Thursday, March 2, 2006

A Review of Wheelock's Latin by Frederic M. Wheelock



Although many people might argue that Latin is a dead language, the fact of the matter is that it has been enjoying something of a resurgence in recent years. According to several articles I've read, more and more people are studying Latin at all levels of education, from elementary school on up through college and graduate school. Because of the fact that a lot of English vocabulary is derived from Latin roots, the study of Latin is highly beneficial and can be used in almost any field. Doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals encounter Latin-based terms every single day, so a solid grounding in this language can save a lot of frustration later on.

The home-schooling revolution has also served to revive Latin, and it's actually towards this crowd that my review is aimed. If you home-school your child and want to give him or her all the advantages that come with learning the classics, then you've probably checked out several different Latin textbooks. Those parents who have studied Latin themselves shouldn't have any problems selecting a suitable textbook to use. But for those of you who don't have a background in Latin, I recommend starting with Wheelock's Latin by Frederic M. Wheelock.

Wheelock's Latin has been the quintessential introductory Latin grammar text since it was first published way back in 1956. There's good reason for its longevity: it presents its subject in a very straightforward and effective manner. I have heard of Wheelock's Latin being used as early as junior high school or as late as college, so you ought to be able to get started with this book no matter how old your children are.

Since this is an introductory text, it assumes no previous knowledge of Latin at all. The book opens with an overview of the Latin alphabet as well as a brief pronunciation guide. Pronunciation is extremely difficult to learn through a book alone, so I would recommend that you also pick up some Latin CDs from your local library or bookstore to get an idea of how the vowels and diphthongs ought to sound. Once you get a feel for it, you can proceed. Some people emphasize pronunciation as a very important part of learning Latin; others, however, feel that reading and translating Latin is more important, so they pay very little attention to pronunciation. The route you choose is entirely up to you, of course.

After that, Wheelock's Latin is divided into 40 chapters that tackle various problems in grammar and translation. As you would expect, the concepts get increasingly difficult as you move along, so that by the time you get to the end of the book, you will be able to read original passages from some of the greatest writers of the ancient world. In fact, the Wheelock text relies heavily on the use of original literary works. At the beginning of the book, these passages are modified to accommodate the basic skills of new students, but at the end of the book, the passages are largely unedited.

New vocabulary words are presented throughout the book, as you might expect. The Wheelock text does a fantastic job of reinforcing old vocabulary by using the same words in subsequent chapters. Some language books just give you a long list of words to memorize without ever using them in context, which means you are likely to forget them rather quickly.

Overall, I am very impressed with Wheelock's Latin. In addition to the things I mentioned above, there are numerous other features in the text that are designed to capture and hold students' interests in learning Latin. For example, the author presents lots of mottos and famous lines at the end of each chapter. In addition, the book also contains many examples of English words that come from Latin. Since the Wheelock text introduces the English derivatives alongside the Latin words, students are much more likely to remember the meanings of both.

The bottom line is that if you want to learn Latin on your own or if you want to home-school your child in this amazing language, then Wheelock's Latin is exactly what you're looking for. Use it in conjunction with the workbook, and you or your child will be reading original Latin passages in no time!

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