LATIN or Modern Foreign Lang. first?

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  • jettlich

    I can see really, really good reason to start Latin first. It truly is the basis for many other languages. While teaching it to help my kids in English vocabulary, spelling and appreciation of language, I’m also preparing them for learning other modern foreign languages in the future.

    However, I can also see how just starting right in w/ a modern foreign language (we’re planning on Spanish) would be beneficial on a practical level.

    What are your thoughts on whether to begin first with Latin or Modern foreign language first? Thanks!


    Here’s what Ambleside Online has to say.  I could never get Spanish in as hoped….my husband knows Greek so he teaches that, and I’m hoping to get more disciplined with Spanish in the coming years (high school at the very latest:)  Gina

    Foreign Language


    What about foreign language?

    Which foreign language to learn, and how to learn it, are questions that arise frequently on the Ambleside Online email list. Charlotte Mason advocated learning French first, and then adding other languages later, including Latin (at about age 10 or 12). Families may certainly make a different choice of which language – but the goals are the same: to be able to express ideas in another language, to communicate to others, to be able to ‘think’ in another language, and to be able to read literature – and narrate from it – in another language.

    The selected foreign language should be presented orally at first, until the child knows an abundant vocabulary (including verbs and idioms). Seeing the words in written form while learning them is confusing to many children, since the phonics of another language will differ so much from English and create a hindrance. Charlotte Mason even said in volume 1, “The child should never see French words in print until he has learned to say them with as much ease and readiness as if they were English.”

    Charlotte Mason wrote of starting out by learning two to six new foreign words daily – while still keeping up with the ones already learned. At the end of a year, “the child who has that number of words, and knows how to apply them, can speak French.” (volume 1)

    It is the ear that learns the language, and the parallel is drawn between learning a foreign language and learning to speak as a child: it is done orally at first, with exposure to accurate (and preferably native) speaking of that language. Finding an available native speaker is the difficult part for many homeschoolers – though we do have the technological advantage today of using one of the many cassette or CD programs available to us. Brief discussion of programs can be found here.

    After the child is familiar with a large number of words and phrases, it is time to read a story to the child and have them listen to it. The child is to begin to attempt oral narration (in the foreign language) of the material. And it is also time to begin to teach how the foreign language is written.

    So how does a parent accomplish this when he/she has no foreign language experience? This is another of those areas in which the parent can learn along with the child, using cassette/CD/video pronunciations as a guide. Other suggestions are also given on our Foreign Language page to seek out further foreign language exposure.

    There are three useful articles from Parents Review that explain the value and method of language study in more detail:
    Why Learn Greek and Latin
    When and How to Begin Modern Languages
    Plea for Teaching Greek
    and here are some beneficial links for teaching foreign languages (please note that the Advisory has not used all of these, and cannot vouch for their compatibility with CM).

    Generally speaking, members prefer Powerspeak (PowerGlide)’s program for older students and Rossetta Stone over Learnables, although every program was enjoyed and effective by some members. Muzzy was noted to be enjoyable, but repetitive and very expensive. PowerspeakPowerGlide for young children was reported to be fun, but not effective enough to justify its price. Songs in foreign languages, such as Lyric Language and Teach Me Tapes, were recommended, but only as supplements. The Springboard to… series is affordable and a nice first step in learning a new language. Phrase a Day, another nice beginning program, may be harder to find, but you might try here. Some think that Pimsleur is closest to the method CM recommended; Pimsleur is expensive, but very effective. Of special note for French, many list members highly recommended Nallenart’s L’Art de Lire. More information about these and other various programs, and more links on our Foreign Language page here.


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