“Parvis Imbutus Tentabis Grandia Tutus” or, How To Succeed at Latin

By Julie Collorafi

There is a wise old Latin saying, beloved of elementary prep schools, which advises the need for consistent, thorough instruction in the basics, building a solid foundation upon which to build intensive, accelerated academic success on the secondary level. This motto, “Parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus” which is rendered literally as “You, having been steeped in little things, being safe, shall attempt adult things,” is the guiding inspiration of my elementary level Latin program, Little Latin Readers.

Especially noteworthy is the participle imbutus (imbued, saturated, permeated). The student who has been thoroughly saturated in parvis, (little things), will feel tutus, (safe, secure and confident) enough tentare (to attempt) grandia (adult, grown-up matters).

Little Latin Readers was developed to extend the study of the elements of first year high school Latin over the course of several grades, so that upon entrance to high school, students will be well-prepared to transition smoothly and easily to a standard secondary Latin program such as Henle Latin I-IV.

After four years of high school Latin and two years of college Latin I wanted to share the benefits of Latin studies, especially an enhanced facility with grammar, composition, and vocabulary with my six home-educated children. So with standard Latin text in hand, my fourth and fifth grade sons and I fearlessly dived into the arcane mysteries of Latin declensions and conjugations one bright fall afternoon some years ago.

Our first two weeks studying first declension endings breezed by without a hitch, but our rapid progress stalled with the introduction of the second declension, and I found myself becoming worried when I saw that the third declension was coming at us fast and furious around the corner. While Son #1 is blessed with keen memory and is a quick study, his eagerness was fading, and the more placid Son #2 was sinking fast.

As superb as the textbook lessons were, I realized that the material needed to be separated into smaller components with more opportunities for practice. Being a big Yankees fan at the time, I recalled nodding in recognition when I heard the legendary Joe Torre describe his winning game plan: “Small bites,” “one step at a time.” So I created practice worksheets of declension paradigms, and comprehension and translation activities to supplement my sons’ Latin lessons.

Some years later, teaching Henle Latin at a homeschool co-op, I discovered immediately that the students were being hampered by a deficient knowledge of sentence structure and grammar. Seeing that Fr. Henle used a few examples of sentence diagrams in his lessons, I decided to introduce sentence diagramming to my Latin students and was astonished to see how quickly connections and comprehension developed with this graphic illustration of grammatical concepts. Diagramming Latin sentences on the chalkboard became the highlight of our classroom time, and diagramming worksheets went into my growing file of self-created Latin learning aids.

When one of the mothers suggested I compose my own elementary Latin program, the idea for my series became reality. Because I had used Bob Books and Little Angel Readers with my own beginning readers, the combination of small readers and workbooks seemed to be the ideal paradigm. The Bastien Piano Method was another inspiration because several books are presented at each level, breaking the material into the ideal “small bites”. Accordingly, the first level of my program, Puella Romana, introduces the first declension with a the second, Britanni et Galli, presents the second declension and the third, Civitates Europae, introduces the third declension with a reader/workbook/drill book combination, with pronunciation CD’s.

Following the model of the first ten chapters in Henle Latin I, Little Latin Readers limits the use of verbs in the first three levels to third person intransitive verbs while nominative, genitive and ablative endings of nouns are introduced. In this way, the range of endings is kept very small and more attention may be fixed upon the conceptualization of Subject-Verb agreement, along with the use of being verbs and predicate complements.  For variety’s sake, a number of prepositional phrases and the genitive of possession are also included in the primers.

On the fourth through seventh levels, starting with Italia and ending with Sancta Missa, the fourth and fifth declensions are added along with more advanced grammatical concepts. The diagramming of sentences begins in the fifth level, Vita Mariae, and continues throughout.

The workbooks at each level provide mastery of a select set of grammatical concepts, using a variety of comprehension exercises with constant review.  Recently added drill books on all levels offer more detailed grammar explanations and vocabulary enrichment. The drill books also offer practice with conventional paradigms of verbs with three persons, singular and plural and imperfect and perfect tenses in all four conjugations. Pronouns and practice with Latin cardinal numbers are also presented. For each corresponding workbook lesson, a quote from Scripture or the writings of the saints is presented for memorization in the drill book. The drill book includes diacritical markings and study of the pronunciation and accent rules so the so the student will become more adept at pronunciation.

The drill books offer the student acquaintance with a much wider spectrum of noun endings and verb forms, as well as deeper study of Latin roots and English cognates. In addition, examples of Latin quotes from a variety of sources enrich the student’s vocabulary and comprehension. Upon completion of all the planned levels of the Little Latin Readers, readers, workbooks, CD’s and drill books, students will have been introduced and have extensive practice with the first seven units of Henle Latin I.

After that point, the student is well prepared to take off like a rocket with the standard high school Latin program, having a firm grammatical foundation, having been steeped and saturated (imbutus), in the little things (parvis) in the elementary grades, much like the conventional study of English grammar which is traditionally extended through the primary and secondary levels.

 The thrill of sorting, sequencing and decoding Latin sentences has always been one of my favorite aspects of the study of Latin. Moreover, it is the language of the usus antiquior and even a basic acquaintance with Latin grammar and vocabulary, and, at the very least, familiarity with the pronunciation rules is of great benefit to those who attend the traditional Latin Mass. A knowledge of Latin is also of great benefit in enjoying the treasures of Catholic culture—Latin hymns, poems and chant, the translation of which however beautiful (cf. Adrian Fortescue’s Latin Hymns) cannot replace the piquancy of the original.

It might be, as for myself, that learning to read the words of Sacred Scripture fresh from the pen of St. Jerome, in the Biblia Sacra Vulgata, is the ultimate delight in knowing Latin, considering that the Vulgate was the most influential text in Christendom for over a millenium and was the source of inspiration, the fons et origo, for Gregorian chant.

Because of its precise definitions and capacity for nuance, Latin is also useful in the study of theology, patristics, canon law and and philosophy, the main corpus of which is preserved in that tongue. The longstanding use of Latin language by Catholic theologians and academics is the basis for the sometimes pejorative charge of “Romanitas”—that Catholic scholars were fixated on picayune details and used Latin to retain accuracy and exactitude in their formulation of theological and moral concepts, as opposed to a more relaxed, equivocal presentation.

Moreover, Latin is useful as an international language and a basis for learning Romance languages more easily: Italian, French, Spanish, Portugese and Romanian, and even English, since about 60% of English words come from Latin. Latin study will make English grammar easier to assimilate and is an excellent preparation for medical or legal careers since much of the vocabulary and technical terminology is derived from Latin.

While the study of Latin is not easy, early incremental learning, reinforced by ever-widening cycles of repetition, is the road to success: Gradatim vincimus (We win gradually, by degrees).


Go here to the Little Latin Reader website


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