One Mother’s Love of Latin

When I apologized to my children for speaking crossly to them the other day, my daughter cheerfully replied, “It’s okay, Mommy. Errare est humanum.”

She reassured me that it is only human to err, having been taught this and many other rich Latin sayings using Memoria Press’ Latin curriculum in our homeschool.

Having been public-school-educated myself, I’d never learned a lick of Latin until now. I thought I wasn’t smart enough. It was for brainy people who weren’t really Earthlings—and Catholics. But as I began to teach my own children in our homeschool, and as I fell more deeply in love with the Scriptures, having read and re-read the King James Bible for dear life over the years, Latin drew me in. I wanted my children to know Latin.

So we started out with Memoria Press’ Prima Latina in 2008. I chose it because it seemed very sensible and not babyish or gimmicky. I thought I could hand out workbooks and pat the children on the head as they became Latin geniuses. We took Prima Latina with us to Germany when my husband was stationed there for his Air Force pilot job. My oldest three children (we have five) would work at Prima Latina and math, we’d visit castles, work at Prima Latina and math, take walks in our village, eat crepes in France, and work at Prima Latina and math.

The first thing I noticed about Memoria Press’ Latin curriculum is what it doesn’t talk about. In every other foreign language course, including the French I had in college, the vocabulary and topics began and centered upon finding the bathrooms. Eating. The color of your clothing. Then in more advanced courses we graduated to the self. What do you think about something? What are your feelings? What are your observations?

It was all about the flesh. Not so with Memoria Press. From page one, the agenda is spiritual warfare and the things of God. We learn about weapons, strength, fear, hope, wretchedness, eternity.

And I’ve been missing out. I’m a grammar geek and could hardly wait to tackle monstrous two-page sentence diagrams in college. But they never ended up anywhere. It was grammar for grammar’s sake and it had a hollowness about it. My copy-editing classes did put grammar to good use. But after a while, hard news sounds like the weather report droning on and on to me, and so it was not that satisfying either.

You would think I’d have been confident about Latin as a homeschool mother. Secretly, I was scared of Prima Latina. I was intimidated by it. It took us three years to finish it. When I say “us,” I mean my three oldest children. I hung back and watched. I started them on Latina Christiana in 2011, and when we got to noun declensions, I made the amazing and prayerful discovery that, if my children were going to learn Latin, I was going to have to learn Latin as well. The noun declensions were too much for them to figure out without a teacher guiding them. I wanted that teacher to be me. And so I jumped in with them.

I’d had no previous Latin training myself. Did I put my children in school for a couple of years and go get a degree in Latin? No. I kept right on homeschooling as before. I’ve simply stayed one week ahead of them in the lessons. That’s it. When they ask me questions I can’t answer about next year’s curriculum, I say, “I don’t know. It’ll be interesting when we figure that out.” That answer is fine with them.

We are about to begin Third Form Latin. I see the world differently now. Many times after I’ve read a chapter in my King James Bible, I like to read the same chapter in the Vulgate Bible. There’s nothing like it. I cannot understand everything just right, but I know a pluperfect third person singular verb when I see it and my eyes don’t have to stay on it very long. I am reading the Latin Bible at the same pace as I read English, and it’s a faint sound of lovely music that I know will grow stronger in the next few years.

I figured out all by myself like a big girl that scient means “they will know.” When I conjugated scio for the first time and put it with omni, I discovered that when we say God is omniscient, we are saying, “He is all they will ever know.”

We begin our homeschool day with my reading out loud a chapter of the Geneva Bible to my children. Many times I ask them to take turns following along and silently reading the Vulgate Bible as I read the same passage out loud in English. One day I knew we were about to get to the part where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I gave the Vulgate Bible to my 16-year-old son. I played it cool but could hardly wait for his face to light up and his eyes to brighten when he read that familiar passage. He and I were being silly another time, texting each other in English and incorporating some Latin just for fun. We made quite a few clever Latin jokes if I do say so myself. The last text I sent him that day said, “You might be a nerd if … you text jokes in Latin.”

Before we begin Memoria Press’ composition DVDs, my children and I say the Lord’s Prayer out loud together in Latin. It is something very beautiful to behold in my kitchen. I often play the Lingua Angelica music in our living room as we go about our daily chores, and I feel as if we are standing on holy ground.

A friend recently told me that, in her first month of learning Latin, her daughter was reading Virgil. I felt a pang of jealousy because after all these years of grammar, we’ve still not gotten to read him. But we’ve chosen to do it the grammar-first way for good reason. The other way is grabbing it before you are ready or capable. It’s dessert before the meal, or yanking a plant up out of the ground before it is fully mature. I believe it’s worth the wait.

My husband and I will travel to Rome, Italy, this summer for a week. I have never been to Italy before. I don’t really know or care if I will be able to find a bathroom or read an
Italian menu. I’m sure we can sort that out. But I know that I will be able to appreciate and stand astonished at the statues, museums, architecture, paintings, and layers of culture surrounding Christianity because that is what Memoria Press has opened up to me.

Jennifer has a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. SHe has begun a new blog and Bible study, She has also contributed to the newsletter for the Fellowship of Christian Airline Personnel. Her husband flies for the military and an airline. They live in Georgia with their five homeschooled children.

Originally published in The Classical Teacher Late Summer 2014 edition.

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