Why Start Early?

As EG has raced through Lively Latin this year, I've come to regret starting Latin earlier with her. Yes, some of the vocabulary has eased her into LL, but overall, I'm not sure that the amount of time, at an age where other subjects should be emphasized, resulted in any sort of measurable benefit. I've also been contemplating her sequence for the remainder of her Latin studies. There are two big questions with regards to sequence - what is the end goal, and what is the time frame for reaching that goal.

I'm not entirely sure of our goal with regards to Latin. There are two possible standardized tests that could confirm a level of achievement in Latin - the SAT II test for Latin, and the AP Latin Virgil exam. While it is possible for EG to attain mastery of the material covered by the AP exam, it would require an enormous investment of time in an area that is one of her weakest. The SAT II test looks more realistic, and it's suggested that high school students take the test after "two to four years" of Latin study.

Regardless of which test I'd like to have her complete as an outside confirmation of her coursework, it seems to me that if a student begins Latin earlier than the norm (seventh, eighth, or ninth grades seem to be more common than others, with eighth grade the most common of all), then said student should also reach a level of mastery earlier than those who begin Latin during eighth grades or thereabouts.

In the newest magalog (catazine?) from Memoria Press, one of the articles had a sidebar that explicitly stated what their "ideal" progression is as far as curriculum and grade level. Their progression begins in second grade, which is just slightly earlier than other common progressions (which begin in third or fourth grade, for the most part). A course leading to the AP Latin exam is slated for eleventh grade.

It is not uncommon for students who begin Latin in eighth grade to write the AP exam in eleventh grade, though some may wait until twelfth.

And, frankly, while I am convinced of the value of Latin, I'm not convinced - by any means - that it's something that is so wonderful that it should be studied year after year after year when, apparently, the same level of mastery can be attained by starting much later. It's not a spoken language, so many arguments about starting a foreign language young are void here.

So what is the point?

Here's my own answer. After EG finishes LL, we're going to move into Latin Prep 1, taking it nice and slow (the remainder of fourth grade plus fifth grade to finish). She'll do Latin Prep 2 & 3 in sixth and seventh grades, respectively, and then So You Really Want To Learn Latin 3 in eighth grade. She'll take the SAT II Latin test at the end of her eighth grade year. Starting early gives her the ability to reach a certain point of proficiency in Latin and be done with that study before her high school years. Even if she elected to continue with the AP course, she would take it a full two years earlier than otherwise.

We'll follow a similar path with FB & PC, depending on their specific strengths; if one or both is particularly strong with regards to language, beginning a year earlier or starting with Latin Prep could be options.

I just can't fathom the point, though, of taking five to seven years to accomplish what eighth graders accomplish in just one. I suppose that the argument could be made for any number of subjects, but a great number of them are in fact used in a context separate from the classroom before the age of twelve or thirteen. Apart from that, I suppose that it's a matter of priority, but I simply haven't seen any arguments for the study of Latin that specifically state it in terms of the age of the students when Latin study begins. I recently listened to Jessie Wise's "If I Could Do It Over Again" talk, and she mentions that she's glad she had her children begin Latin when they did, when her two oldest were in third & fourth grades. They completed a high school Latin I course, she said, in two years (instead of the usual one). Extrapolating, one could imagine a second year course completed in grades five and six (six and seventh), and then a third year course, perhaps, in just one year - seventh (eighth) grade. That's farther than the typical student would be in eighth grade, and so I see her particular statements as dovetailing with my own plan. I always like it when I find people that seem to be saying I'm right. :)


Smrt Mama said...

I thought the reason to start early was so you could say your elementary student spoke Latin. It's all about the clout, innit?

Daisy said...

LOL (spewing on keyboard), Smrt Mama.

Hah, well, my homeschoolers likes Greek. No, I have no idea why, but she begged & pleaded so we are slowly plodding our way through.

So if they pass this test, does it count as their High School foreign language or does it just free you up to focus on another language? I'm clueless about that sort of thing. I took 4 years of French (2 in H.s & 2 in college) and remember very little of it (sigh).

Kash said...

Well, in theory, we could count it towards high school credit. In practice, though, I expect to add a modern foreign language at some point, and have that count for high school credit. While Latin looks impressive on a transcript, I have a fear of college admission officers going "Well, she's a homeschooler. Probably did Latin to avoid a REAL foreign language." Since the two questions on all those extra papers seem to boil down to "What did you do about foreign language?" and "How did you do lab science?"

Gretchen said...

I've been having the same second thoughts about Latin lately....I think my main concern may be that I feel like by trying to do Latin AND Spanish right now, we're not really doing either very well. And I wonder if it's not better to focus on a modern language while they're young and have a better chance of getting something like fluency in it (I studied Spanish for over 7 years in middle/high school and college, and, while I still read it fairly well, I'm nothing at all close to be a fluent speaker).

Gretchen said...

...although I just asked Ari whether he'd rather do Spanish or Latin next year, and he said, "why can we only do one language?" So maybe I need to get my butt and gear and just do a better job fitting both in. Or hire a Spanish tutor ;)

Melanie said...

Well, I for one have never received anything but odd looks when people find out my kids study Latin. It's too bad. I'd like some clout. ;)

My kids started in 5th and 3rd grades. I don't have any regrets, but my oldest wishes he could have started in 3rd grade because he'd be done with the grammar by now and reading real Latin. I don't have to worry about goals for him - he wants to study Latin and Greek every year, and then go off and major in classics. We'll probably run out of curricula, but it isn't as if he can run out of Latin and Greek to translate! My only worry is what to call his studies for transcript purposes - Latin VI looks a little much to me, especially in light of the potential "weird homeschooler" reactions of admissions officers.

My daughter likes Latin, but doesn't have a burning interest in it. She'll probably take the SAT II test after she finishes Latin III (8th or 9th grade, depending) and then move on to French.

Kash said...

@Gretchen - I admit that a good part of my reasoning for focusing on Latin first is that it WAS my foreign language in high school (and I didn't have to take any foreign language at all in college). I know we'll likely to need to hire a tutor from the beginning of studying a modern foreign language, as it's been narrowed to German and Chinese. Yeah.

@Melanie - Yeah, with a language-strong kid, I wouldn't worry at all about starting early, because as you say, there's plenty to translate. I just have grave doubts at ever having a kid more than average at foreign languages. ;)

Gretchen said...

Yeah, I think that if I had a background in Latin myself I'd be much less conflicted about teaching it to my kids right now. It's having them do Latin combined with needing to learn it and stay ahead of them myself that makes it a bit overwhelming.

Gretchen said...

...in fact, it would seem that I am finding the simple act of proofreading before hitting submit overwhelming today. Gah!

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