Home » Latin » Oxford Latin Course: a brief review

Oxford Latin Course: a brief review

The Oxford Latin is not quite as well known as the Cambridge Latin Course, the latter appearing firs tin the 70s, the OLC not until the 80s. It is primarily the work of Maurice Balme, and James Morwood. I had the pleasure of meeting Morwood a few years back. As I recall, he said that the OLC was produced really to ‘fix’ the problems they perceived in the CLC. Regardless, the OLC is now one of several ‘staples’ on the Latin market, and enjoys particularly wide usage in schools.

My own experience of it is linked to this. I tutor a student whose school utilised OLC and I teach him likewise through these materials.

As with CLC, OLC attempts to adopt a reading-based approach, mostly inductive. However, I have to say that the main difference between ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ reading approaches is whether they place the grammar before or after the reading. OLC is divided intro three main Parts, with a main storyline following Horace’s life, interwoven with related passages. In the final text, now a 4th volume, there are selected reading passages from Classical authors.

Each chapter begins with a short cartoon, which frankly does little to engage the reader and mainly serves to illustrate a grammar point. It is then followed by a reading, with both ‘new vocab to learn’ on the page, and ‘necessary vocab helps’ on the side for things needed in the reading, but not needing to be learnt yet. The reading is followed by a few (not enough) questions in Latin responding to the content of the text. Then a secondary, related, reading is given, with some questions on content in English. Finally, most chapters then have a page or two of History/Culture notes.

In the rear of the book is found the Grammar and Exercises. The procedure through the grammatical concepts of Latin is much the same as most courses. Exercises include standard fare: translation Latin > English, and English > Latin, parsing, manipulating forms.

Overall OLC is a pleasant, and reasonably well-executed textbook in its style. Its faults, then, are the same – the pacing of material is probably too quick, the space for repetition and exposure too little, the exercises not enough and too traditional. The narrative itself does benefit from being based (except for the childhood) on Horace, and helps students to grapple with the main historical events of the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of Octavius; likewise having a single continuous narrative is a positive.

Verdict: The Oxford Latin Course does what so many of its vintage tried to do: combine ‘newer’ reading-based approaches with traditional pedagogy. It succeeds as well as most of its rivals did, which is to say not-quite well enough.

It does make for a pleasant read for the experienced Latinist though.


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