Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quintilian -- Early Academics

Quintilian moves now past the preschool years and into the early days of formal academics (talking about children under 7) -- Of Learning Greek and Latin

I prefer that a boy should begin with the Greek language, because he will acquire the Latin in general use, even though we tried to prevent him, and because, at the same time, he ought first to be instructed in Greek learning, from which ours is derived.

Yet I should not wish this rule to be so superstitiously observed that he should for a long time speak or learn only Greek, as is the custom with most people; for hence arise many faults of pronunciation, which is viciously adapted to foreign sounds, and also of language, in which when Greek idioms have become inherent by constant usage, they keep their place most pertinaciously even when we speak a different tongue.

The study of Latin ought, therefore, to follow at no long interval, and soon after to keep pace with the Greek; thus it will happen that when we have begun to attend to both tongues with equal care, neither will impede the other.
The mother-tongue of Quintilian's readers was, of course, Latin, since they were Roman. So when he recommends Greek as a first study because Latin learning is derived from Greek, it would be similar to the way English schools in later centuries would start with Latin before they undertook the study of English.

But as you see he doesn't think the practice should be followed "superstitiously" to the point where the child learns a sort of polyglot muddle. ... using Greek idioms when talking their own language, and so on. That's all I can gather out of that.

I know that in the Ignatian schematic outline it shows that before age 10, children were supposed to learn to read, write and converse in Latin. I find that mysterious because it seems to imply the "inductive" approach -- teaching the child initially through immersion before going on to formal principles -- and this is something I've heard vaguely was not supposed to be good.

So I looked it up online and came up with a few things:

Given that Quintilian and the Ignatians both seem to recommend some sort of "immersion" -- the details I do not yet know -- prior to or alongside of early formal study, I think I will try to do something like this with Paddy this year. This is where I like Latin is Fun and Minimus and books like that because they offer models of conversation and real-world vocabulary like family, school, and things like that. So it's a resource for me -- and applies Latin to concrete things, for them.

Liam's already started the little ones on the road -- he'll greet them in Latin and they'll answer! (Clare does this with German -- the little ones always say Danke! when she gives them something!). For them, it's a game, and Plato recommends making early instruction gamelike.

I don't have a "paedogogi" to immerse the little ones in Latin, except myself and their siblings; however, there are some things I can definitely do -- I'll figure that out later.

On to the last sentence up there. When he talks about the "study of Latin" I am not sure exactly what he means. Obviously as he said, children learn their mother tongue from day one. So perhaps he's talking about learning how to read, write, spell, build vocabulary and narrate in their own language -- the kind of thing that teachers do now with English in the primary grades.

There is more detail in subsequent sections and so maybe this will become more clear.

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I would love to hear your thoughts on this!