Plan to Thrive in Latin and Greek
- Friday, February 01, 2013
When your learner is ready, complete an analytical study of English. Learning the parts of speech is fine, but don’t stop there. Unlike English, Greek and Latin are inflected. Their word forms change to show their use in a sentence and they do not rely on word order for meaning. Students should learn grammatical concepts such as subjects, objects, person, tense, voice, transitive, and intransitive.
One of the best approaches is to try out some good old-fashioned sentence diagramming. The reasons why almost everyone had to diagram thirty or forty years ago are simple. Language students struggle with the transition from our word-order-dependent language to Latin and Greek, which have flexible word order and inflected words. Sentence diagramming asks a student to pull a sentence to pieces and put each word in its proper place according to its usage. This process complements Latin and Greek by stressing the mechanics of language and establishing healthy analytical habits.
When it is time to choose, either Classical Greek or Golden Latin will offer comparable first-rate benefits. More choose Latin since the Greek alphabet can be a little intimidating at first. There are also more opportunities to show off on the National Latin Exam or the AP Latin exam. Greek has as many benefits as Latin, plus students love using the cool alphabet.
Some choose a language program that boasts Biblical Greek or ecclesiastical Latin. Combining language learning with Biblical studies sounds ideal, but before you choose this approach, look at the big picture.
Both languages have had periods of highest excellence followed by centuries of simplification as they became more common among non-native speakers. Modern learners will gain the greatest language benefits from Classical Greek and Latin. By contrast, they will gain fewer benefits from learning the simplified contemporary forms of Latin and Greek.
Classical Greek was used from about 500 to 300 B.C. when authors such as Herodotus, Sophocles, and Aristotle knocked our socks off with really clever writing. After Alexander the Great, the average Joe simplified Greek so that he could communicate with everyone, regardless of his native tongue. In the middle of this Hellenistic Period, the New Testament was written in bright simplicity so that everyone, even Latin speakers, could understand Greek easily. But, just like elementary English readers can’t grasp Shakespeare or Dickens, those who master only Biblical Greek will have a hard time reading anything else.
If you learn Classical Greek you can read the New Testament or any Greek literature with relative ease. Similarly, if you are trained in Classical Latin (Vergil, Cicero, and Caesar), you are set for all of Latin literature, including Ovid, Virgil, the Vulgate, or any ecclesiastical Latin you may choose to read. Plus, if you limit yourself to Late Latin, you will need to start over with the Classical version if you want to take the National Latin Exam or earn a passing score on the AP Latin Exam. It only makes sense to learn the best so you can go on to do the rest.
When the time is right to start Latin or Greek, be strategic about how your child will study to his best advantage. A learner should have a well-planned attack rewarded with lots of feedback and opportunities for success.
The best approach is to find a real teacher with an advanced education in that language. Most students aren’t fortunate enough to have a parent with a degree in Classics, so think outside the box. Options include glorified vocabulary programs, book-based self-tutorials, self-paced chat-room lessons, private tutors, or professional instructor-led courses with plenty of feedback and help. Form a co-op to hire a Classics senior or graduate student as a tutor, but be ready with a backup plan when your tutor graduates or gets too busy to meet. Circulate ads to locate retired Latin or Greek teachers in your community. Go online for a professionally taught live course complete with graded homework and quizzes.
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