Review of ‘The Liturgical Year’ (1870) as a Latin Learning Material

Written by Dyami Millarson

The 1870 book titled The Liturgical Year by Prosper Guéranger (also available in Google Books), which was translated to English by Laurence Shepherd, contains Latin texts with their English translations. The Latin used in the liturgical texts is relatively simple by Classical Latin standards, which is good news if you want to practise relatively simple Latin. I would estimate the texts to be within the level of the intermediate (B1-B2) learner’s range. The texts may, however, be too complex for elementary and pre-intermediate Latin learners.

A pre-intermediate (A1-A2) Latin learner may, nevertheless, pick up the book if he is up for the challenge; the texts contained in the book are indeed a good basis for improving one’s level of Latin. After all, there are translations which might help the beginner decipher the Latin texts and if he makes a careful study of the grammar and vocabulary of the text by taking notes on paper or in his mind, he should be able to make considerable progress.

If one can understand all of the grammar and vocabulary of the texts of this book and if one is able to apply all that information to building one’s own sentences and writing them down or using them in conversation, then I would estimate one’s level of Latin to be intermediate (B1) or upper-intermediate (B2), depending on the extent to which one is able to adopt information from the texts of the book for expressing oneself in Latin.

The British Council defines B1 as being able to “understand the main points of clear texts on familiar topics” and “produce simple, organised texts about familiar topics” among other things (see here). The British Council defines B2 as being able to “understand the main ideas of complex texts on concrete or abstract topics, including some technical discussions” and “produce clear, detailed text on many subjects and explain a complex viewpoint on a topic, including expressing advantages and disadvantages” (see here). B1 is attainable if one understands all the grammar and vocabulary, but B2 will be harder to attain as it demands that one get very creative with all the information obtained from the book.

A drawback of the book for language learners is its limited subject matter. The texts do not cover a whole lot of matters, so learners are limited to a few familiar topics (B1). If one uses the book to train one’s grammar and vocabulary and one’s aim is to understand all grammar and vocabulary of the Latin texts in the book in order to model one’s sentences after them, one will be able to get pretty far with the book, as one will certainly be able to exceed the elementary and pre-intermediate levels of Latin learning.

It all comes down to whether one can make the most of the Latin materials of the book. What I estimate to be the upper limit of what is attainable with the book in terms of reaching a certain Latin learning level is B2, because if one is able to use all the linguistic information from the book and apply that to different situations very creatively, one can probably make it to B2, but it will be a tall order. It will certainly help if one already knows vocabulary relating to different situations and this book is just used as a way to train one’s Latin comprehension skills and as a model for intermediate Latin sentences; that might make this book the learning material you could use for getting to level B2.

I have so far considered what you could get out of this book if you do not use other reading materials, but if you combine this book with other Latin reading materials, then it can serve as part of your programme to reach B2 or higher. Having a variety of reading topics in Latin to increase your familiarity with a variety of topics is always useful, and will certainly help to get you to B2 level of Latin reading, writing and speaking. I do, nevertheless, not underestimate the struggles you will face; it will be certainly not be as easy as falling off a log.

Additional drawbacks – apart from the limited subject matter of the Latin texts of the book – are the facts that the book does not use macrons to indicate Latin vowel lengths, which could be of significant use to Latin learners, and that the book uses Church Latin, which is different from Classical Latin. Nevertheless, it could also be seen as an advantage that the book is Church Latin, since it means the language is relatively simplified. One could opt to use Church Latin texts to aid one in achieving B2, and one might perceive Classical Latin as generally best fit for Latin advanced learning and Latin proficiency (the C1 and C2 levels of Latin learning).

So, my conclusion is that one can get very far with the Latin texts of The Liturgical Year if one is determined to make the best use of it, and if one wishes to get to level B2 purely by relying on this book, then it will require significant creativity and it may help to already know some vocabulary relating to different topics. However, if one wishes to achieve a B2 Latin level with this book, it might be the most helpful to combine it with other learning materials and to use this book as one of many ways to familiarise oneself with a variety of topics.

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