An Introduction to Christian Latin: Prima Latina from Memoria Press {Review}

It's been an eventful past few weeks in our homeschool routine, because we've been studying a new language here–not just any language, but Latin! This is the one language that I had always wished I would have learned growing up, but was never presented with the chance to really do so. From day one of our decision to homeschool our son, I had the mindset that Latin would be one language that I'd love for him to learn later down the line. It turned out, an opportunity presented itself sooner, rather than later, when I received the chance to have my son use the Prima Latina program from Memoria Press.
Quick background story–so whenever I see an educational program of interest in a curriculum catalog, whether it's something we'd use now or later, I always rip the page out and tuck it away in a special folder. It was just last year when I was perusing The Classical Teacher that I had discovered the Prima Latina curriculum. After reading over the introduction of what the program was all about and how it offers a "gentle introduction" of Latin for younger students, I was almost positive that this would be the one that I wanted to get in order to teach my son Latin.

Memoria Press Homeschool Curriculum

One question that I had initially received right after my official announcement that we'll be studying Latin was, "Why Latin? Isn't it a dead language?" Well that all depends on how you look at it. While we don't necessarily have a large portion of our society walking around speaking as the Romans once did, the vocabulary is still very much used today in some shape or form. Many times we don't even realize it!

Why Studying Latin Can Be Beneficial:

  • More than half of the words from the English language are derived from Latin. When you study Latin and begin to learn the vocabulary, you will start seeing a connection to many of the English words we use today. I've personally found that it's also easier to pick up a general meaning of a new word if you know the Latin derivative to it. This is an especially helpful technique for children to use.

    • It helps you look at the English language in a more effective manner. In a way, this is piggybacking off the first reason, above. Once you learn Latin, it's becomes easier to break down some of the words in the English language and study what they mean.

      • Certain professionals (doctors, lawyers, scientists, theologists, etc.) could especially benefit from learning Latin, since these careers frequently utilize plenty of vocabulary in the language. Although I don't have a formal education in Latin, I did happen to learn a few roots and prefixes while I was taking several anatomy and physiology courses in my younger days. It definitely came in handy for memory retention, particularly during the exams.

      • Latin is a sophisticated language, so it helps challenge students to learn, and even provides further discipline for setting future educational goals. Think, "If I can tackle Latin, then I can tackle other difficult subjects."

      • It's quite the language to learn and will definitely impress family and friends as you show off your latest scholarly achievements (Hey, there's nothing wrong with displaying your accomplished learning talents for others to see or in this case, hear)!

      Now I know there are many who may be reading this and also wondering how I could be teaching my son this sophisticated language at such a very young age. One person that I know had already asked me a similar question when I had told them of my plans of doing so. Many might even wonder how anyone could teach themselves, let alone someone else if they haven't even taken a class. As I had mentioned, above, with the exception of a few roots and prefixes, I've never personally had the chance to really learn Latin, myself, so I have no formal education in the language. Was I intimated to get started? Perhaps a little, but my enthusiasm to teach my son had overshadowed any doubts a hundred times over.

      Learning a new language, like Latin, may seem intimidating and even overwhelming, but beginning the study using Prima Latina definitely makes it way easier, more than I could have ever imagined. This program offers an introduction to Latin and is specifically created for younger children. The course is a precursor to other Latin curricula also offered through Memoria Press. Since it's created with young students in mind, it is perfect for those who are still learning the fundamentals of English grammar. The lessons are offered in a more age-appropriate fashion that focuses on basic parts of speech, grammar, and Latin vocabulary. These lessons can then be applied to subsequent Latin programs from Memoria Press. It's also created with the idea that both the teacher (parent) and student have absolutely no Latin background, whatsoever.

