Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.27

Bolchazy on Buller on Artes Latinae.   Response to 1999.06.22

Response by Marie C. Bolchazy, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

As the publisher of the Artes Latinae Latin course, I am responding to Jeff Buller's review of the Level I course.

First of all, the editors at Bolchazy-Carducci and I are gratified that Professor Buller noted several strengths of Artes Latinae. In his review, Professor Buller indicated the features he considered attractive. For example, he noted in detail his favorable reaction to the inclusion on our CD-ROM of the Restored Classical pronunciation recorded by Robert and Barbara Sonkowsky. He pointed out that this system of pronunciation is based upon the best current knowledge of how Latin was actually pronounced in the late Republic and early Empire; he also detailed several advantages to the use of this pronunciation early in the study of Latin:

1. "prepares students from the very beginning of their study for the reading of Latin poetry"
2. "assists students in understanding how modern Romance languages developed out of Latin"
3. "develops a student's knowledge of Latin poetry and linguistic history right from the start"

In addition, he felt that the variety of pronunciation options available was possibly the best feature of this CD-ROM. As well as the Restored Classical pronunciation, learners can select a traditional classical or an ecclesiastical pronunciation. He noted that "this flexibility is a great advantage, allowing students to select the pronunciation that is most appropriate for their particular objective." We believe that Professor Buller gave careful consideration of the pronunciation options offered in Artes Latinae.

On the other hand, many will consider other aspects of his review to be superficial and misguided. For example, he believes that the pacing is too slow. I need to point out that the course is self-paced. By definition, a self-paced course can be neither too slow nor too fast. Students move as quickly as they want and may skip sections if they choose. However, for students who need the reinforcement, it is available. The self-pacing feature of Artes Latinae is one of its strengths.

Buller even criticized the fact that at the beginning of Unit 5, there is a ten-frame review of the instructions that were given in Unit 1 on how to use the program. A sequence of ten frames is not much -- about one printed page. Users who know everything in Unit 1 perfectly can skip it. Why is this a problem? In fact, I suspect that if there were no review, there would be quite a few users complaining about that.

Ironically, Buller criticized the fact that when students miss an answer, they are not sent back to a section that gives an appropriate review. First of all, students miss very few answers. Second, review sections are systematically built into the course. Third, students are tested at the end of each unit to be sure they have mastered the content. (A test booklet with teacher's manual is a part of the CD-ROM package.) If students miss anything on a unit test, they are encouraged to go back to the appropriate section of the text for review.

Buller also believes that younger students would weary of the program in a very short time. We have empirical evidence to the contrary. Over 100,000 learners, many as young as nine years old, have used or are currently using Artes Latinae successfully. Indeed, the course is success oriented. Learners are rewarded at every step by the knowledge that they are completing their work correctly. They get immediate reinforcement. Learning theory has documented extensively the value of reinforcement for learning. There was never an attempt to compete for learner interest by modeling the course after a Nintendo game. The fact that students are learning Latin and while making so few mistakes as they work through the course keeps them interested.

Having a success orientation was a goal from the very beginning when Encyclopaedia Britannica first planned to publish Artes Latinae. During the development phase, field testing, a part of the development overlooked by so many publishers, was conducted extensively. Professor Waldo Sweet, the major author, personally taught all four versions at the junior high and college level, with constant monitoring in the language lab. Error rate and proficiency scores were used to rewrite the course. The second and third versions were also tested in thirteen junior high school classes. In two of those classes, field test error rates and proficiency scores were fed back to the author. In the other classes, the feedback consisted chiefly of reports of attitudes of students and teachers. The original published version is essentially the fourth revision, tested by thirteen pilot teachers in eleven institutions throughout the country from junior high to college level.

Buller also criticized the linear approach used. For students learning a language on their own, a linear approach may be the only viable choice. Artes Latinae was written, tested, rewritten, and tested until the desired level of efficiency was reached. This process compelled Sweet to organize his material far more carefully than in an ordinary text. This systematic organization of the subject matter was then presented in a way which testing had demonstrated to be effective.

The carefully constructed linear approach in Artes Latinae has enabled learners to learn Latin largely on their own. For this reason, it remains highly popular with home school families and with Medieval or Renaissance studies graduate students who need Latin as a prerequisite course. Let us consider a fundamental question: for those who wish to learn Latin on their own, where else can they turn?

