Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Choosing a Foreign Language Program

So, your child is going into fourth grade and you are ready to add a foreign language to his studies. Or, you have an older child and you never got around to adding a foreign language because you are not familiar with one. Or, perhaps you want to add a second or third language to your child's platter of education. There are so many foreign language programs out there it is hard to choose which one would be the best fit for your family.

Before you shop, you will need to have in mind what you want from a curriculum (or rather why you want your student to study the language) and what type of student you have. Thinking about how it might fit in your overall curriculum philosophy might be important as well. I have used one time or another all of the curriculum listed below, so if you have any questions about any of them that I have not covered, please leave it in the comments and I will answer as best as I can. After each title I have reproduced the write-up given by the company that publishes it (this is in italics) as well as the name of some of their other publications. Afterwards I give comments on my experiences with the programs, how they compare with other programs and for what types of students or teachers they are most suited.

Latin for Children (Classical Academic Press) As a step beyond just an exposure to the language, it trains students in grammar, vocabulary and English derivatives in a lively, interactive way that is perfectly suited to students in the grammar stage. They also sell Song School Latin (An introduction to Latin, designed for the youngest of students; is full of songs, stories, and activities.), Latin Alive (Learn how Latin still affects so many aspects of our culture today; is full of translation and reading, Roman history and mythology. It is both an introduction for the upper school student who has not yet studied the language, and an excellent, deeper, continuation of grammar school study.) as well as programs for Spanish, Greek and French. This program is laid out in a chapter format that has a "memory" page, a "grammar" page, a "worksheet" and a "pre-quiz" page. The memory page has a saying or maxim to memorize a new chant, which is the forms of a vocabulary word and the like, and vocabulary to memorize. The grammar page goes over some grammatical point, which is usually then practiced on the worksheet page, which also includes translation and fill in the blanks that corresponds to the chant and derivatives in English. The pre-quiz page includes all the material on the chapter. This program is designed to cover one chapter a week. This program is from the Classical mindset of a third grader being in the grammar stage, or the stage most fond of and most suited to memorization and so is pretty rigorous, especially in terms of memorization. In the first chapter, for example, in addition to the maxim "In principio erat verbam," you are to memorize 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular and plural forms of amo and 30 additional words. There are no paragraphs of Latin to read and only sentences to read at the very end of Book A, so the words that are memorized are not put to use. If your child enjoys memorizing and chanting and you would like your child to learn Latin words and forms quickly, then this would be a good pick for you.

Prima Latina (Memoria Press) uses a clear and systematic format to introduce Latin to young students. It teaches important English and Latin grammar concepts, as well as vocabulary, sayings, prayers, hymns, and constellation, Latina Christiana Exercises reinforce memory work, teach systematic grammar, and provide simple translation. Prayers, songs, conversational Latin, history lessons, maps, and games add interest and motivation. and Lingua Angelica (Lingua Angelica is a Christian Latin reading and translation course. The CD contains 4 Latin prayers and 24 Latin hymns beautifully sung by a six-voice a capella choir. The student book provides facing vocabulary, space for interlinear translation, and grammar word study exercises.) They also sell French and more advanced work in Latin (Henle). This is also a Classical curriculum. Prima Latina is supposed to be for grades K-3 and Latina Christiana is for grades 4-8. They both use a lot of vocabulary memorization and the chanting of forms. For each lesson, Prima Latina has a Latin Saying, The Lesson, Vocabulary (5-10 words), part of a Latin prayer and some derivatives that relate to the vocabulary. For each lesson of Latina Christiana consists of ten vocabulary words, a set of grammar forms, and a Latin saying. Of the two, for a fourth grader, I would say that Latin for Children is a bit more interesting in that it varies more visually from page to page than Latina Christiana. If your child, however, feels comfort from sameness, than he might prefer this program. I have not used their French program, but I understand that it is written in the same format.

