How To Learn Latin Without Cancelling Everything In Your Busy Schedule

I guess I’m like most people in that when I find something new that I like I get really excited and I throw myself into it head-on, and I spend a lot of time on it. Does that sound familiar? Now for some people, they can keep up that momentum, but I’ve always been interested in so many different things, there’s just no way I could do that. But I still wanted to learn Latin, because I really did like it; I just wanted to be able to do that while fitting it in around everything else that I was doing.


I was finding it difficult because there were so many lessons and exercises I had to get through, that if I didn’t spend something like a solid hour or more a day, I just couldn’t get through it, and my progress would be way too slow for someone as impatient as me. I tried getting up earlier or going to bed later to fit it in, but it was too hard for me to keep up. I started to feel that maybe the problem was me; I felt like I wasn’t disciplined enough, or I didn’t really like Latin enough, or maybe I was just too whimsical, flitting around from one thing to another.


Eventually it reached a point where I knew there was no way I could keep going the way I was, because I was stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of doing a lot of study for a few weeks followed by even longer of me doing practically nothing and making basically no progress. If I tried to do only 5-10 minutes a day, I made no progress, but if I tried to do more, I burnt out.


I ended up scrapping my goals of learning x number of words or doing however many exercises and started simplifying my study. Once I cut down my study to one or two activities – reading and listening – I started making progress again, and the best thing was, because I had fewer activities I was automatically taking less time. I wanted to keep my study and my goals simple and manageable while still seeing real – and preferably fast – progress. I started making lists of books to read that weren’t too difficult and audio to listen to, and I set aside time to study each day.


Setting aside a specific time for study every day proved to be hard, even with the reduced activities, because life just got in the way. Especially on weekends, it wasn’t easy to have a set schedule, and I started to fall into the same trap again of a lot of study and then almost no study.


In the end I threw out my schedule entirely, and made a list of books that I actually wanted to read, that I could take with me throughout my day (thank god for ebooks!). Once I started picking only books that I was genuinely interested in reading, I found it stopped being something extra I had to squeeze into my schedule and became a fun activity that I would do out of interest. Because it stopped being about ‘I guess I should do some Latin’ and started being ‘I wonder what happens next in the story’, I found I could do five minutes here, five minutes there, and all of a sudden I was doing 30 minutes or more a day and finishing books.


Once I started fitting Latin around my schedule rather than the other way around, I noticed that all those feelings that maybe I wasn’t disciplined or motivated enough, or maybe I had to choose only a couple of things to be interested in, all those feelings went away, because suddenly everything was fitting in, and I wasn’t struggling to stay motivated. I felt happier with Latin than ever!


The cool thing is, this isn’t just something that works for me. So many of my students have found that they can fit Latin in around their schedules by just letting go of the need for structure and planning and instead reading what’s interesting to them. One of my students is a school teacher, so you’d expect her to be big on scheduled study – and she was. But after I encouraged her to try to read for interest rather than learning, she started to get through far more material without adding to her schedule – she even started reading Latin when she was supervising sports at school!


One worry you probably have is that maybe I’m still talking about putting in a lot of time if you want to learn a language. Sure, I do sometimes end up with quite a large total amount of reading over the course of a day, and sure, I did used to think that the most important thing was to put in 30 minutes to an hour a day, but, while that might be helpful, it just isn’t sustainable for some people, and it isn’t even necessary. I found that if I could just get 10 minutes in every day – five minutes in the morning and five minutes before bed – and if I could  make learning Latin more about the reading for enjoyment, then I could fit it into my life without stress or pressure, and I learnt a lot more over time. I can get in a bit of reading on the train to or from work, for example, which is time I otherwise would’ve spent listening to music. And if I want to listen to music, I find 10 minutes somewhere else – it really is that simple!


Now, after all this talk about my students, maybe you’re thinking ‘I need a teacher to learn a language.” But I’ve found that really the only person who can teach you Latin is you, and I’ve found the best way to do it is through reading, because you’re getting straight into grips with the language as it’s used. With or without a teacher it doesn’t matter, so long as you have the right materials.


And that’s how you learn Latin no matter how busy your schedule is! Isn’t that awesome?

Alexander WestenbergComment