Ørberg’s Lingua Latina: an introduction for the uninitiated

Alright, let’s get to a textbook I really enjoy. Hans Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata: Pars I: Familia Romana

This is, without exaggeration, the best Latin textbook on the market. It’s not perfect, it’s not the be all and end all, but there’s simply nothing better as a book to teach/learn with.

Firstly, how I came across it and used it. It was towards the end of my 4 year sequence of Latin at university, and a sense of growing frustration that modern language students would be reading their languages ‘fluently’ by this stage, but here I was painstakingly analysing/translating my way through Roman literature. What had gone wrong?? Like many products of the philological tradition and Grammar/Translation methodology, I knew a great deal about Latin, but I couldn’t read Latin straight.

At the time I started listening to Latin teacher online a great deal, and that’s how I first got plugged-in to the world of comprehensible input, communicative methods, etc., etc.. And that’s how I heard about LL – a holy grail of textbooks, in that it taught Latin entirely through Latin. I ordered a copy post-haste.

I recall reading the first chapter and being a little in awe both at how much I understood, and how well it is paced. Of all the “readers” that exist for classical languages, LL truly accomplishes its goal of initiating the student into the language without recourse to outside aids or a second language. From page 1 it is possible to go all Latin, all the way.

The text carries the student from the fundamentals of Latin ‘grammar’ through everything they would cover in a standard class, over 34 chapters. Plenty of repetition of vocabulary and structure helps too. “Grammar” is not entirely neglected, as each chapter ends with grammatical notes in Latin. Exercises end each chapter, of three types: fill in the ending, fill in the word, and respond to latine questions, with answers latine.

Some criticisms can be made: it’s still a textbook, and some students will not find the text engaging. It proceeds by a ‘grammar’ sequence, not a natural one. It introduces too much vocab, too quickly, and this is a slight problem. It wasn’t written for active, communicative Latin (Ørberg himself expressed surprise in learning that students were using it for this! He envisaged it as a direct method text for reading).

Nonetheless, it remains unsurpassed. It always tops my recommendations, and I’d teach from it at the drop of a hat. Even advanced students would benefit from ‘going back’ and picking it up to increase their reading fluency.

Today’s review really only treats of volume 1, Familia Romana. I’ll talk a little about the other volumes and resources another time.

8 responses

  1. Seumas – I don’t know if you remember me, but I studied Greek at UNE at a similar time to you. I (re)found your blog a few months ago, and have enjoyed reading your thoughts regarding ancient language fluency. This is an area I have a strong personal interest in. I’m currently studying a Master of Applied Linguistics, which is strictly speaking a TESOL qualification, but covers many of the topics I feel will aid my desire to investigate more holistic ancient language study. I’ll follow your contribution to the conversation with interest.

    • Fran – I do remember you. The other day I was actually wondering what had become of you, well, what you were doing.

      Apologies, your comment got caught up in my spam filter for some reason.

      My wife did that Masters, very interesting. I observed the course content ‘over her shoulder’ so to speak.

      • ‘What has become of me’? Children mostly! It’s amazing how 5 years of your life can suddenly have disappeared when there are children in the mix.

        Do you have a post that gives more detail on what your ideal ancient language class would look like? You say that you use a mix of methods, but I would be interested to see how that plays out in practice. I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about the limitations of language learning in evangelical colleges, and wondering how that situation could be improved without completely reinventing the wheel. I’m pondering the merits of a reader for use from second semester level, which could incorporate sections of appropriate papyrus (especially letters etc) and sections of the Fathers, with accompanying vocabulary and commentary, as well as ideas for teachers to prompt basic questions about the text in Greek. The big problem is that most teachers of Greek at bible colleges (in my limited observation) have only one year of Greek language study apart from exegesis, which is really taught from the English text back to the Greek and then to English. The reality is that these courses will continue to be taught by these teachers, so I am interested in looking at tools for aiding these teachers in improving the situation in an achievable way.

  2. p.s. I realise my last comment sounds quite negative. I’m not trying to be disparaging, and nor am I attempting to devalue the knowledge that biblical* language teachers have generally about the scriptures or to suggest that there is some kind of laziness/insufficiency on their part. Simply that things have been done a certain way, and I would like to look at how the situation can be aided without making teachers feel as though everything needs to be thrown out and rebuilt from scratch. In some ways rebuilding curricula etc from scratch would bear a lot of fruit, but the reality is that working within the current system is going to benefit more people in the short term. It’s also less likely to result in these conversations remaining out on the fringe.

    *in the sense of learning a language for the purpose of reading scripture.

  3. Pingback: Some rambling thoughts on an ideal ancient languages classroom « The Patrologist

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