(The following is the second part of a two-part series on Latin at Petra Academy. Click here to read part 1).
At Petra, we begin our 3rd through 6th grade Latin classes with “Jingles and Chants,” foundational elements of the Latin language sung or rhythmically chanted by the group as a whole. The rhythm and rhyme of the chants serves as a memory aid for students, and the daily group recitation helps ease the burden of memorizing copious amounts of Latin endings and forms, as required in the study of this particular language.
In addition to the daily recitation of these jingles and chants, the students are taught how to recall the information contained in them as a reference while they work. The ability to learn large amounts of information and recall and apply specific details when needed is a skill that will benefit students well beyond their years of Latin study. It is a foundational skill upon which many other skills will be built, just as learning Latin grammar is the basis for more advanced language study.
As the student develops, he is less inclined to be satisfied with sheer memorization and begins to ask “Why?” with reference to how the language works the way it does. He wants to know why verbs have six endings in the active voice of each tense while nouns have ten endings per declension. He wants to know why prepositional phrases in English aren’t always prepositional phrases in Latin. He wants to know why Latin has so many endings and why Latin word order doesn’t make sense to his English thinking mind.
When the student begins raising questions such as these, he has entered the “pert” stage and is ready to learn the logic of Latin. Logic is concerned with the thing as it is known, and is the science and art of thinking. It is at this point in a student’s Latin instruction that he should be taught the relationship between words and how those relationships are demonstrated by the inflections used. In short, now that the student has learned the vocabulary and endings in the grammar stage, he is ready to learn how the endings change as the word is used differently in the sentence. He is ready to think about the function of the word in the sentence, not just its meaning.
In Petra’s Latin program, the transition into the logic of Latin begins in 6th grade and continues through 8th and 9th grades. In 6th grade, our students begin thinking about language in a different way than they have before. In their English classes, they learn to differentiate the parts of speech and the functions they perform in the context of a sentence. This understanding carries over into Latin and they begin to see the words not just as a part of speech (e.g. noun), but as a functional element of a sentence, performing a specific job in relation to the other words of the sentence (e.g. indirect object).
Students learn to think about the idea conveyed instead of just the words displayed. In logic stage Latin, students begin to apply linguistic rules to words instead of just memorizing the endings for that word. They begin to see patterns and predict the endings a word might have based on their understanding of the language. They add the skill of translation to their foundation of memorization.
As the student learns the mechanics of the language, he begins to try his hand at expressing his own thoughts in Latin to see if others can correctly understand his meaning. He beings to play at word choice and to explore the freedoms found in the flexibility of Latin word order. As the student moves into the “poetic” stage of development, he becomes more concerned with the science and art of communication, known as rhetoric.
Rhetoric emphasizes the effectiveness of communication and it is in the rhetoric stage of Latin study that ideas are effectively conveyed through persuasive articulation. Much like the swift deployment of a Roman legion to quell an uprising, a well presented truth can travel the time honored road of rhetoric, built on the foundations of logic and grammar, to tear down a falsehood.
Rhetoric is the culmination of language study. Without the truth of logic rooted in the correctness of grammar, though, the effectiveness of rhetoric stumbles short. Children are developmentally predisposed to first learning the vocabulary and inflections of Latin grammar, followed by how the vocabulary and inflections function in relationship with one another, before learning how to effectively use the vocabulary in conjunction with the inflected constructions to express themselves in Latin. Effective communication is the goal of language study, but it cannot be accomplished without the foundation of grammar.