Latin Methodology

Posted on September 25, 2016

Much has been made of the differences between "Classical Latin", that is, the Latin that the Romans used during their zenith, and "Medieval" or "Church Latin", the Latin that came afterward and was influenced by various foreign languages. Consequently, most Latin courses seek to introduce one or the other. However, these differences have been greatly exaggerated: the grammatical rules of the two are identical with a couple important exceptions, and the core vocabulary is largely the same as well. Consequently, anyone who has a reading knowledge of one can read the other, although he may need to consult a dictionary more frequently. Furthermore, Latin from the 14th century and afterwards begins to look more and more like Classical Latin. Thus, for students interested in learning to read Latin from all these periods, it makes little sense to specialize in one or the other. In this course, you will learn generic Latin, applicable both to Classical and Medieval authors. Whenever the two diverge (which is rare), you will learn both the Classical and Medieval method.


There are two major teaching methodologies popular among contemporary Latin educators: the so-called Grammatical Method, which makes heavy use of grammatical explanation and formulaic translation into English; and the so-called Natural Method, which prefers introducing grammatical concepts through readings and illustrations. NSA Latin incorporates both methodologies, as the mathematically minded tend to prefer grammatical explanation and the intuitive tend to prefer examples. Accordingly, each lesson begins with grammatical explanation and then ends with copious illustrated examples.


The readings for NSA Latin are derived from Latin translations of the Bible. In the beginning, short passages are taken from the Latin Vulgate and simplified so as to correspond to the student's current knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. By the end of Level 1, those passages are only very lightly edited. In later levels, readings also will frequently be taken from reformation-era translations of the Bible, such as the Junius-Tremellius translation of the Old Testament, Theodore Beza's translation of the New Testament and the Psalms, and Erasmus's translation of the New Testament. This variety will better prepare students to read Latin from different eras.


Finally, NSA Latin relies heavily on exercises in Latin composition. Some may question why so much time should be spent on composition when all the practical application of Latin lies in reading. The reasoning is as follows. The ability to comprehend Latin well largely depends on a person's ability to think in Latin. By learning to compose Latin correctly, a student learns to communicate his own thoughts in Latin and thereby learns what to expect when reading Latin text. Furthermore, it requires a much deeper level of knowledge to produce something in a language than merely to comprehend it. Thus, students develop a much firmer foundation in the fundamentals of Latin by learning to write it first.

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