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The Why and the How of Teaching Latin

An Interview with Karen Craig, Author of Matin Latin


The following discussion was conducted live on a chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie and Martha Robinson. Karen Craig, is the author of Matin Latin and co-author (with Douglas Wilson) of Latin Grammar I and author of Latin Grammar II published by Canon Press. Karen Craig's early education was in the public school system with Christian teachers dedicated to the Classical Approach and the rigorous study of languages: Latin, French and English.

After starting a family, Mrs. Craig began home schooling her two sons. She taught one year at the Logos School, a Classical Christian school in Idaho. Currently she tutors twenty students in Latin, French, and English grammar and literature. Her hobbies include sewing, developing teacher-helps for Latin and French, reading philosophy, and gardening.

Mary Leggewie: Latin is a "dead language". What value does Latin bring to today's students?

Karen Craig: MUCH value!

  1. At least 50% of our English words come from Latin, more in the sciences, medicine, and law...So SAT verbal scores are higher for students who make Latin-educated guesses.
  2. Latin grammar has few exceptions to its rules, and has few exceptions in phonics or syntax, so it's easier to learn than English, but English is easier to understand once you know Latin!
  3. English authors through the centuries have alluded to Ovid and Ovid; war generals study Caesar; and speechwriters study Caesar and Cicero.
  4. Latin develops the mental ability to sort and analyze logically at a young age. This ability enhances academic progress in nearly every other subject.
  5. Historically, some groups have ignored Latin as a reaction against the Roman Catholic church and schools. However, many of the Protestant reformers (Luther and Calvin among them) wrote their theological works in Latin because it was the most widely understood language in Europe, so it is more out of ignorance of church history than out of principle that the study of Latin has been neglected.
  6. Moreover, since Latin is the basis for five Romance languages, including French, Spanish, and Italian, it is hardly accurate to say it is "dead." Perhaps we could say it has been the victim of "mergers."

Mary Leggewie: Latin has generally been taught at the high school level. Why would a home educator choose to teach Latin to young children?

Karen Craig: Latin is a subject which requires discipline of the mind (the first advantage of starting young), so as the public school system relaxed its standards, the age at which Latin was studied increased.

For young children, the benefits of learning Latin grammar and then transferring that knowledge to the study of English grammar makes English grammar more easily learned. The better we understand the syntax of English, the better we write!

No one disputes the benefits of learning Latin vocabulary and its English derivatives. What is less touted is the benefit of mimicking the sentence patterns of Caesar and Cicero.

Mary Leggewie: What makes Matin Latin different, and what is the age range for your program?

Karen Craig: The program was designed for grades 1-4, but I've had a 15-year-old boy who thoroughly enjoyed the program. (He completed book 1 in twelve weeks.)

I have also had mothers who studied "adult" Latin courses comment that they hadn't picked up in their previous study. Fathers, too, have worked through the books. For older children (12+), working totally on their own, I'd get them the teacher's books for Matin Latin 1 and Matin Latin 2 and have them work through them.

Then Latin Grammar I will be a lot of practice and review and they'll be thoroughly grounded for Latin Grammar II. A junior high age student will be able to work through all four books in 2-3 years.

Mary Leggewie: Would you comment on Latin Grammar I and Latin Grammar II, Karen?

Karen Craig: Yes, Doug Wilson first wrote Latin Grammar I and Canon asked me to update it. Then they asked me to finish with Latin Grammar II to round out the program. In the meantime I'd done Matin Latin 1 and Matin Latin 2 and so the circle goes.

Mary Leggewie: So your program can be used by foreign language-phobic parents?

Karen Craig: Yes, even timid parents use it successfully.

Mary Leggewie: Would you mind talking a bit about the approach to studying Latin that you chose? Why would a homeschooling parent choose an English grammar approach versus a vocabulary, prayer/quotation, or root word approach to studying Latin?

Karen Craig: If the purpose of modern spoken languages is to be able to read, write, and speak the target language, why should the purpose of Latin study not include the ability to read great works like the Aeneid and church history in their original language?

If we want to read a language, we must do more than memorize lists of vocabulary words and catchy phrases. There's a lot to be learned about good writing style from studying Latin works.

Studying Roman culture and history is invaluable as a vital part of studying Latin. My goal in this text is to teach Latin and English grammar well and to leave the choice of history and literature selections to the discretion of the individual family, based on the maturity of their children's reading habits.

Mary Leggewie: You've told Martha and me that your materials are different in that the students are reading sentences about six weeks into the study. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you do this? What can the child expect to know/accomplish by the end of each year?

