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How To Learn Latin On Your Own – A Self-Study Guide That Will Get You Started

Learning Latin

Latin: it’s the language of the Roman Empire, the bedrock of many modern languages, and essential to European history and culture. Wander through any large city in Europe, and you’re likely to come across Latin on monuments and in mottos. Flick through a book or a newspaper, and you might see it: status quo, alter ego, carpe diem, quid pro quo, ad hoc, alibi, bonafide…

If you’ve already started your Latin learning jounrey and need to read some of our reviews and recommended resources for learning Latin, you should check out the posts below:

Yet while learning Latin can unlock our past, it has a reputation for being, well, difficult. Dry. Exclusive.

This reputation isn’t entirely fair. No language is easy to learn, but using the right resources and having a good study plan can make learning Latin more accessible and enjoyable. Keep reading as we explore the many courses, apps, podcasts, books, and YouTube channels that will help you learn this fascinating language.

Discover learning Latin online through this self-study guide. Explore tips on how to learn Latin, the best and easiest way to learn Latin, and answers to FAQs.

All About Latin

Latin has been the language of international communication for millennia. The earliest existing example of it dates back to the seventh century BCE, long before the days of the Roman Republic and Empire. It was often used in European courts and universities during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. And it remained the language of the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960s.

Today, you’ll come across many languages that sound a bit like Latin: Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Galician, Catalan, Ladino, and more are directly descended from it. English and German also have words that can be traced back to it, as does Dutch.

And while Latin is today associated with legalese and science, everyday people still use it when they refer to the time: “pm” and “am” are initialisms for the Latin phrases post meridiem and ante meridiem.

In short, Latin might be considered by most to be a “dead language,” but it’s far from irrelevant.

A 16th-century Irish, Latin, and English primer commissioned by Elizabeth I and created by Sir Christopher Nugent during the British colonization of Ireland. Public domain.

Despite Latin’s modern-day relevance for academics, linguists, scientists, and lawyers, as a Latin student, you’ll spend most of your time reading the words of long-dead scholars and politicians. And over the course of nearly 3,000 years, Latin has evolved quite a bit.

In fact, Latin has been classified into several different variants:

Old Latin, or prisca Latinitas, dates to before 75 BCE. Among other features, it used a smaller alphabet.

Classical Latin, which is what most students learn, dates to the late Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. It’s the language of Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid. Classical oratorial and Classical written Latin also differed.

Vulgar Latin was a form of spoken Latin associated with everyday people. It was particularly common after the third century CE, and existed alongside Classical oratorial and written Latin. Linguists believe that most Romance languages descend from Vulgar Latin as opposed to classical Latin.

The rules of Medieval Latin varied depending on the location. Generally, it had a more flexible word order and inconsistent spelling, while some words changed meaning. The Medieval Latin spoken in England featured more English loanwords and greater use of prepositions instead of cases. While not the most commonly studied variation of Latin, Medieval Latin is useful for historians and scholars of literature.

The emergence of Renaissance Latin was driven by scholars seeking to return to Classical Latin as opposed to Medieval Latin.

Ecclesiastical Latin refers to the Latin used by the Roman Catholic Church.

And then there is Living Latin: a modern movement that questions how we think about Latin. Proponents of Living Latin argue that this language shouldn’t just be read and translated, but that it should be spoken with fluency. With a little bit of creativity, speakers have found ways to discuss modern transport, technology, and even social media.

Most textbooks and courses teach Classical Latin. However, you might choose to learn an additional form of Latin, or even forego Classical Latin in favor of a different variant. Think about your goals: do you want to read Virgil, analyze Roman graffiti, or study all the documents of the Tudor court?

How to Learn Latin

The average Latin course would, if compared to a Spanish or French one, be considered old-fashioned by many linguists. A lot of courses treat Latin as a means to an end: a way to read classical texts in their original language, debate the exact meaning of old court documents, and improve our understanding of history, literature, and philosophy.

In these more traditional courses, you will mainly translate texts and study grammar – but the aim is comprehension, not fluency. In fact, using a dictionary for word-by-word translation might be encouraged.

In contrast, when studying modern languages, the focus is typically on being able to speak and understand the language without any support. The eventual aim is to get you thinking in the target language, and so you generally only read texts in which you can already understand most of the language. Today, there’s a slowly growing movement in support of applying this second method to Latin studies.

I don’t believe there’s a “right way” to learn Latin: the best method will depend on your goal. But it’s worth taking the time to consider what studying Latin means for you. Do you care about how quickly and easily you can read a new Latin text – without a dictionary? Would you like to be able to write in Latin? Would Living Latin events where people talk Latin together interest you, or does it seem inauthentic to you?

