Regarding Minimus , I have mixed feelings about this course. It is a very gentle introduction to the concept of the Latin language, with little grammar teaching. If your child is already familiar with the fact that the Romans spoke Latin, you may feel happy to skip this stage altogether. If you do use it, I’d recommend starting much earlier than the usual Year 5/6 (ages 9-11), at seven or eight (or even six with a keen child). The lack of grammar and a structured vocabulary can make it a frustrating text to use if you have no Latin yourself, yet I think the Teachers’ Book is not really worth the price.
LATIN and GREEK
The Classical debate
There is a debate within Classical Education circles as to whether the study of both Latin and Greek are necessary if a curriculum is to really qualify as ‘Classical’. I can’t answer that question, but I do know from teaching my own children – and from the evidence of countless others – that studying classical languages unquestionably helps a child to develop a logical mind and a habit of close observation. There’s no room for vagueness in Latin and Greek: they both teach precision of thought and expression. The study of Greek leads to the ability to read not only some great classical literature but also the New Testament in its original language. As Catholics we have a vested interest in Latin since it was our liturgical language for 1969 years (and for an increasing number of us, still is). If your children attend the Latin form of the Mass, they can only benefit from studying the language in greater detail (and your boys may even have the added advantage, as mine do, of already knowing the server’s responses by heart).
If you’re still sceptical, read what Pope John XXIII had to say about the study of Classical languages: “It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens wits and gives keenness of judgement. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.” (Veterum Sapientia).
And if you wonder why ‘grasping things accurately’ is so important, listen to what Cardinal Newman wrote in his ‘Idea of a University’:
“One main portion of intellectual education, of the labours of both school and university, is to remove the original dimness of the mind’s eye; to strengthen and perfect its vision; to enable it to look out into the world right forward, steadily and truly; to give the mind clearness, accuracy, precision; to enable it to use words aright, to understand what it says, to conceive justly what it thinks about, to abstract, compare, analyze, divide, define, and reason, correctly.”
In days gone by, Latin grammar was one of the primary means by which these various skills were acquired and perfected, and it still does the job perfectly well.
If you want to read in more detail the arguments in favour of putting Latin and Classics at the centre of your curriculum, you might like to read ‘The Latin Centred Curriculum’ by Andrew Campbell. Although personally I think it would be very difficult to implement this curriculum in full with a typical family, it does have good advice to offer and suggests a number of useful resources. It is not easy to find cheaply, though, and many of the arguments can be found on Classical education websites.
Can you teach Latin if you have no prior knowledge? The founder of a well known American Classical curriculum programme recently wrote: “Before home schooling supplies became an easy sell, it was common knowledge among Christians that “Nemo dat quod non habet.” Now, if you can’t read that phrase, you obviously can’t teach your children how to do so.” I disagree with both this specific point and the principle underlying it. If you can’t read that phrase, you can easily find out what it means, and I’d say that with a decent textbook, the answer books in hand and a keen child, yes you can teach Latin, at least to a decent foundational level, say to Common Entrance. If you have the time, it would be a wonderful thing to work through the books as your child does, learning as you go: it’s never too late to start. There are also many resources available online to help Latin learners. If all this really seems impossible, then I’m tempted to say that if you’re going to pay for tuition in any subject (online or in person), make it Latin (and if not Latin, maths).
GCSE Latin and Greek are two subjects in which you can actually take a GCSE rather than an IGCSE as the subjects are assessed by exam only. These exams are offered by OCR and consist of four papers each, incorporating two language and two literature papers, but they also have options for ‘Sources for Latin’ and ‘Sources for Classical Greek’ which enable the pupil to take only one literature paper. There is also a ‘Short Course’ GCSE in which the pupil needs to sit only two papers, one language and one literature.
NB as of 2018 the new 1-9 system will apply to this topic as to all GCSEs, and there will be some changes to the specification (notably one long paper rather than two short ones will be set on language). If your child will be taking Latin in or after 2018 – as with any GCSE exam – be sure to check the updated specifications CIE also offer an IGCSE in Latin (though not Greek) which appears simpler than the GCSE inasmuch as it consists only of two papers, one language and one literature.