Karen Craig: Since the goal of my program is learning to read Latin, I approach the study similarly to the way I taught my sons to read. I wanted them to read sentences, not just word lists! In Latin, the subject pronoun is attached to the verb.

Latin Example: The -o of amo, signals "I"; -mus of amamus signals "we", etc. so if you teach a student 6 vocabulary verbs, they can read 36 sentences....6 sentences for each verb.

English example: I love. You love. He loves.... Then teach them 6 subject nouns and they can add: The girl loves. The sailors love., etc.

By the end of the first year (28 lessons), they will know how to read and write first conjugation verbs in the present, imperfect, and future tenses, and first declension nouns in all five cases in sentence and short story.

This is the equivalent of knowing subject nouns, possessive nouns, indirect object nouns, direct object nouns, objects of prepositions, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, simple conjunctions and prepositions in English grammar. The students can diagram all of these.

The second year program adds adverbs, second and third declension, nouns, second and third conjugation verbs, and the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses. A short Latin story about Roman culture is in almost every lesson in this text.

Mary Leggewie: Do you have any students who hate to sketch the answers? Do you have any suggestions for those students?

Karen Craig: No, I've never had a student complain about sketching. They could always write out equivalent sentences or tell the answer. Some of these drawings were done by a 9-year-old girl and the others were done by a 15-year-old boy. You see, they interpret the concepts, not merely words. Also if a student is particularly resistant, I try to find why and work with him.

Mary Leggewie: Can you explain why there are different pronunciations of Latin? Which pronunciation do you use in your program and why? What if someone prefers ecclesiastical pronunciation but likes your program?

Karen Craig: Since we have no reel-to-reel tapes of Romans speaking, we do not know exactly what Latin sounded like. Among scholars it is generally accepted that there is some difference between classical Latin (from the earliest Latin writings) and ecclesiastical Latin (from the early (Roman!) church writings).

I use the classical pronunciation on my tapes because that's the pronunciation I was taught... We were studying the classics!

Our teacher presented the "Church Latin" modifications, and it seems easy enough to make the adjustments if a family chooses to do that...

My opinion is that hymns and psalms written in Latin should be sung in ecclesiastical Latin...and the classics should be read. If classical pronunciation violates your family's conscience, read them in ecclesiastical speech. When I consulted a priest on the matter, he smiled..."everyone" knows Roman Catholics use the vernacular in their services now and even in Italy, the services are conducted ... in Italian!

Martha Robinson: Karen, do you find that homeschooling moms are familiar with chants?

Karen Craig: If they are not familiar with the terminology, they know the routine...kind of like spelling words. The tape makes it easy for them to get an order and a pronunciation.

Mary Leggewie: Do you mean chants the way we used to say the verb conjugations out loud in our language classes?

Karen Craig: Chants are important, yes, like verb conjugations, to help cement the important details which appear regularly. They are good to say, especially for aural learners!

Martha Robinson: Can you comment on chants in the grammar stage?

Karen Craig: Well, chants (memorizing the basics) are what the grammar stage is all about, and early childhood is the easiest time to memorize.

Mary Leggewie: What support products are available for the parent educator to use with Matin Latin (Amazon link)? Are there any "fun" activity pages for younger children? Could a budget conscious parent leave out some of the materials? For instance, could they effectively teach with just a teacher's manual?

Karen Craig: Support products: Vocabulary flashcards, pronunciation tape, worksheet packet with reproducible student pages.

The worksheet packet has an activity sheet for almost every lesson. These may be used in addition to each lesson's work, or as review sheets after several lessons.

If a parent has more time than money, she could make up her own worksheets and flashcards. However, moms who started by doing this were the most thankful when the packet came out!

At the very least, I think a parent would need one teacher's text and a student text for each student. Since answers are on the same page as the questions in the teacher's text (for the teacher's convenience) it is somewhat tricky to have the students work directly from this book.

Martha Robinson: Karen, why did you go with pictorial flashcards rather than strictly written ones?

Karen Craig: Because the purpose of language is to communicate concepts, not just equate one word with another. The images on the cards help to enforce this. If a student says small house instead of cottage, that's great!

Martha Robinson: And the miniature pictures in the supplemental package? What are they used for?

Karen Craig: They have matching miniature Latin words.....use them to play concentration, "go fish," or other such games. Here again, I tried to save parents time and money.

Mary Leggewie: After a child completes the two years of Matin Latin, what further Latin study should they pursue? What would be the goal of further study in Latin for the average student?

