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Grammar or reading: which type of Latin or Greek textbook is better?

If ever you read Amazon reviews of Latin and Ancient Greek textbooks, you’ll find some very lively discussions on the relative merits of grammar- and readings-based textbooks. (If ‘lively’ is the right word to use!)

In this video, I outline the main differences between these two kinds of textbooks, and weigh in on the pros and cons of each.

In my experience, both types of textbook have complementary advantages – grammar textbooks let you advance faster, but readings textbooks give you more time to reinforce reading proficiency. What kinds of textbooks did you learn from? Which did you prefer, and why?


About Carla Schodde

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child." - Cicero, Ad Brutum. Carla recently finished first-class Honours in Classics, writing a thesis on accusations of impiety among philosophers in Greece and Republican Rome. She loves ancient art, ancient history, theology and pretty much anything to do with the Romans.

6 responses »

  1. The eternal question. I learned Latin from Jenney, learned it better by teaching it from Wheelock, really admire Learn to Read Latin (but would never teach high school from it), and currently use Latin for the New Millennium (which is ok). As for Greek, I learned out of Chase and Philips, then Luschnig, then Hansen and Quinn (it took me a while to get it all down), love Mastronarde (but again, would never teach from it), and I currently teach from Athenaze (which is ok). I have heard excellent things about the Greek reading text called JACT. As a somewhat shameless plug, my husband in his frustration over reading method versus grammar method texts decided to write his own, a purely digital text for iPad (Liber Digitalis: Latin I) found in the iTunes store.

    • Good stuff, you mentioned a lot of Latin textbooks that I haven’t had the chance to look at. For Greek at the moment I’ve been reading from Athenaze and JACT. Mostly I prefer reading from Athenaze, but only for the picky reason that I find JACT’s choice of Greek font a little weird and its running vocabulary is more annoying to navigate than Athenaze’s.

  2. Robert Patrick

    Students are actually gaining quite different things from each approach, and they are not comparable. As a profession, we really need to change the question from which is better (grammar or reading), to what does the normal and not normal learner stand to gain from each approach.

  3. As far as Greek goes, I’ve used Bill Mounce’s Basics for Biblical Greek and supplemented David Allan Black where needed. Mounce’s explanation of morphology was helpful to someone who doesn’t have a Greek background. As a doctoral student I’ve used A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins. Despite being VERY dense and concise, it was a helpful introduction to Latin that slowly became more difficult, and made me fall in love with it. It’s what I use to teach as well. Plenty of drills and exercises. No fluff. For a well-seasoned student I would recommend Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar. As linguistic approaches change/evolve and develop over time, new grammar and editions will be needed. I assume there’ll never be one stand-alone text that defines every approach.

  4. mine are from a self learner’s point of view,

    I learn greek first before latin, using two of the popular grammar-textbook, but in the end I still do not have enough confidence even to tackle St.John’s, St Mark’s or Genesis LXX paragraphs that is said to be of the easiest greek.. then I’m using JACT for a while, and now after finishing the first 15 chapter of JACT, I can read the easy gospel easier then before..

    what I observe is the grammar-textbook, even though they teach us about the language well, seldom they train us to tackle a longer connecting paragraph.. they tend to drill us with a shorter sentence. but that is understandable so that they dont scare the beginner

    next, for Latin, after get the basic concept of how an inflected language work, then I directly choose Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina, on the reading-method-camp. I have an impression that to memorize latin declension from table alone is a hard labour, because the declension for the cases seems look alike, e.g the ī can be either genitive singular or nominative plural for the second declension masculine noun, and many others. but an appropriate reading method can easily remove that obstacle..

    so I think for an absolute beginner especially those having no teacher, grammar-textbook is better choice,but after a while, we need a reading drill to pay what the grammar alone lacking…


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