Jerah is currently enrolled in an online Latin class taught by Dwane Thomas, creator of Visual Latin. Last week in one of Dwane's emails to his students he answered a question posed to him on the Visual Latin forum. I liked what he wrote so much I asked Dwane if it would be okay if I published what he wrote on Five J's. Thankfully he agreed.
Someone submitted this question in the Visual Latin forums: Is there a particular grammar book for Latin that you would recommend reading and re-reading?
Short answer: Lingua Latina by Hans Orberg.
Long answer: I have looked for an answer to this question for years. Really. Years.
I have read, and re-read Jenny's First Year Latin, Wheelock's Latin, the Latin Primer series by Martha Wilson, Ecce Romani, Latina Christiana, Latin for People, and Latin for Children. I found helpful ideas in each of them. Often, I would see an old concept in a new way. Each book approaches the Language in their own way.
But, here's the thing. They all say the same thing. After reading through them all, I was left with the disappointing, hollow feeling, that I could not speak Latin. I could read it, if I had a dictionary nearby, but I could not speak the language. I could not even read it that well, to be honest.
My Background With Languages
I grew up in Europe. My friends spoke several languages. My Dutch friends spoke as many as four languages. I was an American. I spoke one language. This was frustrating, embarrassing, and fortunately, motivating to me. I watched my friends. I decided that if they could do it, I could too.
I began to teach myself German. After a year or so, I spoke German decently. After three years, I was really getting the hang of it. Then the Berlin wall came down, American military bases began to close, and my family returned to the U.S. My language studies came to an abrupt halt. I did not pick up a language book for five years. Dumb. Should not have quit. You lose what you do not use, as they say.
Why I Started Learning Latin
About five years later, I heard a conference speaker mention the benefits and power of the Latin language. His ancillary comment interested me. I asked him afterwords if he thought Latin could be self taught. "With enough discipline," he answered.
I went home and began to teach myself Latin. Over the next 10 years, or so, I read every book I could find on the Latin Language.
After each book, I felt a wave of satisfaction. Now, I can read and speak Latin, I thought. Wrong. I would pick a book in Latin, like the Vulgate, Caesar's Gallic Wars, or Tacitus' history, start reading, and go no where. I could not read in Latin. This happened to me again, and again, and again. Honestly, I was ready to quit
The Book that Made the Difference
Then, I stumbled upon Lingua Latina by Hans Orberg.
Another Latin teacher told me about it. He had never read it but, he had heard about it. He had heard that the whole thing was in Latin. Sounded too hard, he said. Sounded like a challenge to me. I ordered it. It came a few days later. At night, I lay on the couch reading it from beginning to end. It took me about four days. I had almost no idea what the last 12 chapters were saying. Yet, my life had changed.
In one week I learned more Latin words than I had in years. I also watched difficult grammar concepts magically make sense as I read. These were concepts that had conquered me for years. (I am a slow learner.) Now they were clear. I felt the confusion slip away as I read Lingua Latina. The moment I finished, I started reading again. As soon as I finished the second time, I read it again. Each time, I went a little further into the book. Each time the concepts became increasingly clear.
The real test came when I put Lingua Latina down and picked up other Latin books. I started reading the Vulgate. I was thrilled to discover that I could read it! I started reading Caesar's Gallic Wars. I understood this book too!
Finally, after years of discouragement, I had made a breakthrough! Now, when people ask me what they should repeatedly read in order to master Latin, the answer is easy. Read Lingua Latina, by Hans Orberg.
From Lingua Latina to Visual Latin
Maybe you are wondering why, then, I helped create Visual Latin. After I discovered the book, I immediately took it into the classroom. After all, why should my students not share my experience? Lingua Latina had worked for me! Unfortunately, they did not share my enthusiasm.
Their first complaint showed up about seven minutes after I handed them the book. "Hey!" they protested, "There is no English in this book!" How, they wondered, were they going to learn the grammar for the language with no English instruction at all.
We tried for a year or so using only the natural method. I would teach them Latin using only Latin, but in the end, I would always end up teaching the grammar concepts in English anyway. That is when I realized it might work to teach the concepts in English, but to read in Latin. About that time, Compass Cinema producer, Thomas Purifoy, suggested a Latin Video Curriculum. Visual Latin was born.
I believe that the combination of Visual Latin and Lingua Latina is very powerful. I have used these techniques with elementary children at New Hope Academy in Franklin, Tennessee for years. Each year, I get calls and complaints from local middle and high schools. They do not know what to do with my former students. The students are simply too advanced for their programs. In fact, I tell my students when they leave New Hope Academy not to study Latin in high school. Study another language, I tell them. You will be bored in high school Latin. You know too much.
If they protest, tell me they love Latin and want to keep learning, I tell them what I am telling you. Read and re-read Lingua Latina. Read it until you master it. Then go read whatever you want. You will be able to.
About Dwane Thomas
Dwane Thomas has been teaching Latin for 15 years. He recently worked with Compass Cinema to produce Visual Latin which teaches complicated Latin grammar in a lighthearted way. He and his wife have been homeschooling their five children for as long as their kids can remember.