A little Latin every day: How to learn Latin with short texts and audio
How to learn Latin?
When my students ask me how to learn Latin, I always say, spend as much time with it as possible, read as much as possible, preferably for hours each day.
This is, of course, easier said than done. In this day and age, it’s not at all evident how to find all the time needed to learn Latin to a high level, especially if you are not doing it in an academic setting but rather in your leisure time.
However, it is oftentimes underestimated how much progress you can make in Latin or any other language by just spending 5–10 minutes a day on a focused task. Quite quickly, the minutes amount to hours and the small steps to great progress.
Master shorter Latin texts
In my experience when we have little time, focusing on shorter texts and really mastering them, understanding the vocabulary and the grammar and conquering the texts, so to speak, builds an enourmous amout of confidence:
Even if we feel like we don’t know Latin, or that we aren’t progressing, we can look at the shorter texts we’ve thoroughly mastered and say:
“yeah, maybe I have a long way to go, but that text I understand fully, it’s mine.”
This bite-sized approach was a big part of how I learned French and Latin. Granted, if you have the time, combining this approach with extensive reading is ideal. A byproduct of focusing on mastering shorter texts is that you can more easily remember exact quotes, contructions or contexts appropriate for a particular word.
learn Latin every day
In a previous post (you can find it here in English and here in Italian) I outlined a method I’ve used to master shorter texts as a way of building language ability and confidence as well as study habits. I discuss this further in a talk here (in Latin).
The basic idea is that you pick a short text and study it for a few minutes everyday in various ways, ranging from cursive reading to looking up anything difficult, to reading and understanding it fully simultaneously.
Where to get short texts?
So if you do have a few minutes, and want to work with some short and interesting texts, where do you get them?
One way is to go look through latin literature, anthologies and Latin readers. But tracking down and finding interesting texts takes a lot of time...
Let's see what you can do instead.
A series of short recordings
To help people struggling to find short, interesting Latin texts, we record and publish short 1–5 minute episodes (you can find them here).
We aim to provide recordings of texts from a variety of periods, genres and levels. This is of course a work in progress, but if it appeals to people, we’ll continue broadening the material.
The texts are read at a fairly slow pace and are supported by a transcription. Click the link below to access this series of recordings of Latin texts.
To me learning languages has always been a very auditory task, where listening and developing listening comprehension has been central to get a firm foothold in the language.
It also helps us avoid translating, which is at times a good tool, but in order to read Latin fluently we have to be able to read without hesitating, or looking up words all the time.
At first, you may need to translate, but listening over and over again while referring to a translation will slowly wean you off it. You will gradually develop a firm command of the syntax and most of the vocabulary so as to be able to follow the flow of the language.
These days, listening can be done on the go quite easily and so you can continue working on your Latin even while doing the dishes or going to work or standing in line. I know I learned most of my French going places and standing in line.
Who are they for?
In the series we’ll try to find texts of every level and every time period, so hopefully there’ll be something for anyone wanting to spend some time on their Latin. Nevertheless, the amount of truly easy Latin out there is quite sparse. So depending on you level, you may have to rely on some dictionary work and translation at first, but after listening repeatedly you will start to internalise the language in the texts and make them yours.
If you want to read and listen to an easier text in Latin, check out Pugio Bruti — A Crime Story in Easy Latin. Amelie and I wanted to create a longer story that would be quite easy (350 unique words) to read. The response has been awesome!
What to do now
If you’re learning Latin, I would suggest the following:
Go through the current episodes and find something that appeals to you and work with it,
Set a goal to go through every episode or the ones you like.
I’m currently learning German with podcasts and I find that having a limited but growing amount of material that I can work my way though, makes creating a reading habit a lot easier.
We hope you enjoy this new attempt to promote the study of Latin. Let us know what you think.
The series litterae Latinae is available here.