Oxford Latin Course (Oxford University Press) Each chapter opens with a set of cartoons with Latin captions that illustrate new grammar points. A Latin reading follows, with new vocabulary highlighted in the margins and follow-up exercises that focus on reading comprehension and grammatical analysis. A background essay in English concludes each chapter. Covering a variety of topics--from history to food, from slavery to travel, these engaging essays present a well-rounded picture of Augustan Rome. There is also an Oxford Greek Course. This program is for the student who wants to jump in the middle and learn as you go along. You are reading and translating from the first lesson. The readings are carefully constructed by using primarily the vocabulary that is introduced in that chapter or in previous lessons. I say this primarily because there are words that must be either looked up or assumed in context so that the paragraphs won't be trite from limited vocabulary. The topics are interesting and informative. If your child loves a mystery an a challenge, than this is the curriculum for him. It is a rich and wonderful curriculum, but not for the easily frustrated.

The Easy Spanish and The Easy French teaches you to understand the Spanish people, their culture, and their expressions. Every lesson includes Spanish Cultural Notes and Trivia. Spanish idioms (an English idiom would be "Six of one, half a dozen of another") are used in the stories, explained, and kept in your students notebook. The aim of ¡El Español Fácil! is to turn you into a truly bilingual person. The author is very accessible and there is a Yahoo group for support and to answer questions you might have. A detailed description of this program, with examples from student work is here. They also sell a Spanish Kids Songs CD By popular request we've put together a CD of extra songs with beautiful illustrations for every song (Great for coloring!) and activities for every song and even laid out the history of, and actions to, many of them. The lyrics are included in both Spanish and English. This is a Charlotte Mason friendly curriculum, and the author frequently refers to Miss Mason. Where it departs from Miss Mason's recommendations is that it begins in day one with written work (as almost all, if not all curriculums do) and Miss Mason specifically states,"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. The desire to give printed combinations of letters the sounds they would bear in English words is the real cause of our national difficulty in pronouncing French. Again, the child's vocabulary should increase steadily, say, at the rate of half a dozen words a day. Think of fifteen hundred words in a year! The child who has that number of words, and knows how to apply them, can speak French." (Volume 1, page 302) If you start with the Spanish Kids Songs first before going into the regular program or if you put off doing the written portion of the program, which can be easily done, I can truly recommend it as a Charlotte Mason foreign language program.

Greek 'n Stuff's Greek and Latin (from Rainbow Resource's description) This series of workbooks teaches koine Greek using a combination of deductive, inductive, and interactive methodology. Its main goal is to equip students to study the Greek New Testament for themselves and in the last level of this series students work on translating the first two chapters of I John. According the the author, completing all seven levels of the program is roughly equivalent to three credits of high school Greek. This program suffers from a horrible name. Even the company has a horrible name. I think it probably turns a number of people off because it seems like a little kid's program. But, if you notice, if you complete the program, it equals three credits of Latin or Greek. I have used both the Greek and the Latin and I love them both. We use this and take our time with it, picking up the next book when we finish the one we are on, even if that is mid-year. I have my students go at the pace they feel comfortable and they have finished before they finished high school, with all six credits. I believe this is the most enjoyable way, if you want to take a slow pace. If a slow pace would annoy you or your student has started later (high school) then I would go with one of the more faster paced programs. Since they are both dead languages, the emphasis is on translation and other written work. If you were to buy all the books at the same time, they would equal the price of one of the complete curriculums, but the nice part about this curriculum is that you can buy it one book at a time, for a lot less out-of-pocket at once, and a lot less of a risk to try.

PowerGlide Spanish and French Children's Course Designed to help children understand and communicate. Children's Course was designed for children Pre K - 3rd grade. Course activities are designed specifically with these learners in mind and include matching games, story telling, speaking, drawing, creative thinking, acting, and guessing--all things which children do for fun. They also make Latin and German courses, and also have upper level courses which, when completed, are equal to two years of high school foreign language. I have used the Spanish with my boys and they liked it. My older son was in sixth grade, so it was a bit childish for him, but he was able to read and write some in Spanish. Because I was following Miss Mason's advise I tended to avoid showing the words to the younger boys, and still felt it was a good program. I am not sure, however, it was worth the hefty price. Nevertheless I bought the French program, hoping the introduce them to French as well, and was disappointed to find that the French was just a slightly modified version of the Spanish program. You cannot use them both if you want to teach your children both French and Spanish.

