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I've read a lot on here about children and languages, but they all have to do with spoken language. I am not fluent in any spoken language, but I have taken extensive coursework in Classical Latin and Attic Greek.

Given the complexity of these languages, when is a good age to start introducing children to the concepts of the languages? Since they are not conversational, I'm not even sure what a good place to start would be. I learned starting with declensions and conjugations, but that doesn't seem like a good start for a language with a child. Any suggestions on how to even introduce them to a child?

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Not an answer... but my first meeting with Latin was from the Asterix comics. Though I didn't learn much, it certainly was positive "marketing"! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 29 '11 at 7:35
    
I'm not sure it was Latin, but it was certainly a humorous play on words - Vital Statistix = Mayor, Cacophonix = Bard, Get-a-fix = Druid/Chemist.. –  JBRWilkinson Apr 29 '11 at 10:58

5 Answers 5

When they show an interest

I did Latin for one year at school, aged 13. I can whole-heartedly say that it has helped immensely through other education, not because those subjects use Latin, but because the 'lingo-lego' nature of Latin helps you to analyse/deconstruct other words, phrases and languages.

It helped with my Mathematics, Computing, French and Music at school and then has helped my Engineering and Business career in many (often intangible) ways. It helped me to learn (spoken) Chinese by myself, and to decipher Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Swahili phrases when I needed to. Understanding medical diagnoses has also been useful.

One of the challenges we had when learning was that nobody really speaks Latin any more. In the UK, you can see a whole lot of scriptures in churches, cathedrals, on monuments and many older buildings, so as a child, you could see it all over the place.

..but if you're not in a place where you see a lot of Latin around, it can be a tough call to motivate a child to take on a language that nobody speaks on a day-to-day basis. If you could find some interesting/cool audio or movies to help with motivation, that would be a plus. Our Latin teacher managed to find some Roman plays in nearby University theatres, which were huge fun.

If its offered at school, this would complement any tutoring you wish to give at home, so this would be an ideal age. Otherwise, it comes down to drumming up their interest, which depends on the childs' age and the numerous other distractions they have in their life.

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I'm the opposite, I took it because I did not have an interest in French or Spanish but ended up hating it. Although I loved it when we did Mythology, which I liked, so I had one semester of good grades. I agree though, when the kids show interest is always a good time. –  MichaelF Apr 29 '11 at 17:05
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+1 for "showing an interest". @MaQleod I imagine that they'll start showing an interest when they see you working with the languages in front of them. –  Gary Rowe May 2 '11 at 19:54

Kids are good at learning multiple words for the same thing(better then most adults they say). Start with small items and learn them to the kid. Since our first language isn't English I've been teaching our kid small things like:

  • This is a red apple
  • The apple has the color red.

But only after he understood the words in our native language.

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The problem with Latin is that even simple sentences can be complex. The apple is red can be written so many different ways. puniceum malum est or malum puniceum est or malum est puniceum or puniceum est malum or est puniceum malum are all valid. This isn't a spectacular example, but you can see that it is a bit more confusing than languages where position in a sentence is set and I'm not sure how to address that sort of discrepancy. Or should that sort of explanation wait for a while? –  MaQleod May 3 '11 at 14:38
    
Kids skip most of the grammar anyway like word order anyway. I would wait with the explanation till they understand things like word ordering and reordering in you're original language. –  Barfieldmv May 3 '11 at 18:49
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@MaQleod: They can be complex; that doesn't mean they must be complex. Rome had kids, too. It's okay for a 5yo to sound more like a 5yo Roman than like Cicero. When we are separated from a language by history, we tend to get tunnel-visioned on the classics, because they are good enough to span the ages, but when teaching children, it is important to find or create materials appropriate to children. We don't use Shakespeare to teach the English language to preschoolers, we use "What did fat cat sit on?" and "One Fish, Two Fish". –  HedgeMage May 26 '11 at 9:44
    
@HedgeMage, I understand, but Roman kids did not learn English and Spanish first, where word order does make a difference. I am more worried at the confusion it might cause. However, you are right in that we can create the materials appropriate and just initially ignore the fact that word order makes no difference. –  MaQleod May 26 '11 at 14:23
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@MaQleod I don't know how old your children are, but having a child whose first language was ASL, I can tell you that major grammatical differences are pretty easy for them to get a handle on. Remember -- little kids tend to take each language as it comes, they don't see every language in terms of their first like adults who did not learn multiple languages as children. –  HedgeMage May 26 '11 at 14:33

thinking about the Greek.

You can start as young as you want, you just need to play on your child's skills at their given age. If your child is under 4 then use images. Don't worry about their ability to retain any information, just get them used to the shapes of the letters.

Spend time drawing the letters and having your child go over the letters with their own crayon. If you do too many different shapes, then your child will never remember any patterns. So stick with one noun, like water and draw it everywhere until they start to recognize it.

If your child is between 4 and 8 then you then you can step it up a notch and start playing games with the shapes.

Above 8 you could easily begin rewarding them for every word that they learn on their own.

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The short answer:

As soon as your little one starts to copy you, go ahead and chant declinsion and conjugation endings--you'll be amazed at how effortlessly they pick it up and how much it lets you skip in instructions down the road.

The long answer:

Teaching classical languages provides different educational opportunities in early development than teaching spoken languages, and many of the drawbacks linguists identify in partial bilingualism during development years (most notably confusion between divergent grammatical arrays and non-cognate based synonymous misapplication) are avoided altogether by teaching a systematic non-spoken language like the ones you mentioned.

Latin and Greek are often taught as written languages, which often prevents parents and early childhood educators from using the similar pedagogical approaches to the ones that they learned with. The construction forms of these languages can be learned easily by pre-literate children in a way that will forever simplify an in-depth study of the languages as a later age.

For an example, a fundamental start in the study of ancient Greek would be to teach the alphabet, which can be learned as a song and later symbolically associated to the letters with flashcards. Once grasped, the Greek alphabet will likely be a life-long skill and will make later forays into the language that much easier.

Due to a strong capacity for lists and memorization, you can start teaching Latin declensions and conjugations between 2 1/2 to 3 or whenever the general verbal skills allow. When you first started learning Latin and the teacher put you on the spot to give the ending for the second declension ablative plural, you may have had to think through it in your head, recite the whole list to give the answer. If you had already knew the lists by heart as a young child, recognizing the forms in writing or recalling an element on demand is trivial and makes the other elements of the study easy.

One more great benefit of studying the classics is the light they shed on language as a whole. Helping your child learn English parts of speech from a Latin perspective, for example, helps to systemize linguistics unconsciously. Having your child identify gerundives and passive imperfect tense with English sentences builds a framework for an advanced understanding of both English and Latin grammar down the road.

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I started my son at age 8, but wish I had done it earlier as it would have been even easier for him. He lapped it up, we were home edding at the time so I could choose exactly which lessons he did and how long we spent on each and when we did them, so I could cater for when he didn't feel like it. He then went to prep school in the UK for five terms, winning the prize for Classics when he left, and was streets, if not whole towns, ahead of his fellow students and has been described as having a gift for Classics. I spent three weeks this summer teaching him Ancient Greek, which he found easy too, ready for Public School this autumn. If I had my time again, I would introduce the Latin at about age five, and the Greek a couple of years later, not at the same time though. He is also fluent in French with an IGCSE at age 12, using the internet frequently in french as he researches architecture. He is now nearly fourteen.

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