The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice




I do not propose in this place to enter upon controversy, but simply, so far as I can, to describe facts. The Direct Method indeed, in principle, is no longer on its defence. It is, and has been for a generation past, accepted by all competent teachers who are free to speak, both in England and abroad, as the right way to teach modern languages ; and that too, not only for the purpose of every-day converse, but to understand and enjoy the literature. The method, at first devised as a practical expedient for material ends, has proved to be the best means for spiritual ends ; and for once in a way, the man with the muck-rake has raked up a diamond. Where lack of courage, or lack of encouragement, or other hindrances have made it impracticable, the results of an imitation of the current classical method are so bad, that they might warn all men against that system itself, were it not that the human eye is capable of beholding all things and yet seeing nothing.

Nor can it any longer be denied, that the method may be applied to the teaching of classics. It is clearly possible, because it has been done, and is being done. I is clear that it is done without prejudice to exact scholarship, since boys so trained more than hold their own in examinations which have been devised to test a different method altogether ; if the conditions were reversed, a still more striking tale might be told. And there are advantages, which the reader may divine from this book. I will only add finally, that the current method is not older than the nineteenth century. It is the offspring of German scholarship, which seeks to learn everything about something rather than the thing itself : the traditional English method, which lasted well beyond the eighteenth century, was to use the Latin language in speech.

The Direct Method is really one phase of a large principle, that of appealing to the instincts, feelings, and desires of the learner, and using them for the purpose of training : the principle which has given us so great an improvement within living memory in the teaching of English, of literature, and history, and has consciously used the body in training the mind. This is a movement which will yet rescue our elementary schools from their ugliness and their pedantry, and will make them breeding-places of Englishmen. It is also reinforced by psychology and by common sense ; for both these great philosophies agree, that you arrive at your goal the sooner if there are no impediments between ; nor less by commerce, which shows us that the profit is greater if there are no middlemen. As applied to the teaching of languages, the Direct Method means that the sounds of the foreign tongue are associated directly with a thing, or an act, or a thought, without the intervention of an English word and that these associations are grouped by a method, so as to make the learning of the language as easy and as speedy as possible, and are not brought in at haphazard, as they are when children learn their own language in the nursery. It follows that speaking precedes writing, and that the sentence (not the word) is the unit. The method is largely oral, but not wholly so : on the contrary, all the practices of indirect methods are used, but not at the same time, nor in the same proportion. Language is an art, and we proceed from art to science, from idiom to accuracy; the idiom, the feeling for a language, is easily taught thus, and accuracy can wait. To begin with an attempt at exactitude is to make idiom always difficult, and with mediocre minds, impossible to obtain in the end. It will be seen that four senses are used to make the impression : hearing first, then speech, then touch (when the new matter is written), and lastly sight. We may even enlist taste on occasion. The simpler the vocabulary, the easier it is to practise accidence and syntax : one thing is done at a time. The process is : first imitation, next imitation with a difference, lastly the use of what has been so learnt.

How these principles are applied will be clear from the later parts of this book; but I wish to call attention here to a few matters of importance.

  1. Every boy is expected to ask whenever he does not understand. He is blamed, not for ignorance, but for pretending to knowledge. This practice is a great help to the master in later years, when the literature is being studied. It also creates a conscience in these matters.

  1. New work is always done in school, the homework being either revision or some test. This makes the unlawful use of cribs impossible, for no crib can anticipate the master's questions. It also becomes impossible for any boy to get some one else to do his work for him.

  1. Discipline causes no trouble, when all are interested.

  1. Progress is quick, since the whole Latin lesson is filled with practice in Latin. The work done is not measured by the text, which may be only a few lines at first ; for it includes drill and discussion, all in Latin, which are of many times that measure. In the Sixth Form, large masses of text are read, besides the discussion, which is now less in proportion yet still considerable. But the saving of time allows every one to be thoroughly trained in French and German, in English and history, without neglecting Mathematics or Natural Science.

But that which most clearly shows the benefits of the Direct Method is the spirit which is induces in those who learn. The very beginnings, which are otherwise so apt to be dull and tiresome, are here full of pleasure and novelty ; and it is impossible to, overstate the importance of first impressions. Quintilian, who is full of wise advice on the teaching of language, saw this when he said (Inst. Or. I, i, 20),

"id in primis cavere oportebit, ne studia, qui amare nondum potest, oderit, et amaritudinem semel perceptam etiam ultra rudes annos reformidet. Lusus hic sit"

— and what better description could be given of the Direct Method? First impressions are lasting. And let no one suppose that the learner's happiness implies that his mind is not working. On the contrary : there is no more potent method than this for gaining and keeping the attention, which is only another way of saying that the mind is kept at work. This is what strikes a visitor first and most strongly, that each boy is obviously full of keen attention, ready and eager to take his part. "The labour we delight in physics pain": it does not cease to be labour, if it becomes a delight, but work willingly done is well done. No less work is done in a morris dance than on the treadmill, but it has a different effect on the human spirit. I suggest to those who urge the moral benefit which a boy is supposed to receive, by doing what he hates to do, whether they are not really covering up the secret, that they are unable to make his work interesting. I wonder whether they apply this gloomy doctrine to themselves.

Those who wish to test the accuracy of our description are free to do so. Those who are satisfied with things as they are, naturally will not ; but if they do not, they are not free to express any opinion. But how many are really satisfied, ex animi sententia, that the best is being done, I do not say for the picked boys of the Sixth who do well under any system, but for the moderates, the humdrum, the dull, who make nine-tenths of a school ? Let them see to it. Those again who wish to understand the philosophic reasons for the direct method may be referred to a Report drawn up in 1913 by Prof. Archer, of Bangor, and Mr. L. de Glehn.

  • Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching: Report of the Third Summer School held at Cambridge, September 2-12 1913. (The Secretary, 45 High Street, Old Headington Oxford.)

If any wish to see how the same principles have been evolved through experience by a very intelligent but quite untrained teacher, they find what they seek in Miss Sullivan's notes on her teaching of Helen Keller, a child deaf, dumb, and blind, whose miraculous story is most illuminating for the teacher of languages.

  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, with an account of her education (Hodder & Stoughton, 1908) e.g. pp. 315, 317, 318, 321, 324, 340, 341, 343, 351, 359, 361, 365, 375, 377, 379, 381.

Latin on the Direct Method

W.H.D. Rouse and R.B. Appleton

Latin on the Direct Method - Rouse and Appleton 1925
The Direct Method applied to Latin
Linguaphone handbook for teachers - Rouse