The Secret to Learning Latin

The secret to learning Latin is elusive. As I said in yesterday’s post, it took me over a decade to get there! But it can be summed up in one word: input.


Input is exactly what it sounds like: it’s about put the language inside you. And the key to this this reading.


So how does it work? Well, it’s pretty simple actually. You read a ton of different things, and you listen a ton to one thing. They each cover different ground.


Reading is about putting as much interesting Latin inside you as possible. This is one reason I’m not a big fan of graded readers, exercises, and other texts prepared for learners: they don’t tend to be very interesting, or, if they are, it’s only by chance. The point is that nothing is interesting to everyone, so no one prepared text is going to be engaging for everyone who picks it up.


Instead, it’s better to work through texts that interest you, no matter how difficult they are. Want to read histories? Read Sallust, Caesar, Tacitus, Livy, or others. Want to read about famous people? Read Cornelius Nepos. Want to read philosophy? Read Seneca, Boethius, or Cicero’s dialogues.  Want to read about a loveable little bear? Read Winnie Ille Pu. There’s also Harry Potter in Latin, Paddington Bear, and many others. The point is to read something that’s interesting to you.


And to read lots of it.


What this last point means is that in order to read Latin it’s not enough to say ‘well I’ve read a page today, that’s all’. If a book is really interesting, read a chapter! And as soon as you finish one book, start another!


In order to do this, you need to adopt a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards the language. You need to accept that some things won’t make complete sense, and that that’s okay, as long as you’ve got the gist of what’s going on. If you miss a word or two, or don’t know what tense it is, odds are it’s ‘close enough’.


The most important thing in learning a langue isn’t thoroughness, it’s volume of engagement.


So get a parallel text (Loeb Classical Library is the obvious choice, but there are many others) and read a whole paragraph in Latin without looking at the English once. Then read the English, and repeat again if you’re struggling. But then move on to the next paragraph.


Alternatively, you can read an interlinear translation (where the English translation is directly below the Latin), which will make the process easier).


Or you can make your own ‘running text’ translations, using the method I give in my free ebook, Decoding Latin: A User’s Guide.


Try to read for 20-30 minutes a day (it doesn’t have to be all at once, remember). The more you read, the more you’ll understand. It’ll be a hard journey for the first month or two, but after that you’ll be amazed at how much you’re starting to understand!


P.S. Remember I said that the key to learning to read Latin was reading Latin? Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Yes, reading Latin will get you there, but listening to Latin as well will make your progress a hundred times faster, and your confidence in the language a thousand times better.  More on listening tomorrow!