How to be a Latin Lover: Cambridge

One of the hallmarks of a Classical Education is the study of Latin. Our rough guide, The Well Trained Mind, recommends starting in Grade Three. Unfortunately, we wasted a lot of time with the traditional, parts-to-whole, grammar-based programs. I know that Susan Wise Bauer recommends them, but a child can be bored to tears with all the paradigm memorization and no real Latin sentences or stories. (I know I was.) Panda was totally uninspired with this method. She could chant her conjugations and declensions but they had no meaning to her and she could not read a passage to save her life. In Grade Six we switched to Cambridge Latin, a reading approach, and loved it. The stories are compelling, and lend themselves beautifully to comic strips and dramatization. The books are very attractive, the history section in each unit is fascinating, and don’t worry, they do teach the grammar, just very gradually without the memorization and chanting. And now I am motivated to learn along with Panda, which is a minor miracle.

There are four Units, each corresponding roughly to a year of teaching. Each Stage in each Unit presents Model Sentences that incorporate a new grammar concept with illustrations, four or five short stories, a Vocabulary checklist of 25 to 30 words, auxiliary vocabulary, two About the Language sections (grammar concepts explained with examples), Practicing the Language section, a more detailed look at some aspect of Roman life and a Word Study. There are illustrations and photos throughout. The first Unit follows a family in Pompeii, ending in the eruption of Vesuvius, and the Second Unit follows a son of that family in his travels to Britannia and Alexandria. Unit Three goes back to Rome. The Teacher’s Manual is actually helpful, which is sometimes not the case in home learning curricula. It explains the photos and illustrations in more detail, gives background and tips for teaching the stories, suggests grammar concepts to review, Latin mottoes and saying to learn and gives ideas for further study.

At the very least you need a Student Text and a Teacher’s Manual, but I recommend the Workbook and CDs as well. Try Chapters or Amazon for new, Alibris or Abebooks for secondhand. You can also order lots of peripherals such as extra stories (Fabulae Ancillantes), Test Crafters, etc. The North American Cambridge Classics Project also supplies games, drills, vocabulary tests, flash cards and comprehension questions in Latin, as well as pencils that say things like, “Flocci non facio!” and “Pestis! Furcifer! Mendax! Caudex!” There are terrific resources for vocabulary, history and grammar drills on the Cambridge UK website. There is also an extremely helpful Yahoo group. This group is mostly teachers with a few home learners, and some of them have Quia games posted for each stage that we use again and again.

With a little supervision, this could be used as an independent course for a home learner. That said, Panda and I do it together. I truly enjoy learning Latin. I keep a step or two ahead of her with at least an extra half hour a day and we both do the Practicing the Language exercises and one or two of the Workbook exercises. We read and translate together and quiz the vocab together. One problem with Cambridge is that although the student translates a lot from Latin to English, English to Latin is wholly lacking. As an experiment, we are starting to do some English to Latin using stories from Fabulae Ancillantes, but about a year behind, since this is new to us. A dedicated teacher in a private school might do the first two Units in a single year, but we are far more relaxed than that.

If your Latin study isn't panning out, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Cambridge Latin reading approach.


  1. Thanks much for this recommendation! My oldest (6th grade currently) is a "big picture" learner, and I was wondering why the Latin program we'd chosen (and had seemed so exciting at the start) wasn't working.

    I'll take a look at Cambridge ASAP.

  2. Yes, it's a "big picture" issue for us too. It also helps to hear it spoken and to banish the thought that it's a "dead" language.

    Don't forget to check out Alibris and Abebooks. You can get slightly used texts at a significant savings.

  3. P.S.: Fiddler, I love the 100 Species Challenge blog idea! We live on the edge of a conservation area in Ontario, so it's a natural for the Deeply Suburban family.