Latin by the Natural Method (Vol. 1), Fr. William Most

Latin by the Natural Method, Vol. 1, by Fr. William Most (1960, 2015 Mediatrix Press) 308pp.

This is a wonderful first-year book for learning Ecclesiastical Latin. It’s got students reading Latin stories from the very first lesson! Of course many of these, naturally, are taken from Roman legends and history and the Old Testament. But there are also cameo appearances in the readings by Communist parrots, Gilgamesh (hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh), Egyptian pharaohs, George Washington, and Mary’s little lamb…

Like the Henle Latin books, it was written by a Catholic priest, published in the 1960s for Catholic high school students and seminarians, and it carries the old Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, which makes me smile.

The stories and readings are what give this book series (three volumes in total) its name. The so-called “natural method” (aka “contextual induction”) as referenced in the title essentially means lots less grammar drill, much more reading than “traditional” textbooks. It’s rather in vogue these days, and for those of you interested in a get-reading-Latin-now approach, it will be perfect. The drills and memory work of the “traditional” or “grammar/translation method” textbooks were popular from the 1700s into the 1920s and ’30s. Fr. Most wrote in the Teacher’s Manual, “If one wishes to make Latin primarily a means of mental discipline, then he should choose the ‘traditional’ method. If, however, one makes it his goal to teach students to read, write, and speak the language with fluency, then he will need to return to the basic principles of the method by which for literally a thousand years students were given that ability.” His lessons move along at a careful but steady pace, so students using this text should be attentive and ready to swiftly apprehend what is presented as they go.

In writing this text, Fr. Most was trying to get high school students reading Latin quickly, intuitively grasping its flow and nuances the way children learn their native languages. In the service of that, the text and lessons are 80% Latin reading passages gradually ascending in sophistication and complexity. (Image below of Lesson One, page one, from a scan of an early-edition, public-domain copy of the textbook.)

Each of the lessons happily does introduce new grammar concepts and relationships with English explanations (unlike Orberg’s also-excellent Lingua Latina). The book’s 81 lessons cover everything other first-year texts generally cover, from the ablative absolute to the subjunctive mood and gerundives. Every fourth lesson is a review of sorts, and they all build upon each other through the graduated readings and brief written exercises. I am very pleased to report that there are some Latin composition exercises in almost every chapter–that is, turning English sentences into Latin ones. (I regard Latin composition as essential to actually achieving understanding of and proficiency with Latin.)

It’s a very complete first-year book, however: there is no pronunciation guide in it. (Originally the book was part of a program accompanied by a set of recordings to play along with the text.) My post with Church Latin pronunciation here can help you figure out how to say the words. There is a short grammatical appendix as well as both English-Latin and Latin-English vocabulary listings at the back.

To Sum Up: For the autodidact or highly motivated and disciplined older homeschooled student, this would likely be a good introductory text. Answers to the written exercises are in a separate teacher’s manual (see below). This book does move steadily onward without lots of backtracking, so students should be ready to attend to and retain what is presented in each lesson. (Absolute newbies to Latin would be well-served to get introduced to some of Latin’s ways with Linney’s Getting Started with Latin before proceeding with this book.) Latin by the Natural Method is one of the better introductions to Church Latin for adults and older students that I have yet seen: accessible, enjoyable, and thorough.

How to get it?

FREE: All three volumes of Fr. Most’s Latin by the Natural Method and the Teacher’s Manual are available for free download here. PURCHASE: Mediatrix Press has made lovely re-typeset editions of Vols. 1 (top image in this post!) and 2 and the Teacher’s Manual. Nota bene: the table of contents in the reprint is in Latin–print a copy of the original edition’s English ToC and paperclip it in to save your sanity!

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P.S. Grammar Technicalities, etc. Regarding grammar stuff: Fr. Most does some things a little differently in this book. Standard, traditional Latin dictionary form is eschewed in hopes of providing students with “less memory work and more information”. He arranges word form listings with differences from the standard “four principal parts” for verbs and the nominative/genitive listing of nouns. Also, he calls the genitive case possessive and the accusative case objective, still listing them in American case order. These differences should present no problem to students working with traditional texts either previously or simultaneously!

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