As I’ve been plodding away trying to learn Latin, I thought that I’d write a bit about my process. Over the span of my Latin study, I’ve tried four or so different approaches. The first was Rosetta Stone. I honestly found Rosetta Stone frustrating. Maybe it was because I never got past “puer legit” and “puella edit” but it was boring and I often felt like the vocabulary being taught was useless. I suppose it is useful to know “radiophonam” is a modern word for radio, but that wasn’t going to help me read Augustine or Cicero. Granted, I do think immersion is a good thing (which entails learning modern words), but that didn’t help my interest.
At the same time, I was also using the traditional textbook: Wheelock. The traditional approach was similar to how I had approached Greek: memorize the basic charts and just start translating sentences. I do find Wheelock a bit daunting. The amount one has to memorize for Latin is significantly higher than one does for Greek (5 declensions versus 3!). I’m still working through it because I do like seeing all of the grammar laid out, but it’s not my sole approach any longer.
Recently, I purchased Ortberg’s excellent “Lingua Latina per se illustrata.” For those who aren’t familiar with this book, it’s an excellent way to get acquainted with reading Latin. The chapters start off very simple “Roma in Italia est. Italia in Europa est. Graecia in Europa est” etc. It progressively gets more difficult, but the entire textbook is in Latin. The exercises are mostly of the “fill in the the ending” sort, which is fantastic practice as I try to make the declensions second nature.
Since my knowledge of basic grammar has progressed somewhat, I’ve added a third practice that really seems to be helping. One thing I’ve realized about language is that I don’t even begin to internalize it until I start “producing” in the language. Thus, I’ve started translating bits of the Gospel of John into Latin (from Greek of course!). This is not only much more fun than Ortberg or Wheelock, but I’m learning quite rapidly. I’m having to look up most of the words I write, but certain things are starting to stick. Plus, there’s something that’s just fun about writing in Latin. Perhaps that’s the nerd in me though ;-). Oh, and if you really want to nerd out, then don’t dare translate from your printed/online Greek New Testament. Instead, pull up one of the beautiful Greek manuscripts online, like this one. Then you can practice your Latin, Greek, and Paleography!
Finally, I’ve found reading about the Church Fathers to be helpful also. I’m currently reading J.N.D. Kelly’s excellent biography of Jerome. As the early Church’s linguist par excellence, he definitely encourages me to press on. I want to be able to read what he wrote in the original!
in caritate Dei,