Spelling and Grammar and Latin, Oh My
by Barbara Beers
Probably the most frequent lament of homeschool parents over the past three decades centers on teaching their children to spell as well as they read.
What begins enthusiastically in kindergarten commonly deteriorates, so that by about fourth grade a student reads okay, cannot spell well, and usually hates to write. Since this affects all his language arts such as grammar, composition, and even foreign language, parents find themselves at a loss on how to proceed any further.
Why do these students not have the early foundations when reading programs and spelling workbooks abound in the marketplace?
Modern education philosophies and methods are the biggest culprits and have been contributing to the deterioration for the past 50 years or more. The systematic teaching of skills that build one upon another in a logical sequence is foreign to the belief in the whole language approach of memorizing wholes.
To modern educators, the parts of a word are not as important as the whole word itself, and thus the emphasis is on memorizing words as fast as a student can memorize them using large colorful pictures, fill-in-the-blank workbooks, and a myriad of games. The parts of a sentence are not as important as the whole sentence itself; therefore, grammar is not important and the student is encouraged to use any means to express himself.
These expressions are rarely considered good compositions. Add to this the ever-increasing beliefs in child-centered learning and the protection of self-esteem in our modern world, and true scholarship is lacking in teachers, parents, and students.
But amid the growing progressive educational movement in America toward the whole word method (also called the look-say or sight method), there have been those pioneers that have resisted and preserved for us the successful classical methods of learning in their research and writings.
We can be grateful to Dr. Samuel Orton for his important contributions. As a neuropathologist specializing in speech disorders, Orton was so alarmed by what he saw that he wrote an article entitled “The Sight Reading Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability” which was published in the February 1929 issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology.
This was the first article in which a trained neuropathologist stated in no uncertain terms that the sight method of teaching reading could cause reading disability and be an obstacle to reading progress rather than a help.
Dr. Orton followed up in 1937 with the publishing of his research and remedial methods for teaching reading entitled Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children. In this book he not only warned about the damaging effects of the look-say, whole-word memorization method, but developed methods of direct teacher instruction in collaboration with other teachers, the most well-known being Anna Gillingham and Romalda Spalding.
The Orton-Gillingham and Slingerland remedial methods came from his early research with organically brain-damaged children and adults. Before his death in 1948, he challenged Mrs. Spalding to apply his method for all normal primary school children. Mrs. Spalding went on to publish The Writing Road to Reading in 1957, training classroom teachers in Dr. Orton’s method.
Although many reading programs today claim to be based on this time-tested method, most have eliminated the foundation of this method of teaching the process of building words from their smallest components to the whole and learning why they are built this way.
Instead they have adopted look-say techniques such as reorganizing lists of words in order to make memorization simpler, or printing books with more pictures than words thus causing children to often read pictures and guess at words. In the well-meaning effort to combat the failures of the public schools, many have just reorganized and repackaged the same old public school methods.
The PHONICS Road to Spelling and Reading further builds upon the Orton method for homeschool parents to provide their students of all ages with the tools of learning how English is built and why it is built the way it is. This does not teach a kind of incidental phonics so prevalent in today’s reading programs. There are no workbooks, no picture-driven basal readers with controlled sight vocabularies, and no burdensome preparation by the parent/teacher.
The program begins with focus and practice of the basic components of English–individual letters and letter teams with their corresponding forms and sounds. From there words are built, focusing and practicing writing and spelling skills as the whys behind English spelling are learned. From these skills the child begins to read and write original sentences.
We then build through the grammar and composition aspects of English through quality children’s literature until we are ready for the higher thinking skills that Latin has to offer. In this way, spelling, handwriting, reading, grammar, and composition are taught in a balanced setting, each one equally contributing to the student’s ease with English.
An important reason that English spelling remains a mystery to most children and adults alike is that no one teaches them that Modern English incorporates two subtly different styles of spelling. This results from the way in which Modern English became a written language.
The Latin alphabet is borrowed for writing English because Latin was still an active, spoken language for educated Englishmen when people first began writing extensively in Modern English. Because all educated Englishmen read, wrote, and spoke Latin, many of the Latin words had come into active use in spoken English as well.
We continued to spell most of these words according to the standard Latin spelling patterns. For many other Latin words, we used spelling patterns that the words had picked up as they gradually migrated from Italy, through France, into England.
Most of the borrowed Latin words were connected with cities, government, art, law, science, philosophy, business, and the military. But the words of home, childhood, farm, forest, and seas continued to be the native English words. These had come down to us from Old High German through half a dozen Old English dialects. For these words a whole new spelling system was invented, with spelling patterns which differ from those of the Latin words.
Two Spelling Styles
We thus have two different styles of spelling in Modern English: the native English style, which applies to words of German origin, and the Latin style, which applies to words which came down to us directly from Latin, or by way of its daughter languages, Italian and French.
The native English style of spelling affects all of our one-syllable words, regardless of origin. It also affects the vast majority of the two-syllable words which occur in first and second grade school materials.
The LATIN Road to English Grammar introduces the Latin style of spelling
as the teacher and student study and translate Latin while fine-tuning their advanced English grammar skills.
More Than 60% Latin-Based
So why study Latin? Primarily, there is no other language in the world that affects English as much as Latin. Our vocabulary is more than 60% Latin-based, supplying us with clues to meanings and spellings of our more sophisticated and technical words.
Also, Latin and English represent two different language structures: Latin is a highly inflected language, showing functions of words by adding endings to base words; English is non-inflected, showing functions of words by their placement within the sentence.
By comparing and contrasting these two languages for three years through translating between Latin and English, a student understands the basics of how most languages of the world work. This is why Latin students have the ability to pick up other languages so quickly.
And it makes Latin the best first foreign language to learn and teach. The fact that no one speaks Latin today is the reason some people consider it dead. And yet that fact is the biggest plus for teaching it. With Latin you do not have to be burdened with teaching conversation and can spend your time teaching the structure and vocabulary of the language. Lastly, Latin gives you a good working introduction to our most common spoken foreign languages, Spanish and French, as well as Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese.
A veteran homeschooler for more than 26 years, Barbara has not only taught her own children plus many other students, parents, and school teachers, but has organized her studies in the popular series, The PHONICS Road to Spelling and Reading and The LATIN Road to English Grammar, used in schools and homeschools around the world.