Karen Craig: Of course I'd recommend Latin Grammar I and Latin Grammar II from Canon Press. Finding some old Latin story books for practice reading to increase vocabulary is good. I see value in studying Caesar, at least. His writing and oration style is excellent. Boys will like his war memoirs, too! ! Many excellent resources can be found at the American Classical League Web site. This site has public links, so I would caution parents to use appropriate parental discretion.

Mary Leggewie: Why did you associate yourself with Canon Press and what sort of other materials do they have available?

Karen Craig: They invited me to work with them on the Latin Grammar I and my experience was wonderful so I've continued with them. Besides, many of the men at Canon are personal friends of my husband, so I'm doubly blessed.

Other than the Latin curriculum, Canon does not carry much for younger children, although I'd suggest Doug Jones' novels, Huguenot Garden and Scottish Seas for family reading. For older students, Peter Leithart's books are quite good: Brightest Heaven of Invention and Heroes of the City of Man. I will also be using Maynard's edition of the Fairie Queene, Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves for my classes next year. If you want catalog descriptions of these, check out our Web site. Roy Maynard's Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves is right under the the two Leithart books on our Canon Press Web site.

Martha Robinson: Karen, did I count correctly in that Matin Latin 1 teaches 150 vocabulary words?

Karen Craig: That sounds about right. However, a student could look up any word in the Latin dictionary and find the -ae genitive ending and be able to use that word, or -are in a verb infinitive.

Martha Robinson: Would you say that is typical of a first year Latin program for younger kids? Is there a time when vocabulary is really hit hard?

Karen Craig: I think that is typical for young students. Older students have no trouble finding the extra words on their own...they need them to write their stories. Vocabulary is hit hard when the serious readings start. Not only is it essential to understand one's reading, but the readings build on one another.

Martha Robinson: So a Latin dictionary is a good investment!

Karen Craig: Yes, I like the hardback Cassell's which I got as a birthday present MANY years ago. It's worth the current price.

Audience question: How long do you recommend studying Latin per day or per week?

Karen Craig: It depends. I recommend daily. Use as much material and move as quickly as the student desires. 15 minutes to 45 per day is good. Three times a week is great for younger kids.

Audience question: How does Matin Latin compare with Power-glide Latin Program?

Karen Craig: I've only used the French Power-glide. My biggest gripe is that it is too conversational and not enough grammar. My students (who had me for Latin, then French have mentioned this as a negative, too.) They get frustrated with only seeing pieces and having to guess at the context.

Audience question: How does Matin Latin compare/contrast with Artes Latinae and/or Latina Christiana?

Karen Craig: Don't know too much about Latina Christiana. There was only one book when I looked at it and I thought it was a bit boring in its presentation. Artes Latinae is very frustrating for me and the student with whom I used it could run off words, but had no understanding. Was it the student, the teacher, the program? I have used many texts with good success, so I blame the program, that time.

Audience question: Would you please compare Latin Grammar I and Latin Grammar II with Jenney's First Year Latin? Similarities and differences?

Karen Craig: Latin Grammar I is much slower paced and has LOTS of exercises and review. I like to use supplemental readings with it. HOWEVER...Jenney was extremely difficult for me as a teacher and for the students with whom I used it ...even after they'd had a few years of Latin. I wouldn't recommend it.

Martha Robinson: Karen, how did you come up with your particular method in Matin Latin? Did you do a test market?

Karen Craig: No test market, just my students. After 20 years of educating in all kinds of settings, I could see what worked well.

Audience question: How will the study of Latin help our covenant children in their Christian walk?

Karen Craig: Christian walk, now that's an idea... Studying Latin disciplines the mind to look for details. So you have two benefits there: discipline and attention to fine points, and the next benefit is being able to read the church fathers writings and early philosophical arguments in the language in which they were written.

Audience question: What about a grammar stage (9 year old) boy who just SIGHS at you when required to memorize something?

Karen Craig: Aha! The pictures get those boys every time. Just have him draw lots of them. Unless this is an obedience problem, draw him in. I've even had reluctant readers want to come to class. Does your child see YOU memorize? And read good books????

Audience question: Is there a level of ability the child should reach before starting your program?

Karen Craig: I've had early readers use the program. Latin phonics are easier than English. Unless you have a reading problem, I don't think it will hurt to start early. I know of 5-year-olds who use the program. I've used it with 6 and 7-year-olds.

Audience question: I have a 5.5-year-old and a 7-year-old...when should I start Latin...and should I start with chants before we start with formal lessons. If one starts with will one know what they are chanting?

Karen Craig: The chants can be done by non readers. Technically, it doesn't matter if they know what they're chanting, they'll recognize it later. It depends on how much time you have or how often you want to rewind the pronunciation tape!

