Advice for Learning Latin?

I am considering studying the Latin language. It seems quite daunting, primarily due to the inflected grammar which is obviously so different from English, the only language I currently know. My only other concern is that very few people speak it, which limits communicative possibilities, but I very much like several things about it, especially that it’s so phonetic, it’s rich long history, the fact that it is mostly disconnected from the biases of contemporary cultures and politics, and of course that it is the language of the Church, as well as science and, one could also say, history.

Can anyone give me any advice for the best way to learn Latin, by self-tutelage, especially dealing with the heavy inflection? Also, is it worth learning Latin today, especially as it is rarely used socially? Thank you and God bless. :slight_smile:

I think it is worth learning Latin, but I also think all Catholics should learn it so we will have a common language.

The advantage of learning it first is that by comparison, almost every other language will seem easy. The disadvantage is, as you pointed out, the lack of opportunities to use it, and unfortunately using the language you’re learning is very helpful in learning it.

There is, or at least used to be, a “radio” station online in Latin. And there is a lot to read in Latin.

I like the Lingua Latina method, because it teaches Latin in a way that it’s like a language and not a code. OTOH, learning like a code may be the more efficient way to learn it, and then go back and do Lingua Latina.

Apparently the best book for the code method is Wheelock’s, which has a lot of editions, so you can get a later but not the very latest edition for very little money along with supporting books. It is very well-organized.

The Hieronymous monks in Florida also have a great-looking program, but I have not used it. It has tapes to support the aural part of learning a language.

As to hints: 1. Think in the language as much as possible. 2. Language learning isvery hard work; there are no short-cuts. Prepare to slog. 3. Investigate techniques and use as many as possible without going nuts. 4. Pose and answer a lot of questions from the beginning. 5. Use (writing) the language as much as possible. 6. Do not be afraid to make a fool of your self venturing out to use the language with others (applies more tk modern languages than to Latin).

I will try later on to link to some of what I mentioned here.

I second the vote for Wheelock’s.

I would do the following first:
Study the vocabulary for each chapter using the “Learn” mode on Quizlet (a free website online), once every day until you can get it 100% correct on the first try.

Then cover the chapter.

Also, don’t forget to memorize the dictionary entry form of each word (verbs with all principal parts, nouns with nominative, genitive and gender)

You also might look into the Lukeion project, which offers excellent online courses in Latin using Wheelocks, geared to high school and above (I studied as an adult with them).

Alcuin, take a look at this online Latin course.

One often overlooked aspect of the language seems to be proper Italianate vowel pronunciation. I know plenty of people who have studied or taught Latin (heck even priests) for years but still haven’t got an authentic pronunciation and it ruins the flow and beauty. I see you’re American; only thing I can suggest is listening to mid century American singers in Italian opera or the Mass settings in Latin of the classic composers as I know my years of listening to this sort of music is my foundation for pronunciation; for example there are places in Latin where a “c” in a word may be pronounced “ch” yet other places where it may not be. I cannot explain when or why but for me at this point it comes out naturally when singing or speaking. From just knowing that music along with attending the Latin Mass for a few years and being in the schola a year I can read aloud Latin all day long with good pronunciation, though my understanding of the language is coming along slower. I would think reading allowed is just the beginning of being able to understand better, but to be perfectly honest is there really a need to know the Latin language fluently? Having a basic understanding of the language with a knowledge of many Latin words I think can improve one’s English as well. Anyhow I’m the sort of person that needs hands on experience to go anywhere with such an endeavor. Spending time learning the technicalities of the language would be useless for me.

In undergrad, we used Miller’s “Introduction to Latin”. I shed a lot of tears over it, but it was a good book.

Then they transitioned to Wheelock’s. Wheelock’s was also a good book. It’s in the 7th Edition; we were using the 5th edition back in the day. I shed a lot of tears over that, too, but it was also a good book.

The sticking-point for me was that while I could drill the endings, I had a lot more difficulty attaching those sounds to “this is the part of speech” and “this is the elegant and natural way of saying it in English”. So I’m trying hard to register a word as, “Active future third person plural” and “Passive imperfect 2nd person plural” to the point where you “feel” it fluently and don’t have to think. I picked up a DVD set for kids-- Logos Latin– because I enjoyed listening to their drills, but it would have been nicer if they had spent time on doing the English side of the drills. I did like the help with pronunciation.

Much advise (mostly from yours truly, but also others) here: [thread=121562]LATIN: Language Study Resources[/thread]

And to reiterate my first advice from that thread, because it is so important:
Learn English Grammar
(Or whatever is your L1) You will never understand Latin’s use of pluperfect subjunctive participles unless you first understand their place in your L1.


Don’t forget about proper pronunciation; I hate hearing the beauty and flow of Latin ruined by heavy accents, whether they be English, French, Italian, or whatever. I would suggest listening to certain mid-century operatic singers with an Italianate diction (Gigli, Pinza, Tucker, Peerce, Crooks, Tebaldi, ie. most singers of the Met) in Latin Mass settings, Latin songs or hymns, or even Italian Operas just for a better idea which is what my foundation for pronunciation was for a more authentic Latin, though it took YEARS of listening which in hindsight I realized all happened for me so that I’d be able to sing in Latin one day myself! As Latin is a Roman language, in my opinion it should have something of an Italianate pronunciation, though again it’s been ruined for me hearing it spoken or sung even by certain Italians. I would also like to say pay attention to your Missal while hearing the priest offer the Mass in Latin, though I know even some of their pronunciations can vary. At any rate I would perhaps for now try being more hands on rather than becoming overly concerned with the technical aspects of the language. Join the schola at church!

