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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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"English As She is Taught" (Through Latin)

by One Who Has Written Many Latin Exercises
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 204-207


Passing through our so-called nursery the other evening, I was stopped by hearing first a loud groan and then a deep sigh from a young son of mine, who was busy preparing his work, and who looked up at me with a despairing appeal for help.

"What is the matter?"

"Oh! this Bradley, it is so hard, and it is such rot."

"Well, never mind, my child; get it finished quickly and I'll play you a game of cards."

I cheered him on in spite of the dark rings round his eyes, and the pale cheeks that showed how weary he was--for what British mother will bid her child give up his task because it is difficult?--and in about an hour he came to claim his reward.

At cards he was constantly muttering. Curious to find out what haunted the little fellow's mind, I listened attentively and caught fragments such as these: "In order not to be driven into exile I shall pretend to be mad." At this interval of time I cannot recall the expressions he actually quoted, but turning over Bradley to discover the fascination of the book, I came across several sentences which arrested my attention because of the English, and because they confirmed a suspicion of mine as to the probable reason why the English takes possession of the child's mind instead of the Latin.

This was not the first time I had observed that what is impressed upon the memory in all written linguistic exercises is the English, a curious result, but, at the same time, a very fortunate result, as I will try to prove presently. When a boy has an English sentence of Dr. Bradley's to translate into Latin what happens? Here is one that attracted my notice--let us see: "Where," said he, "do you come from, and whither and when do you start hence?" There's a charm about this whither and when in connection with hence that is irresistible. The boy sets to work repeating the English--"whither and when," he mutters--"whither and when," as he turns over his grammar and vocabulary, careful to keep his wandering wits fastened down to "whither and when," finds some possible equivalent for it and commits it rapidly to paper, and proceeds to "do you start hence." "Start hence," he says--"start"--"hence"--"hence," till he discovers, or believes he has discovered, the right expression, sticks it down, as he is sure to say if he belongs to a grammar school, and goes on to the next sentence, which, since I am using Dr. Bradley's, is very likely this: "Your judgment in this matter has been different to mine." "Different to mine"--"different to mine" says the boy over and over again, as he searches out the Latin, and thus constantly reiterating the English, and only writing (?) the Latin, he finishes his exercise with a sigh of such intense relief that it sounds like a groan. Next day he is surprised when, in the course of talk, his mother corrects him for saying "different to"; he looks incredulous, and has a vague though fixed notion that she is in the wrong. In vain she explains: "You don't say 'I differ to him,' do you?" The child still remains unconvinced.

Sometimes the effort to understand the English leads to a long contemplation of the sentence. For instance: "Whomever he saw applauding the conqueror he would blame and exhort not to congratulate their country's enemies. Procrastination in showing gratitude is never praiseworthy; for myself, I prefer the returning kindness to being under an obligation." What sort of kindness is "the returning kindness?" One that increases the obligation, you would think. It is very certain that the meaning of a sentence must be clearly seen before it can be translated. In Dr. Bradley's advanced exercises there are sentences of such extreme obscurity that it takes longer to interpret than to translate them; but none I think can surpass for unsophisticated inconsequence; "Two and two must needs make four; it does not follow that we must all consult always our own interests." This unexpected conclusion is so heavily weighted with "all" and "always" that its solemnity makes one trouble. Ah, Dr. Bradley, those perverse boys! Instead of the good Latin you would teach them they are picking up bad English. Will they ever quote in admiration of your exercises: "It was unquestionable that he was a man, alike in his ability as in his achievements, such as we are never likely to see in this world." But making allowance for the great difficulty of constructing a book of sentences intended to enforce grammatical usages for which, in a few cases, there are no appropriate English equivalents, let us comfort ourselves for the bad English with the reflection that the boys do not remember the Latin.

Suppose the Latin sentences haunted him? "How many mistakes had you in your Bradley to-day?" "Fifteen, but some of the other boys had more than twenty. I had twenty-eight last week." If the fifteen mistakes had been repeated over and over again, if they had forced their presence upon him through his game at cards, mixed themselves up with the cricket and football of his dreams, and sprung from his lips spontaneously as he sprung from bed to dress, what could the form-master do to eradicate the fifteen? What time and pains would it cost him to obliterate impressions so tenacious and substitute correct ones? Just as much time and pains as it will cost me to make the child say "different from" instead of "different to." We all know what that means. Is one correction sufficient? No, every time my little son used "different" I shall have to correct him for several weeks to come.

What a consolation it must be to the master that the boys, as a rule, forget their Latin and Greek exercises! To suppose that the corrections make a greater impression than the mistakes is pure illusion. Any one who has taught and learned languages carefully, and with an eye to the best means of doing so, soon finds out that these merely written exercises are so much waste time and labour. The boy copies words from grammar, vocabulary, and dictionary on to a sheet of paper. If he takes very great pains he has naturally few mistakes, but he runs the greater risk of remembering those he does make. Fortunately, with the writing of the exercise ends the boy's concern and interest. It is returned to him corrected, or for him to correct, and then thrown into the waste-paper basket; and there lie almost all, in many cases all, the Latin and Greek which are supposed to enter the child's mind. If only the bad English were in their company! Language, even dead language, is not taught by the use of the pen, but by the use of the voice; no one can get and hold a new foreign word by merely transcribing it from a book, it must be uttered repeatedly, it must make a vocal impression on the mind or it does not enter it at all: and, again, wherever the mother tongue runs side by side with a foreign tongue, as in exercise writing, the mother tongue will exclude the foreigner unless the greatest pains be taken to give the latter most emphatic predominance.

Not unfrequently my boy's entire evening is occupied with this sort of work: Latin exercises 1 hour, Greek exercises 1 hour, French exercises 3/4 hour--15 x 3 = 45; that is, 45 mistakes. It must take as long at least to correct 45 mistakes x 20, the number of boys in the class, so that practically the whole morning is spent undoing the evening's work, and where is the result of five or six hours' irksome, deadening drudgery? In the wastepaper basket!