Audience question: Where does the name "Matin Latin" come from?

Karen Craig: Canon needed a shorter name than my original "Latin for Young Children" and they wanted it to be easy for ordering. Knowing that I speak French and homeschoolers study Latin in the morning, we called it...Matin Latin.

Audience question: How are Matin Latin and Latin Primer different/same?

Karen Craig: The Latin Primer deals mostly with vocabulary lists and ending chants. Matin Latin gets the students applying the vocabulary and chants SOON. They're not very much the same, the Latin Primer and Matin Latin.

Audience question: So what is the order of the books? Matin Latin 1, Matin Latin 2, Latin Grammar I, Latin Grammar II? Is that right?

Karen Craig: Yes, that is the order, and by the end of Latin Grammar II, a student should be able to pull anything Latin off the web and read it.

Martha Robinson: The Latin Primer is not for the Latin inexperienced mom, right?

Karen Craig: The Latin Primer is not for the Latin inexperienced mom, right?

Audience question: How many years should you take Latin?

Karen Craig: Depending on least two solid years of rigorous study is best.

Audience question: What is the best way for a mother with no Latin experience to prepare to teach Latin?

Karen Craig: Review the basics of English grammar....noun, verb, adjective...

Martha Robinson: Karen, what is "rigorous study"? Matin Latin or Latin Grammar?

Karen Craig: Latin Grammar if the child is past 10. But the students really like to whiz through the Matin Latin and get to Latin Grammar I.

Mary Leggewie: Can you begin with Latin Grammar I and skip Matin Latin if the child is older? Or is it best to do them all?

Karen Craig: It is best to do them all and I haven't had any students complain about the review in Latin Grammar I. They like the speed and the clarity of Matin Latin.

Audience question: I'm already teaching Spanish to my children so they are getting benefits of learning another language, so do I need to teach them Latin or just Latin roots?

Karen Craig: Many educators will tell you that Latin learned as the basis makes other languages easier to learn, but that learning a modern language doesn't have as much of this benefit. Because Latin is an inflected language (it has cases and tense endings) it makes even languages like Greek and German easier to learn.

Audience question: So, would you recommend continuing with the other language at the same time?

Karen Craig: Oh, sure!

Audience question: Why should I teach Latin and not just a Latin/Greek Vocabulary course?

Karen Craig: Vocabulary is much more easily learned and remembered in context and the structure of Latin grammar has so many benefits it's worth the effort.

Mary Leggewie: How many languages can a child handle learning at once without being to confused?

Karen Craig: Depends on the child and the teacher. I can't give an academic answer there.

Audience question: How will the study of Latin help in other academic disciplines?

Karen Craig: I'm not sure about the science of this....count it woman's intuition, if you must. There's something about the discipline and logical structure of the language itself that teaches a student to organize his mental processes.

Audience question: I have heard that the study of Latin increases SAT, ACT, and other test scores? Is that true? And do y'all know why?

Karen Craig: This has some documentation. I found several articles dated 1977-1982. Dr. Nancy A. Mavrogenes from the University of Chicago did some excellent research on the effects of teaching Latin as a foreign language in elementary school. Check The Classical Journal, Vol. 77, No. 4, April-May 1982 and The Classical Outlook, Vol. 58, No. 2, Dec.-Jan. 1980-81. Dr. Stanley Iverson wrote a pamphlet published by Pompeiiana, Inc. in 1988 which also gives a "pep-talk" for Latin. Yes, it increases scores because those tests are READING tests...vocabulary!!!! American Classical League for further research.

Audience question: Would you recommend the use of Wheelock's (Amazon link) after Latin Grammar II?

Karen Craig: That would be fine, but it should be mostly review. I have some reservations about some of the selections in Wheelock. I consider them inappropriate for high schoolers, and unnecessary for others to read. The subject matter is crass. They were written with a secular college audience in mind.

Mary Leggewie: What is your recommendation for another Romance language once a student has completed an advanced Latin course?

Karen Craig: Oh, French, of course, but Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, or Spanish will do!

Martha Robinson: Is there any other program/curriculum that you recommend to be used after Latin Grammar II?

Karen Craig: I'd go directly to the classical works and read whatever the student is interested in....Church history is wholesome and educational.

Many thanks to Karen Craig for sharing her thoughts with us here at!

Related Resources

Review of Matin Latin
Review of Latin Grammar
Latin Program Comparison Chart's Classical and Charlotte Mason Resource Section's Classical Language Resource Section
Living With Latin At Home - how to implement Latin in your homeschool.