If you’re interested in Church Latin (rather than Classical Latin) I’d strongly recommend A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin. It uses sources like the Vulgate Bible and the Latin Mass, provides proper Church-Latin pronunciation (which differs from reconstructed Classical pronunciation) and is a great resource. Make sure you also pick up the answer key!

I absolutely agree: Lingua Latina is absolutely awesome.

Here’s a great article which I think sums up why that course is awesome:

Here are two books from level one which are essential to own:

I’ll be quite frank: it would be foolish to try to learn Latin on your own without at least spending a few months with the Lingua Latina method.

Finishing Part I, as far as I know, will very adequately prepare you to read, for example, the Vulgate Bible. You can then either move on to Part II, or else try one of the more formal grammar methods, like Wheelock’s.

But please give LL a try: it’s really a lot of fun. :thumbsup:

PS. Much of the material is re-posted at this sticky here and ff, but has been unfortunately re-named to the general and boring sounding [post=2538217]Please read before posting[/post]. I mention it only because there is new material as well.


When I was in high school, we used the Cambridge Latin series. These were so wonderful since you are constantly in a story, so it doesn’t get down to merely conjugations of verbs and nouns and all, but you actually interacted with the Latin language.

Now, as a traditional Catholic, I have seen my latin growing literally every day. With the Latin mass being a great guide to study the rubrics and even to try and read and translate the readings, etc., this is an invaluable tool to latin learners.

Also, I try and pray some in Latin every day and this has helped my Latin studies grow daily because I am engaging in and memorizing the prayers, learning the words and the word tenses.

God bless!

Fr. Z cites an official text in support of Roman pronunciation as the standard, so without tracking the source down I’ll trust it’s true:

Insofar as Holy Roman Church is concerned, since at least the time of Pius X the Roman pronunciation of Church Latin was considered the language standard. This has been reinforced more recently, in the time of Bl. John XXIII (e.g., in Ordinationes ad Constitutionem Apostolicam Veterum Sapientia Rite Exsequendam in AAS 54/6 (30 Maii 1962), p. 345 and n. 10.

But that being said, Catholics using Latin “on the ground” in the liturgy, even the traditionalist orders, tend to follow their national/language group variants. Thus the American FSSP priests with whom I have worshiped voiced the "h"s (which are silent in “proper” pronunciation); the Germans voice the “g” in “gn” as opposed to turning the combo into an “ñ” sound; a priest acquaintance reports that the French have a way of pronouncing “s” that effectively adds some vowel value to the end (like “se”). The point being, we may not think some of those variants sound as elegant, but if you have any chance of interaction with the language you may as well make your own use mutually intelligible with those other folks. No point in being “proper” if you’re properly isolating yourself.

In addition to all the other good information given above, I would advise that the acquisition and maintenance of skills in any foreign language is a time-intensive project. If one does not take the time to do the work, there will be little learning.

My advice is that it can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. You can go after difficult pieces such as Cicero or some Church documents or as easy as the Nova Vulgata or the OF in Latin. Whatever, you have 2500 years worth of writings and administrative works, much of it being untranslated, to draw upon. If you don’t understand a sentence or a thought, go on to the next one, no problem.

Thank you all for your excellent advice, I really do appreciate it. :slight_smile:

If I may ask one more question: with Latin declensions, I understand the use of cases, i.e. nominative, genitive, etc., and genders, but when two different cases or declensions have the same endings, how do you know which is which? Like, if the genitive in the first declension ends in -um (hypothetically), as does the ablative in the third declension, how do you know the meaning of each one in a sentence?


Here’s an online Vulgate, in case you’re not already familiar with it:

In practice it’s not as difficult as you might think. For instance, in these three prayers you’ll see several words ending with –is, but the meaning varies.

The Apostles’ Creed

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Iesum Christum, Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad infernos, tertia die resurrexit ***a mortuis, ***ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer:

PATER NOSTER, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

The Hail Mary:

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus ***fructus ventris tui, ***Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

In the expression *a mortuis, *“from the dead,” in the Creed, the case is the ablative plural, where the nominative singular is mortuus, dead.

Similarly, in the Our Father, *in caelis, *literally “in the heavens,” is also in the ablative plural. The nominative singular is caelus, sky or heaven.

But in the Hail Mary, where you see fructus ventris tui, the fruit of thy womb, ventris is the genitive singular of the noun whose literal meaning is belly or abdomen. The nominative singular is venter.

Would you have any difficulty understanding the meaning in each of the three prayers? I don’t think so.

Here’s something that will help. Enter any word you don’t know, and if that word exists, even as an inflected form, in any one of 1550 languages (and, of course, we’re only looking for Latin), Wiktionary will find it, parse it for you, and give you a translation.

DaveBj the language geek loves Wiktionary :smiley:

:confused: Latin is a universal language. Even when some pronounce it differently it’s still easy enough to tell what they’re saying. An accent isn’t going to change the language to something else nor will pronouncing it correctly with all its natural beauty and flow.

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