In addition, Buller criticized the program for giving "the impression that learning Latin is merely a matter of learning stock sentences and completing drills on forms." Isn't this what is called practice? How does one learn Latin (or, for that matter, anything at all) without considerable (yes, sometimes repetitive) practice?

However, the course does go beyond the learning of stock sentences and completing drills. Lectiones Primae (the graded reader), which is a part of the CD-ROM package, has lengthier pieces and is designed to help the student stretch his/her learning. Buller claims that Artes Latinae "rarely rises above the level of memorization," but fails to even mention the diverse material to be found Lectiones Primae. Its purpose is to enrich and supplement Level I and to give students the opportunity to improve and have fun with their newly acquired Latin skills. Far from mere "endless repetitions," it includes selections (poems, stories in prose, and individual sentences) drawn from classical, Medieval, and Renaissance sources. Subject matter is similarly diverse, ranging from history to mythology to everyday Roman culture, but one would never know that from reading Buller's review. Illustrations, English derivatives, and new vocabulary lists are also provided to aid comprehension and further enrich the program's instructive value.

Lectiones Primae also includes an extensive, easily accessible vocabulary in the back of the book. I do not understand why Buller claims that "students will lack a glossary until they are able to use Lectiones Primae." Even if students have not started working in Lectiones Primae, there is certainly nothing stopping them from simply looking up a word in the vocabulary, which is arranged in a traditional dictionary-style format.

The course is built around basic sentences, which are sententiae gathered from various centuries to give the student some idea of the vast scope of Latin literature. These sententiae not only illustrate all points of structure but serve as the basis for the pattern practices. The narrative readings (in Lectiones Primae) in many cases parallel the basic sentences in language or thought. The course uses an approach based on the findings of structural linguistics as developed by Charles C. Fries. The following key underlying assumptions of the structural approach used in Artes Latinae will provide some insight regarding the course: (1) Students will learn Latin by hearing it, speaking it, reading it, and writing it, not by talking about it. (2) Students should avoid translating. If the student can answer the questions in Latin, he knows the meaning of the passage. (3) Students should proceed through the course as fast as their ability allows. No single lesson by itself can teach any item of structure; students will learn it only after they have seen it in contrast with all other structures.

Another criticism of Buller's is that Artes Latinae does not allow for a comparison of the sound waves generated by the teacher and the student. This feature is not quite as useful as Buller seems to think. First, it should be noted that graphs of the user's pronunciation can never be exactly the same as that of a teacher, and that the user can try only to imitate the same general structure. This difference is especially marked when, for example, the voice of the program is male and the user is female. The user also needs to be careful to use the record button only when he/she is speaking -- a delicate and often frustrating process. This is because pauses or hesitations are interpreted by the program as (incorrect) attempts at pronunciation. This is perhaps the weakest part of the speech analysis, because it is often quite difficult to have one's pronunciation correspond exactly with that of the teacher. For example, a user may be pronouncing non. Were he to pause slightly after beginning to record, or speak more slowly than the teacher, it would analyze his n as the teacher's o. He will be told he is wrong, when in fact he just was not speaking at the strictly "correct" time. Precise timing can solve this problem, but it often takes time and practice to correctly align each word.

One of the final points I am making is that Buller's review differs substantially from other reviews. Artes Latinae, because of its comprehensiveness, does not lend itself to a superficial review. A thorough review done by specialists in pedagogy and published as a pamphlet, states in summary: The program [Artes Latinae] is a life saver." (Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)

In the last review of our CD-rom package. Professor John Gruber-Miller's review was published online in May of 1999 in the CALICO Review. He opened with a ringing endorsement:

Even to this day, it (Artes Latinae) offers more resources than nearly every other Latin textbook on the market. The course was radical in its day, and what is more amazing, is its continuing usefulness for Latin students today, especially those who wish to learn Latin on their own without the presence of a teacher.

Following is the summary paragraph from that same review:

In short, although the CD version of the program may not be as robust as it could be, Artes Latinae has a proven track record of helping students from middle school through graduate school learn Latin on their own. It is especially well-suited for situations where there is not a Latin teacher available, such as a home-school situation or a school district that cannot afford to hire a Latin teacher. It integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing at the sentence level, and offers a wide range of materials, aural and visual. In addition, the publisher offers a customer service hotline for any questions about the program, and maintains an extensive list of Latinists who are willing to assist learners with questions not covered by the program. Artes Latinae therefore will be especially successful with students who like to learn in a linear fashion, proceeding step-by-step to a knowledge of Latin grammar through an inductive process with clear explanations and plenty of practice. With the addition of the Reader, Lectiones Primae, it may lead students to become proficient readers of Latin.
Not without reason has Artes Latinae been used in the famous Philadelphia Latin program under Dr. Rudolph Masciantonio who states that this series is "The single most important contribution to the area of Latin pedagogy of the 20th century."

Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers receives very few complaints about Artes Latinae from its customers. Typically, the company receives testimonials such as the following:

My son ... (10th grader), has just taken the final test of Level 1 and scored in the low nineties. I'm very happy with the results as he has directed his own studies. Artes Latinae is an exceptional program.
-- Catherine Gardner, Henderson KY, Spring 1994

We love your Artes Latinae course, My son is 12 and is beginning Level I Unit 7... The structure of the program is such that he always feels rewarded. I like it because I know he is really learning the material. He never complains about doing Latin. I wish all language courses were arranged like this one.
-- Cathy Becker, Cambridge City IN, Spring 1994

My university degree was in classical Chinese with a strong minor in linguistics... I must say that of all the elementary or secondary educational materials I have seen, whether teaching English or foreign languages, Artes Latinae has the clearest and most knowledgeable explanations of the structure of language... A child who has studied Latin with this program will not only improve his English vocabulary, SAT scores, and so on, he may also find Linguistics 101 in university covers somewhat familiar ground.
-- Catherine Pratt Huang, Ontario, Canada, Winter 1994

I am a home-schooled eighth-grader studying Latin as one of my basic subjects, and I am writing to thank you for your excellent Latin materials and for your help in developing a Latin curriculum for me. During my first two years of Latin, I studied Artes Latinae Levels I and II, Lectiones Primae, and Lectiones Secundae [the graded readers included in the series]. For my third year, upon your recommendation, I studied Bennett's New Latin Grammar and read Caesar's Invasion of Britain and Livy's Rome and Her Kings. These materials have helped me to learn Latin without other instruction, and I received a gold medal in the Latin III Prose test that I took as part of the American Classical League-National Junior Classical League National Latin Exam. I plan to study a fourth year of Latin.
-- Jeffrey Moss, Morgantown WV, Summer 1995

I have two sons who started using [Artes Latinae] four years ago. They were 11 & 13 at the time... We have thoroughly enjoyed Artes Latinae and it has definitely become a part of the family as my younger son is always using Latin to capture a moment or describe a family situation. Thanks for a great course.
--Sharon Blalack, Rio Dell CA, Summer 1995

It seems that since we have been using your Latin program and we receive the Home Schoolers' Latin Network that we should share our good news! Our eighth grade daughter received a "magna cum laude" award from the American Classical League and National Junior Classical League for her outstanding performance on the National Latin Exam.
--Kathleen Kustusch, Summer 1996

I found [Artes Latinae] extremely satisfying am glad to recommend the course to anyone. Indeed, I found it every bit as challenging as law school, and just as rewarding. I also intend that my two daughters take the course as part of their home-school curriculum.
-- Kurt M. Simmons, Attorney at Law, Spring 1997

Thank you so much for the wonderful Artes Latinae program. Today my children and I took the test for Unit 15 and all achieved in the 90%s... I am so pleased with what we have learned. P.S. It would be helpful to have programs of similar style for other languages.
-- Elaine Sandoe, Michigan, Spring 1997

I have been completely satisfied with the curriculum, but our 12 year old wishes she could find a Spanish curriculum set up just like it! By the way, [our daughter] is 17 years old, a senior this fall, and scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT! She intends to continue with Latin throughout this coming year.
-- Wilma Matsko, New York, Summer 1997

The Artes Latinae program is our Golden Milestone. It is our "Forum Roman," the center of our Empire from which we travel our own "Via Appia." It provides the daily practice and structure we need to speak, read, and understand the Latin language. We often take side roads or diversions, always return to the continuing illumination offered by the consistency and humor of Artes Latinae.
-- Linda and Asa Embree , Winter 1997

I have just completed the Artes Latinae II course. It was an interesting course and it helped me very much with my foreign language skills. I enjoyed reading De Bello Gallico, Book I... I am even thinking of continuing my study of Latin in college.
-- Rachel Fry, Spring 1999

While we can appreciate that there will be differences of opinion about pedagogical issues, research and experience have documented that Artes Latinae is an effective Latin course.

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