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Five Secrets to Learning Latin (or Any Other Subject) Well

The project: keep up with a group of high school Latin students for Henle Second Year. My response: challenge accepted!


The first hurdle: I had never taken Henle Latin First Year. The solution: Latin by the pool over the summer. This summer I committed to get as far as possible in Henle First Year to prepare. I opened the book and got started. Along the journey, I remembered some important habits for studying new subjects, particularly languages.


1. Copy the vocabulary, more than once.


For each new vocabulary list, I copied the words and their translations onto a sheet of paper in the first section of my notebook, onto notecards, and into a second section in which I made my own Latin dictionary. This was three days' worth of vocabulary review. On the fourth day, I reviewed the notecards and quizzed myself.


2. Copy the grammar rules.


For each lesson, I copied the rules from the Henle grammar book into my notebook and onto flashcards. Then, on another day, I reviewed them.


3. Decline/conjugate all new vocabulary words.


Because Latin is all about stems and endings, it is important to practice declining nouns, adjectives, and pronouns and to conjugate verbs. Every week, when I tackled a new vocabulary list, I made separate pages on which I declined nouns and conjugated verbs. Yes . . . I mean every single word on the vocabulary list. Because I had wrestled down the stems and all possible endings, the translation exercises were much easier, particularly when I attempted to translate from English to Latin.


4. Complete every exercise.


Every student learning any new skill needs lots and lots of practice. I vowed to do every single sentence in every exercise. In some cases, this meant that I over-practiced a skill that was simple. This is exactly what students should do. In Foundations, we commit to reviewing the memory work over and over until it is cemented for students. We expect them to over-practice their math facts, which is why they memorize and recite the same set of math facts in every cycle of Foundations. Often, we forget that all students (young or old) need to over-practice all new skills. It may seem excessive to translate thirty-five prepositional phrases with a noun object modified by an adjective, but it is the only way to cement the new skill into the brain.


5. Correct every exercise.


Many of us had the experience of submitting homework in school, receiving the graded homework the next day, and filing it in our notebooks without a second thought. The problem with this system is that absolutely no learning takes place. Instead, students should correct all missed work in all subjects. I kept an assortment of colorful pens in my Latin notebook this summer. After completing an exercise, I graded my work with the Henle answer key. Then, I selected a colorful pen and used it to correct my work. Often, I learned the most from doing something badly at first and then relearning the rule and correcting my mistakes.


These study skills are portable to all subjects. Math students can complete step 1 by copying terms, definitions, and formulas into their notebook and onto flash cards. They can gain practice with the rules (step 2) by copying all of the sample problems from the lesson into their notebook and making sure they can solve those accurately before starting on the homework problems. They should always plan to complete every single problem in every single exercise (step 4) and should always learn from their mistakes by checking their work and correcting it (step 5).


I am delighted to report that these five simple steps have helped me to keep up with the younger generation in my Henle Second Year Latin class. I hope they will help your family tackle any new subject you desire to master. Happy studying!

CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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