4 Ways to Teach Your Children Latin
Simple tips help parents incorporate Church language into the domestic church.
“The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself” (Dominicae Cenae, 10).
Teaching Latin to your children can be an invaluable gift to their souls and minds, but where does one begin?
Whether or not you will ever undertake a formal Latin curriculum as part of a classical education, these are some simple ways you can incorporate Latin into your child’s life — even from a young age — to reap the fruits of the language that Pope St. John Paul II called “an expression of the unity of the Church” and a language which “through its dignified character elicit(s) a profound sense of the Eucharistic Mystery” (Dominicae Cenae, 10).
1. Begin with the Sign of the Cross. Why not begin your incorporation of Latin in the home in the way most Catholic prayers begin? Teaching the Sign of the Cross in Latin is quite simple and picked up quickly by even very young children. Remember, you pronounce every sound when you read and speak in Latin. Looking up and perhaps printing a pronunciation guide can be helpful in carrying out all of these steps and familiarizing yourself with the basic sounds of the language.
Signum Crucis (Sign of the Cross)
In nomine Patris,
et Spiritus Sancti.
2. Learn other Latin prayers. After learning the Sign of the Cross, start introducing other Latin prayers to your children. A great resource to help you in this effort is my new book, Oremus: Latin Prayers for Young Catholics (TAN Books, 2022). In Oremus — Latin for “Let us pray” — prayers from the Mass and other beloved Catholic prayers, in both English and Latin, are accompanied by master copies of some of the Church's most beautiful artwork. Young Catholics can learn to pray various Latin prayers, especially from the Mass and the Rosary, while exploring, reflecting on and being inspired by studies of masterpieces of Christian art, from Fra Angelico to Bouguereau. My kids are so taken in by the artwork in this book that they happily linger on the pages as they learn the prayers that accompany them. This book is such a helpful resource for young Catholics to use both at Mass and at home.
3. Learn and sing Latin hymns together. Learning to sing the profound, moving melodies of various Latin hymns is a delight for all ages. There is nothing like hearing children reverently intone the Salve Regina after Holy Communion at Mass or Evening Prayer at home. Singing hymns in Latin is not only a great way to learn the Latin language, but it is also a great study in the ancient and timeless music of the Church. Here are a few additional selections to get you started:
Ave Maria: The Hail Mary is a beautiful hymn to learn with children, who likely already know and love the English prayer by heart.
Adoro Te Devote: This hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, focusing on the Blessed Sacrament and written by the great St. Thomas Aquinas, is a lovely selection to learn together while meditating on the powerful lyrics.
Regina Caeli: This hymn is helpfully short, but striking. Learn it in time to sing it together during Eastertide. Its popularity ranks right up there with the Salve Regina.
Veni, Creator Spiritus: This famous hymn is ideal to learn for Pentecost but moving to prayerfully sing any time of year. “Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blessed, and in our souls take up thy rest …”
A huge help to praying and singing in Latin is listening to Latin prayers and hymns. You can follow along with a Latin missal or some of the Latin prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours (there is a daily podcast version here), as well as play Latin chants and hymns in the home to familiarize the family with professional recordings from the Church’s immense treasury of prayers and sacred music. Hopefully, you are among the blessed Catholics to hear some of these Latin hymns and prayers in the liturgy at your parish.
4. Dive into a Latin curriculum. If you’re really serious about learning Latin in a more in-depth, focused and academic way with your children, you can absolutely use a formal curriculum. It can only enhance your knowledge of and appreciation for the Latin language, given time and patience. Here are some Latin programs and reviews to consider.
I hope these steps help you develop a greater appreciation for the use of Latin in the life of the Church and in the prayer of the home, as well as a greater love for the beauty and spiritual growth that the Latin language can bring to the faithful.