of grammar to explain the otherwise-unexplainable. We have learned the
eight parts of speech in English, and are practicing identifying them in
sentences each week. We have learned diagramming in English, thereby
making the diagram a visual tool to identify subject, verb, direct
object, etc., even in Latin. The progress of the children, ranging in
age from 8 to 11, is uneven. The older children grasp these ideas much
more easily, and the younger ones need a lot of help and patient
But every child, every single one, and every mother learned the Pater
Noster by heart. And we can all truly pray a decade of the Rosary
together in Latin. I believe it has drawn us all closer to the Church by
coming to know and love and sing traditional hymns and parts of the
For the Latin grammar and reading part of our work, we have made up
some of our own things, borrowed and copied from old out-of-print texts,
and are experimenting with several possible texts which we might use
next year. I deeply regret that there is not one really good text which
I can wholeheartedly recommend. But I will write more about the good
points and limitations of some of the texts which are available.
I would like to see others of you who have a little background in
Latin and in grammar to share in this work of trying to prepare at least
supplemental Catholic materials for others. Perhaps if we add Catholic
prayers, hymns and dialogues and simple Bible stories to an
otherwise-secular Latin program, it can become more nearly acceptable. I
would love to hear from all of you who have used Latin texts what your
experience with those texts has been — their advantages and disadvantages.
The materials which I have developed are not yet really appropriate
for a mother who has a weak grammar or Latin background. Perhaps some
day we can create such a program through our collaboration. For now, if
you would like to see or use my materials, especially the audio tapes or
the video we made of our Nativity play, I would be happy to share them
with you if you will help me cover the ridiculously inefficient
I am going to allow homeschooling mothers the right to copy these
tapes and lessons for the children or groups they are personally
teaching-as long as they are making no profit.
I look forward to hearing from many of you about how you have tried
to teach Latin to your children. Please write, and God bless you.
209 E. Staunton Avenue
Sterling, VA 20164