      There are different materials that you can use for this program. These are offered as a whole curriculum package or à la carte, for those who prefer to pick and choose what they may need in their homeschool. We personally received the complete set, which includes the following items:

      • A Student Book with twenty-five lessons and five review lessons
      • The Teacher Manual, which is a replica of the student book, but includes the answers keyed into the lessons. The manual also offers teachering notes, tests, and reproducible drill sheets
      • A Pronunciation CD with complete verbal pronunciation of the Practical Latin and vocabulary words used in each lessons, as well as four Lingua Angelica songs
      • DVDs (three disk set), which includes nine hours of comprehensive teaching of the lessons from the Student Book (includes grammar and vocabulary practice, on-screen teaching slides, etc.)
      • Flashcards that highlight the vocabulary words and sayings used in Prima Latina, as well as successor Latin programs such as Latina Christiana.

      Prima Latina uses a step by step approach that gradually builds up little by little as each lesson goes on. The entire course consists of twenty-five different lessons, along with five review lessons. Review lessons cover a combination of the previous five lessons that students have learned. Once we've completed the course, my son will know seven parts of speech, 125 vocabulary words, numbers one through ten (in Latin), basic (cosmic) constellations, twenty-five common Latin expressions, four complete prayers, and a basic understanding of tenses, derivatives, conjugations, and declensions.

      Printable slides (shown in the photos above) are also available. These match up to the DVD lessons and definitely come in handy for quick refresher reviews.

      Each lesson more or less follows the same set-up, which I love, because it makes my job easier as a parent and teacher. There's no guess work involved and everything is organized in an easy to follow order, using sectioned off activities with large bold print to differentiate the separate sections. 

      How the lessons are laid out:
      • Practical Latin (offers everyday sayings like "Hello" and "Goodbye")
      • Grammar lessons (English or Latin, and sometimes both)
      • Vocabulary word lists (five or six per lesson) and their translations
      • Latin prayer lessons. Each lesson teaches a line or two, and eventually builds up to a complete prayer.
      • Various derivatives based on the lesson's vocabulary words. These provide students with examples of how Latin is used in the English language.
      • Activities for the student to complete, including review questions, translation and speaking work, writing, and fun ways to incorporate Latin in their day to day life.

        One of my favorite aspects of this particular curriculum (and there are many) is that each lesson offers a brief overview of the previous one. I think this is especially important, since it's typical to overlook various bits of information as students proceed to future lessons. The quick lesson reviews that are provided in each new lesson ensure that students are given a refresher on what they've learned in previous lessons.

        Another feature that I really like about this program is that it's an introduction to Christian Latin. As an extra bonus, my son has already learned how to say a complete prayer (The Sanctus) in Latin. Wow!! What's better, is that he'll learn three more prayers, The Lord's Prayer being one of them, by the time he completes the program.

        Learning the vowel sounds in Latin can be a little tricky in the beginning, because they all don't necessarily sound the same way as they do in the English language. The Student Book and Teacher Manual do a really good job at explaining how to say the vowels. Charts and word diagrams are used to demonstrate how they are supposed to sound. Knowing this is key to being successful with actually saying each vocabulary word, correctly. As helpful as the books are, I cannot stress enough how important having the DVD set has also been for us. If you are reading this and considering the program for your student, but are new to learning Latin, the DVDs are an asset.

        The instructor, Leigh Lowe, is amazing at breaking down different components of the lessons. She has a friendly, down to earth way about her that's both fun and likeable. This is definitely helpful for younger students who are watching the DVDs. I particularly appreciate that she follows the same step by step approach that's used in both the Student Book and Teacher Manual, so you could watch the DVD and use the books at the same time. The most valuable part is hearing her pronounce all the vowels, Latin words, prayers, etc., so we're able to check our own pronunciation in order to make sure that we're practicing the proper way to say everything. We tend to incorporate the lessons into everyday practice, where I will challenge my son to uses the vocabulary words we've already learned that week, or even search for similar words (derivatives) in the English language.

