I’m teaching my son learn Latin. Two to three days a week we spend maybe fifteen minutes studying Latin Primer Book 1. Why Latin? Because I want him to develop his English language skills. I want him to be able to communicate with intention, graphic description, nuance and clarity. Latin is a key that unlocks the roots of many English words. It is also a brain puzzle that exercises the mind.
Why Latin? Well, we’ve cycled through setting out to learn so many different languages that, in the end, we’ve learned none. We went from Mandarin to Spanish to Italian to Bahasa Malay. It’s tough to pick a second language when your primary language is the one everyone on the planet is striving to learn. In learning English, people aim to speak with the world. In learning any second language, we aim to speak with a portion of the world. It makes deciding on a language difficult.
So, we may as well pick one that, despite not being spoken by any population on the planet, will actually improve his overall language skills… and that’s Latin.
Unlike me, my son is conflicted about Latin. On one hand, he says he hates it. But it isn’t really Latin he hates. In reality he says he hates whatever subject is up next to study. What he really hates is getting started doing homework. Yet he’s also interested in Latin. The introduction to the primer promises, “Latin will make you smarter!” When he heard that, his eyes got wide and he really perked my son up.
Parenting Fail / Missed Opportunity.
This past weekend we threw Max’s 9th birthday party at a local park. We hid encrypted clues and ciphers behind buildings, atop basketball hoops and behind pylons. The first set of clues were to the ciphers, so those clues were in plain English. The first clue read,
Find Key #1 Look behind a building that’s named after a Latin word for what your ears do.
While his five friends looked at each other in confusion, Max saved the day. “Audio. audio is the latin word for ‘I hear’. That’s what ears do. It’s the auditorium!” The group ran for the auditorium and Max swelled with pride. He was the hero.
Later, after locating all three ciphers, the boys set to solve the first encrypted clue. Max worked on the last word in the sentence. He decrypted one letter at a time and, looking over his shoulder, I saw he’d written ‘aims’. But that’s not what he saw. Excitedly, he said, ‘amat! amat!’. He wanted so badly for the word to be Latin that he saw Latin. I touched his shoulder and said, ‘read the word again.’ His shoulders fell as he quietly read, ‘aims’. He told the group the word and then sat off to the side, disappointed.
Hmmm. As a parent it’s difficult to predict what will inspire your kid. It’s hard to know what will discourage him. Writing these clues initially, I thought I might be overstepping the fun line by dropping a Latin curve-ball into a birthday treasure hunt clue. Turns out, I should have gone farther. Oh well, life won’t be perfectly constructed to complement his moods and caprice. I think the best I can do is keep introducing him to new ideas and subjects and languages. The best I can do is engage his curiosity when it arises. And so I need to be ready for it, I need to look out for it. Until then it’s tough to plan specific lessons, well, except for the lessons I make him do two to three times a week out of the Latin grammar book. Those we’ll keep doing.