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A Review of ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock’s Latin’

written by: John Garger • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 4/5/2012
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Self-learning Latin can be a difficult task for English speakers. Learn whether this comprehensive guide can help you work through some of Latin’s rough spots.

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    Latin can be a difficult language for the self-learners. Latin language software, such as version 3 of Rosetta Stone Latin, is sparse and expensive and not everyone has a university classics department nearby to go to for learning the language.

    Wheelock’s Latin is some people’s only opportunity to learn Latin on their own. Although a celebrated program of Latin study, it is impossible for any Latin program to address the strengths and weaknesses of everyone attempting to learn the language on their own.

    A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock’s Latin by Dale A. Grote is a third-party publication targeted toward those self-learners who need some help getting over some of Latin’s rough spots. Occasionally, Wheelock’s Latin program provides little extraneous information on a topic leaving the student needing a bit more guidance before mastering a concept. This book fills the gap normally filled by a teacher.

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    Organization of the Book

    The original Wheelock’s Latin text is split into 40 chapters, each covering a small part of the language so that students can master one or a few concepts at a time. This organization of the program is what makes Wheelock’s Latin so accessible for the self-learner.

    A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock’s Latin is organized similarly, stepping the student through Wheelock’s Latin in parallel with the progression of the main text. This guide also contains 40 chapters corresponding to each of the chapters of the main text.

    One of the best ways to attack the program is to first read the chapter of the main text and then immediately turn to this guide before tackling the exercises at the chapter’s end. This way, any gaps in the original text will be filled in before attempting to apply the newly attained knowledge of the language.

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    Completeness of the Guide

    As mentioned above, the 40 chapters in this guide correspond to the 40 chapters in the main Wheelock’s Latin text. What really makes this guide useful is its completeness as a tool that fills in the gaps left by the main text.

    One of the difficulties of learning Latin on your own is the absence of a teacher to help you over the rough spots or to target your individual weaknesses and strengths with language in general. For example, in chapter one of the guide, the author starts with a discussion of the basics of verbs without the context of any particular language. This section is there to help the Latin student with an understanding of how verbs function in sentences in both Latin and English. Later on in the chapter, the author starts applying this knowledge specifically to Latin verbs and provides several exercises to reinforce the lessons from the main text.

    One of my favorite treatments of Latin in this guide is the introduction of third-declension nouns and i-stem nouns that often give Latin students trouble. In chapter fourteen, Grote gently walks the student through the differences between third-declension nouns and third-declension i-stem nouns and then provides several exercises to help the student learn the different forms of each.

    As a guide, this book makes few assumptions about the knowledge of the learner. This is an invaluable resource for the Latin student who may need a refresher course on some of the basics of language.

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    Prose

    Unlike the stoic prose of the main Wheelock text, this guide’s voice is a bit gentler with a slant toward practicality and away from the academic. The efficient voice of the main text can be dry at times. This guide revitalizes the leaner’s spirits during a difficult lesson by providing a walk-through approach rather than one that is purely pedagogically efficient.

    For example, in chapter 17, Latin relative pronouns are introduced in both the main text and this guide. This is usually a particularly difficult lesson in any Latin program. The guide, however, gives rich examples and walks the student through both English and Latin examples. Later in the chapter, exercises help reiterate what the student learned in the main text and in the guide making it more certain that the lesson is remembered in future chapters.

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    Overall Impressions

    This guide is a must-have for self-learners of Latin using the Wheelock program. It fills in the gaps where a teacher would if one were present. The additional appraisals and exercises that go beyond the main text are not only useful, they make it more certain that concepts will not be forgotten in subsequent chapters. The prose of the guide is gentler and more readable than the main text and makes few assumptions about the student’s knowledge of English, Latin, or language in general. Self-learners of the Latin language need this book on the shelf to avoid discouragement during particularly difficult lessons.

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