At some point as a homeschool parent, you have to figure out what you want to do about a foreign language. Mr. Garner and I began to tackle this question when we first decided to homeschool our then rising fourth-grade daughter. Initially, we were giddy with the freedom to start our daughter on foreign language study earlier. However, as we investigated the options, read innumerable reviews, discovered the many perspectives on the best way to teach language, we discovered that the lovely freedom has a price…tag!
Too, there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with the freedom of choice.
More than one source warns that only those students who begin language study in elementary school ever become true masters of the language.
“Oh no!” I gasped. We’ve wasted so much time – She’s already nine years old!“
Other sources emphasize that immersion is the only way to go if the student ever expects to be conversant.
Mr. Garner has enough of his high school German to have a brief conversation with a singularly indulgent German. As for the retention rate of my high school French, je n’est pas parle Francais. So immersion was not going to be an option in our homeschool, and just for the record, neither is it an option at a public high school. But it begs the question: what is the real goal of foreign language instruction? Why, exactly, am I considering a foreign language program when family history indicates that it is an unprofitable expenditure of time, and money, in our case since it will be financed on our dime and not Uncle Sam’s? In answer to that question, I tossed out the usual suspects – French, German, Spanish. But Latin lingered in the back of my mind as I pondered all of the other choices we needed to make.
That June we attended our first homeschool convention!
Amidst the onslaught of colorfully confusing curricular eye candy, the Classical Latin curriculum display was an oasis of Corinthian column calm. Quiet, articulate, logical people echoed much of what I had been reading –
- Latin is the ideal language to study because of its value in terms of logical thinking, history, organized grammar and English vocabulary development.
- Latin helps establish study skills and personal diligence,
- and any future Romance language study will be easier having mastered Latin grammar and vocabulary.
The remaining objection was my complete lack of experience with the language, which was overcome with the calm reassurance that with their program, the parent did not need to know Latin – the video did the teaching!
I bought it.
The Latin curriculum had LOTS of fun accessories: A fun and engaging video set, fun games on their website, really expensive but fun flash cards, (I didn’t buy those) a fun work book (really? bought it), a pronunciation CD (for the car!), a fun and colorful card game (I didn’t buy that either) and a Latin “reader” with fun stories of interest to children. (Bought that!) It was all so FUN! It was also quite expensive, and it was only the first year of a three year course.
So it was that in September, when we started homeschooling, we also started Latin. We scheduled Latin for the morning. I was still wrapping up a few freelance project commitments, so I would listen in and do some work while GraceNotes popped in the FUN video, worked in the FUN workbook, chanted the FUN chants, and logged into the FUN website.
It was inevitable.
We got to a point where she wasn’t getting something. She had, God help me, a question. This began happening more and more often, and combing through the not-complete-enough-for-me Teacher Answer Guide, and scanning weeks of video in search of the missing concept was beyond frustrating. By week 20 or so, it was clear that she had a gap in understanding somewhere, but since I wasn’t the teacher, (Remember? The teacher is the fun guy on the video), and since I didn’t know Latin, (because parents don’t need to know Latin!) I couldn’t help her. Two emails to the organization asking for suggestions or guidance went completely unanswered. Call me a plebeian but being ignored like that really ticked me off, so we put Latin for Children away.
Later I discovered that the more highbrow Classical communities have a name for people like us: Homeschool Latin Dropouts.