Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Memorizing Latin Declensions

Last week we started Prima Latina with my oldest.  It might be a little early but he was excited. You might remember that I have a large collection of Latin curricula.   The primary lesson I have learned is that there is more to memorize than first meets the eye.

Most people focus on memorizing the declensions in order - top to bottom (-a, -ae, - ae, -am - a). This is important but that isn't all you need to know.  Although I am NOT a Latin expert, I will mention what I have learned about memorizing Latin (so far). This is as a result of the gaps I already have in knowledge!  I am a big picture person so it is hard for me to pay attention to the details.  Many texts tell you to pay attention to these details.  I am here to remind you to PAY ATTENTION to the details.

  • When you memorize make sure you can easily go from singular to plural and back again in each case (nom. singular and plural, etc.).  Memorize across - not just down! 
  • Know which declension your vocabulary word belongs to.  After the first and second declension you might feel like this is pretty easy - but then the 3rd declension comes along and complicates matters.  Build good habits with these easier declensions.  
  • Memorize the gender of your nouns - it impacts your adjectives.  Again, easy with first, more complicated with second and then the third declension hits! 
  • Through frequent practice, you should be able to quickly spout off what the genitive singular form of of amicus or what portarum means.  This is one reason I like Elementary Latin by Smith it has lots of exercises like this.  If you have two kids learning (or you are learning with your child) I suggest you practice quizzing each other.  I think this is what happened in the recitations of old.  
  • Memorize the English phrases that go with each case porta /ae - a/the gate, of the gate, to/for the gate, a gate (object), by, with, for the gate.  The repetition will do you good.  I just tried to memorize that it was the dative of gate and it is much easier if you don't have to keep remembering what dative means - build it into the way you memorize the word. 
  • Make sure you are learning your vocabulary Latin to English and English to Latin.  Although you might not compose in Latin, you should learn them both ways. My experience with Spanish taught me that you won't just know if you don't work on it both ways.  

I like Prima Latina so far.  It is a slow introduction but I think it will develop the habit of memorizing and work up towards parsing.  It is truly a gentle introduction.  For now we are memorizing verb endings with CC, reading our Latin morning text and now doing Prima Latina vocabulary daily.  We plan to try and complete a lesson a week.  Since my oldest is learning how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the violin - we are memorizing the first verse in Latin too.

If Latin nouns and declensions have you down I highly recommend the free google book Junior Latin by Forsyeth.  He focuses on nouns, adjectives and pronouns (no verbs here).  He provides quite a few words fully declined in each of the five declensions. By introducing adjectives simultaneously it shows how gender works with this aspect of the language.  His front notes give a great overview of how Latin nouns work and provide suggestions for learning and memorizing.   Many older Latin books give you the feeling that you are missing something that teachers back then just "knew" and passed on to their students. I feel like this book details some of that knowledge in a very accessible way (like what parsing really looks like).  I recommend you at least save it to your computer as a reference.  

I am forming thoughts about how I will teach Latin long term and maybe soon I will share some of those ideas.

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