Olim erat un puer Latinam discere vellent...
I'm sorry. Once upon a time, there was a boy who wanted to learn Latin. It seemed like it would be a good idea because so many English words have Latin roots. The only problem is that Latin doesn't look exciting. It's not exactly a language that people have a great need to be fluent in (unless you're part of the Vatican curia, and that's not a particular career goal for the boy). So how to make learning Latin interesting enough to keep his attention, but thorough enough to be worthwhile? We decided to try Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin, Reader I and Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin, Workbook I from Laurelwood Books.
Olim means "once upon a time." The basis for these books is familiar "once upon a time" stories such as The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare, and The Crow and the Pitcher. I like this approach because it takes much of the stress of "I don't understand, what does this word mean?" away, leaving the student able to focus on the "learning Latin" part. There are a total of six volumes in the Olim, Once Upon a Time in Latin series, with each using familiar fables, parables, and Bible stories to teach Latin. The series is officially geared toward students in 2nd through 5th grades. My original plan was for Jude, who desperately wants to learn a foreign language like the big kids, to work on it. However, he's just not ready, even for something as simple as this. I don't think it's impossible for this age of student, but I think it is ambitious for this age unless your student has a good working understanding of English grammar (present/past/future, possessive, parts of speech). With Jude stepping aside, Matthew became the porcum guinea...erm...Guinea pig...for this review. He liked that it was broken down into small sections that built upon each other. It's a Latin course based on a Latin education, repeating and repeating ideas until you can't help but have them absorbed into your brain. It took Matthew about six weeks to work through Level I of the program, so I think that if he did all six levels, it could be considered one year of high school language credit. (It may be a struggle and better served as extra work if you need to count credits by time -- Matthew completed a day's reading and activities in about 10-15 minutes -- but the content taught is on par with the program Luke used for Latin.)
Olim balances learning grammar and syntax with vocabulary in an immersion-style program, but without trying to remember it all at once. Each unit begins by introducing a story in English, followed by the Latin translation. The margins of the Latin pages include vocabulary translations of new words on the page -- so no flipping around between the story and a glossary or dictionary. The words are also marked with the part of speech, which helps the student decode.
Imagine if you were in a foreign country and couldn't speak the language, but wanted to eat. Picture menus, or pointing at something in a glass case, or holding up the right number of fingers for "three" helps convey the gist of the message. Olim readers provide pictures within the story that give you context clues to what is going on. The pictures from the English story are repeated in the Latin version. Providing written and visual cues help cement the comprehension of the English story, and then the group of critters along with the text "Cursus excitabat cetara animalia in silva, " provides context that helps the student to figure out "Oh, this is where the other animals got involved with the race."
While the reader is small -- there are only three short stories in Level I-- the companion workbook provides nearly 70 pages of textbook-style explanations and the opportunity to practice working in Latin. For example, the noun porcus remains porcus when it is used as a subject in a sentence but the -us ending changes to -um to denote it's a direct object, becoming porcum. One pig is a porcum, while three little pigs are tres parvi porci. Pages titled "Digging Deeper" provide the student with definitions of how words are manipulated so that the reader or listener can understand the sentences. Students practice translating English to Latin, Latin to English, and sentence composition. Directions for the exercises to be completed with a particular page of text are at the bottom of the reader page.
I like this because this explicit "Do this exercise" means that the student works with manipulating small chunks of information, rather than trying to work on the entire story, and it helps reinforce the content in the three-ish sentences worked on that day. There is an answer key at the end of the workbook, which I appreciate, but at the end of a student's book isn't my favorite place for it. I'd prefer a separate key - perhaps a "master answer key" that had all six levels in it - that the student doesn't have access to while working.
Matthew and I both enjoyed Olim...Once Upon a Time Latin and are looking forward to working on the next level. To find out more about others' experiences with Olim and other Laurelwood Books titles, follow Laurelwood Books on Facebook or click the banner below.
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