        My son is at a much younger grade level for this program, since it is actually intended for grades one through three. Even so, I was confident that it would still work for him, knowing how he's progressed with previous language programs and actually enjoys learning from them. Now, I had originally anticipated that we would still have to proceed at a slower pace than the recommended lesson per week schedule, but that wasn't the case at all. We've actually been keeping at a steady rhythm with the program, which is pretty amazing! He's also receiving a nice introduction to the differences between verbs, nouns and other parts of speech, while also completing some of the activities from the student workbook. In this area (verbs, nouns, etc.), I've actually added in extra refreshers, since these items are a little more complex for his grade level. With that being said, he's been on a roll with the vocabulary words, along with their spelling and translation. Of course, we did have to make some adaptations to his lessons when it came to several of the writing portions. This had nothing to do with the program, itself, but with the fact that my son is still working on building up his actual writing skills. I knew this going into the program, but we are actually making it work to our benefit.

        Since the writing portion is an extremely important component that helps students retain the information that they're learning, through repetition, spelling, etc. Our alternative to this was going with a multisensory approach that involves a lot of auditory and kinesthetic activities. Of course, the auditory comes from us speaking and using Latin vocabulary and grammar throughout our weeks. We also put the audio CD to good use for this, when not using the DVDs. The additional Lingua Angelica songs are a nice bonus that we particularly enjoy listening to. Since my son really takes to kinesthetic learning, we also use a lot of hands on manipulatives, particularly letter tiles. This especially comes in handy when he's learning how to spell each lesson's Practical Latin expressions and vocabulary words. I write them down on our white board, and we discuss how to say the word in Latin and what it means in English. I then give him examples of English derivatives. As an alternative to writing out the vocabulary words in the book, I'll have him spell them using letter manipulatives.

        I like to create custom tracing pages outside of our Prima Latina lessons for my son's writing practice. These display our weekly Practical Latin and vocabulary words. As he gets more and more practice in this writing activity, I plan on having him go back and complete the actual writing portions of the student book that he wasn't able to previously work on. This will also give him a nice refresher on past lessons.

        Even when we're not working on a specific assignment, I like to give my son learning challenges to see if he's remembered when we've previously went over. Here's a game (below) where I used letter tiles to see if my son remembered how to differentiate between the English alphabet and the Latin alphabet.

        I really appreciate the step by step approach that works at a slow and steady pace, which is helpful for younger students. For instance, each lesson uses a modest amount of vocabulary words per week, which really helps students to not feel bombarded or overwhelmed.

        Beginning lesson sections help focus on how to say the words properly by showing students how to sound out vowels and consonants the correct way. Knowing proper grammar usage is an important component of learning any language, so I was happy to see that each lesson touches up on this in great detail. I also appreciate that the student workbook includes activities for my son to complete in order to help him retain the information that he's learning.


        I love that each lesson provides derivative examples, because it shows just how much the Latin and English languages are connected, and why learning Latin can prove to be quite helpful in our everyday speaking.

        After learning the vocabulary words for the week and practicing our usual spelling activities, I'll scatter a bunch of different flash cards out, and have my son spot out certain words. I then ask him to spell that word out loud and tell me its English translation. We will do this for each vocabulary word of the week, as well as the Practical Latin expressions. 

        There are blank Vocabulary Drill pages in the back of the Teacher Manual that can be printed off. These are handy for a variety of different reasons. Right now, I'm using them to jot down our weekly vocabulary words for quick and easy reference on single sheets. This eliminates the need to go back and forth through the manual in the middle of an activity.

        We're only about seven lessons in, but I'm quite surprised with how much vocabulary my son is learning in such a short period of time. While he is still quite young, I can definitely see that learning Latin is going to be an important asset to future courses that he'll take in subjects relating to language arts, science, theology, and even history. I found that it also helps with building upon his understanding of the English language. Since more than half of the language is derived from Latin vocabulary, there are times when both subjects actually go hand in hand.

        I originally had a good feeling about using Prima Latina from Memoria Press to introduce my son to Latin, and I'm so happy that my assumptions have been nothing, but correct. This program is straightforward and so simple to use, all while being highly effective at teaching the basic elements of Latin. You don't even need prior knowledge in the language. Each resource in the complete set has proven to be quite useful for our weekly lessons (Teacher Manual, Student Book, Flash Cards, DVDs, CD, and printable slides.). This is definitely a fantastic primer course that helps lay out the foundation for more advanced studies in Latin.

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