Thursday, February 19, 2009

TOS Review: The Bridge to the Latin Road

Atticus has wanted to learn Latin for the past year or so. I'm not sure what planted this particular seed in his heart, but I can tell you that two Christmases ago, one of his favorite gifts was the Latin Words Sticker Book that he found under the tree. This gift was part inspiration, part placebo on my part; having only a passing knowledge of Latin to call upon, I was at a loss as to where I might find a suitable curriculum.

The most logical place to begin searching, it seemed, was in my dog-eared copy of The Well-Trained Mind. The suggestions offered there were detailed and focused, but none seemed to fit with the casual approach I saw myself taking with a seven year-old would-be Latin scholar. So instead of grabbing the most accessible program I could find and diving in, I chose to hold back for a while and offer Atticus a steady diet of Latin etymology in addition to the Koine Greek study we had already taken on as a family project. This "Hey, look! That's Latin, Atticus!" approach worked quite well. He picked up a handful of roots and felt like he was going places with a dead language. (I never said he was your typical kid, now did I?)

I knew that if his interest continued to grow, I'd find myself reaching for any handy curriculum watering can and hoping that this was the program that would work for us. Therefore, it was no small surprise when he announced last fall that he was truly "ready to learn some real Latin now, please."

You can guess, then, how delighted I was to be able to review The Bridge to the Latin Road by Schola Publications. Schola Publications puts out the renowned Phonics Road to Reading and Spelling, one of those ├╝bersucessful programs that never fails to draw a crowd in the convention vendor halls. I was familiar with their overall methodology and knew that they took a long-range view of overall goals, breaking them into bite-sized bits. This seemed to fit with my take on how I wanted to tackle Latin with Atticus, so I signed on in delight.

Suffice it to say, I was disappointed when I first opened my huge box. Not only was the binder that my teacher's guide was housed in far too small to hold the many sheaves of instructions that I was going to have to pore over (I substituted a binder of my own), but a quick glance at the program was disheartening. There was no Latin in this Latin program, I realized. Sure, a handful of roots were sprinkled unevenly throughout the heavily-scripted weeks. But this was an English grammar program ... not a Latin program, as advertised.

The content seemed as dry as a bone when I leafed through it. Holy cow, I asked myself, is that sentence diagramming? Seriously? My heart sank when I thought of how dismayed Atticus
would be when I loosed this monster upon him. A full-blown, by-the-book, old-fashioned grammar program and my homeschool? Heaven forbid!

And this is where it gets interesting, folks. Because had I unwittingly purchased this program on my own, I would have sent it back without another look. But because I was obligated to use and review it, I gave it a go. You're not going to believe it, but--I like it.


Using The Bridge to the Latin Road has taught me some very, very important lessons in the selection of curriculum and my overall approach to education, namely: there are some things that really do need to be taught at a grindingly slow, incremental, mastery-first pace. And Latin, my friends, is one of them.

Within the first two weeks of using Bridge to the Latin Road, I began to see some chinks in the armor of the Greek program we have been using for the past four years. Designed to get a child up and moving in a classical language as quickly as possible (think whole language), this program had given us a feeling of great success in our first years of using it. We learned the alphabet to a song, read a primer to remember the sounds of the letters and moved right in to vocabulary, which we'd been adding to for quite some time. But just about the same time that Bridge to the Latin Road came on deck, something shifted:

The word endings kept changing, without rhyme or reason.

As noted, my background isn't heavy in the specifics of classical languages, so I relied on the instructor's guide to fill in the blanks--which it really didn't. And we were all left scratching our heads, wondering what in the world had happened.

Did we miss a page? Had we left out a step? Seriously, we could say really, really impressive things in Koine Greek, like: "I know an apostle." Doesn't that count for something?

The answer is, no, it doesn't.

Unlike modern languages, which can be learned in a willy-nilly, immersion sort of way (much the way that a baby picks up language), classical languages follow a completely different track. So foreign to our current mindset are they, so dead, that there's really nothing we can reconcile them with. So yes, you can pick up some stunningly brilliant vocabulary ("I serve the Lord!") and still be an absolute novice in the world of true classical language learning.

In other words, my family's knowledge of Koine Greek was a house of cards all along. The second rules needed to be applied--rules we had never learned based upon structures we were never aware of--the whole house toppled.

I can clearly see the value in The Bridge to the Latin Road now. Is it dry? You betcha'. It's so thorough it makes your hair squeak, and boy, does it reinforce every. little. nuance. We have drilled parts of speech I would just as soon have banished from the world of grammar, giving me flashbacks of my tenth grade English teacher and her insistence on everyone using a red pencil for this, a blue pencil for that, a green one for this and so on. There's DVD instruction, hand-holding in the form of very careful written directions and an answer key that would satisfy an accountant's sense of accuracy.

You can imagine that we are taking this one in very small doses; I'm not a glutton for punishment, and Atticus isn't, either. But I can already see where this program is headed. By the next step, Atticus won't be wondering what tense a word is, or where a modifier should be placed. And when the "real Latin now, please" is finally tossed in, he's going to fly. He'll add to his vocabulary by leaps and bounds and be a master of the Latin universe by the time he hits his SATs.

Now, if I could just convince Schola Publications to write a program for Koine Greek. I've got a certain house of cards to start shoring up around here, you see...


Anonymous said...

I gave you a TOS Crew award!

Oliver said...

Thank you! I am encouraged by your review...and delighted by your musings! 8)


KB said...

Thank you for your review. We just started this program TODAY and I agree it is boring! Your review gave me hope that we can go slow and my hope is that my son and kids later on will FLY in their high school academics.

One question: My son is a 4th grader this year and he absolutely detests writing. I was thinking that I could have him do the underlining and identifying of the parts of speech...what are your thoughts? I read somewhere that this program combines handwriting, spelling, grammar,and vocabulary. Should I just make him DO the work and hope that he comes to love it a few weeks from now. I certainly don't want him to detest grammar, as I did in high school, before getting to the real reason for buying this curriculum...LATIN understanding.

Phew! Thanks for your time and I look forward to your feedback.