Getting Started with Latin by William Linney teaches beginning Latin gradually yet systematically. In each lesson, after learning something new, you can immediately apply what you've learned by translating the fun practice sentence. Every once in a while, you will learn about a commonly used Latin expression such as et cetera or non sequitur. This has a free downloads of either classical or ecclesiastical style from their website. He also sells Getting Started with Spanish in which you can download the free MP3 files that accompany the book and listen to a native speaker (co-author Antonio Orta) pronounce all the exercises. This is my newest find and my 7th grader opted to go with this program for his Latin instead of the Greek 'n Stuff's program even though he loves their Greek program because he wanted to have the program to be completely different. This is a very easy program; probably the easiest one listed here. The exercises are all done verbally, which is good if your child already has enough writing to do. It's pace might be too slow for some, but would be a great start for a child (and/or parent) that is unsure of learning a foreign language. I plan to use the Spanish program verbally only with my younger boys next year, and in this way, I think it will be very Charlotte Mason friendly.

Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day subtitled New Testament Greek Workbook for Laymen will teach you the Greek alphabet and have you pronouncing Greek words fluently in just a short time. You'll learn the basic outlines of Greek grammar as well as hundreds of New Testament words. The material is presented so simply that you'll begin reading Greek on the very first day! The emphasis on this program is translating the Bible, and if that is your goal either this or the Greek 'n Stuff's program would be your best bet. This has a tendency to be a little dry at times.

Barron's Spanish The Easy Way (Out of print, but you can get used copies.) Here is a fundamental introduction to speaking, understanding, and writing in Spanish, with emphasis on oral proficiency. Over the years, Barron’s popular and widely used Easy Way books have proven themselves to be accessible self-teaching manuals. They have many other titles including Spanish Grammar and French The Easy Way. My daughter used this text at a homeschool Co-op. There is a lot of writing involved with this course. It does have a variety of exercises to keep interest up and does expect you to write a paragraph in Spanish from time to time.

Spanish in 10 minutes a Day (Out of print, but you can get used copies.) A fun, engaging, 132-page complete language learning workbook. Includes 150 sticky labels, flash cards, a cut out menu, a crossword puzzle and more. We found this to be very disappointing and is not a curriculum at all. It is a crash course in case you want to visit a Spanish speaking country and teaches you the words you would need to know to get along traveling. I didn't expect it to be high school credit quality but I thought it would be a fun introduction to the language. It was not.

If you have used a program I have not mentioned, I would love to hear what you have used that worked or didn't work. I am particularly interested to hear from anyone using The Latin Road to English Grammar or Rosetta Stone. If you have used one I have mentioned, I would love to hear your opinions as well -agree or disagree?


  1. awesome post! I'm going to have to look into this more when we're ready to get there.

  2. okay, this is too much information at this late hour, so I will definitely have to come back... but do you have a FAVORITE for starting 5th graders in Latin... I'm trying to decide and without being able to thumb through, I have NO idea. help!

    we have rosetta stone spanish. I'll have to report on it one of these days...

    amy in peru

  3. Well,Amy, I have a hard time picking one favorite without taking a look at any other considerations. From what you have told me so far, I would narrow it down to either Oxford or Greek 'n Stuff's. How much time do you want to put into this study? How easily does your student pick up things? How easily frustrated does he become by things he is not sure of? The favorite by my kids has been Greek 'n Stuff's because it doesn't take a lot of time or fuss and is straightforward. It is a workbook type program, though. You would start with book 3 with his age, as the first section of this book reviews the first two books. I, personally, on the other hand, love Oxford because I began reading Latin right away, but the lessons take some time and patience, and more effort. Does that help?

  4. okay. oxford for ME :) ...but I'd kinda like something for my kiddos that I could do with multi-levels (even if I didn't follow the curriculum exactly... adjusting so the littlest could even participate?). Maybe that I could do a great deal orally? The Getting Started with Latin appeals to my CM blood... when we hit 7th grade we'll want to start studying Latin in all seriousness.

    so whaddya think?

    amy in peru

  5. Gettting Started with Latin is CM'ish and is fine if you want to just get a little of the idea of it. You can go to his downloads page and get an idea of how it goes http://www.gettingstartedwithlatin.com/downloads.php
    It is inexpensive and He also has a free online course after this one. http://www.linneyslatinclass.com/


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