If you’re happy with a translation-oriented approach, make sure you have a good understanding of the (fairly complex) grammar, as well as texts that you find interesting. Consider finding a study or reading group so that you can discuss them together and support each other if something is challenging.

If you’re looking for a more immersive approach, you might want to add a few extra activities to your study plan: keeping a Latin-language journal, texting study friends in Latin, listening to Latin podcasts and news clips, and studying pronunciation. Practice thinking in Latin to improve your fluency and read as much as you can – even if the text isn’t as high-brow as the works you want to eventually be able to read.

Try to study regularly: you will struggle to get fluency in Latin if you rush through a week’s worth of reading on Sunday afternoons. It’s better to study a little most days of the week.

No matter which approach you take, create reasonable goals for yourself. Measure your progress, celebrate your small successes, and stay focused on what you want to achieve.

And don’t be disappointed if reading Virgil takes longer than you had hoped: Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

What’s the Best Way to Learn Latin?

The best way to learn Latin is to sit down with a calendar and set reasonable goals for yourself, and then block out daily study time to help you reach those goals. For example, suppose you want to understand the basics of Latin grammar over the summer, to prepare for a college Latin course. 

If you can set aside half an hour a day every day, the consistent study and daily repetition will help you master Latin grammar and vocabulary much more quickly than a few random weekends through the summer where you spend all day struggling with a Latin textbook.

What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Latin?

One of the easiest ways to learn Latin is to sign up for a comprehensive online course or see if your local community college offers an affordable in-person course. One of the great things about learning Latin is that many schools, from high schools through universities, continue to offer courses because Latin is crucial to so many different fields of study.

The benefit of at least starting with a ready-made course is that it will walk you through all the core areas of Latin. You can add on additional learner tools to keep things interesting once you master the basics!

How Can I Teach Myself Latin?

One of the great things about learning Latin is that you can find so many resources to use for self-study! Even though Latin is a dead language, it is essential for many careers like the medical or legal fields. Because many people still need to learn Latin today, you can find tons of online courses, apps, and tools like the ones recommended in this article.

Probably the best tip you can take away as you put together your own study plan is that you should not be afraid to mix and match different types of learning tools. An online course, textbook, or app can provide a general framework for your study, but you can also add in the time spent studying authentic Latin texts, using online grammar tools, and watching YouTube videos. This will keep you engaged and help you look at Latin concepts in a different way.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Latin?

How long it will take to learn Latin typically depends on what you plan to use Latin for, though it usually takes at least 600 hours of study to learn the basics of any language. For example, many college courses will take you through the fundamentals of Latin with a heavy focus on grammar that will aid you in using the Latin necessary for legal work or the medical field. 

But if you want to read Classical Latin, you will need to go further than this. If you want to learn Latin because you want to become a historian, you will likely want to spend several years studying Latin alongside your history classes.

How to Learn Latin Fast

Just like with any language, one of the best ways to learn Latin fast is to schedule time for Latin study every day. Do you always spend an hour on TikTok as you get ready for work and eat breakfast? Commit to studying Latin as you eat your cereal every morning instead. An hour a day can take you through a lot of Latin material!

Where to Learn Latin: Additional Latin Learning Resources

Aside from the structured Latin courses and apps, you could consider incorporating a few more Latin resources to supplement your main ones. Latin textbooks, reference books, and Latin texts could be very helpful resources to add to your study plan.

Latin Textbooks and Grammars

The Lingua Latina books are many Latin learners’ favorite texts. While they are widely described as a textbook, they could be considered more like a graded Latin reader. Each book sets out to teach you Latin through immersion in a fictional story, but there’s a twist: they want you to be able to read the story without reaching for a dictionary. Pictures and explanatory notes help you to make sense of what is going on, and although you are intended to pick up the grammar intuitively, there are some grammar breakdowns for you. Each chapter also has practice exercises. You’ll want to begin with Familia Romana before progressing to Roma Aeterna and the many readers.

Those who want a bit more grammar in their Latin studies could try using A Companion to Familia Romana alongside the first Lingua Latina book. It’s written by a different author and focuses on providing more grammatical explanations, cultural notes, and English-language definitions.

If you don’t like learning through immersion, however, you could try Wheelock’s Latin. It has a heavy focus on grammar and translation and is suitable for beginners.

The Cambridge Latin Course textbooks tread the middle ground between Wheelock’s Latin and Lingua Latina. It mixes grammar and vocabulary with short stories and cultural notes. It is more expensive than many other options, however.

Learn to Read Latin benefits from in-depth explanations, as well as an accompanying workbook (although it doesn’t come with an answer key). Make sure to purchase the second edition, which was published in 2015.

The Ecce Romani series was widely used in the past and still has its fans today.

If you’re searching for something that will teach you everyday Latin, you might like Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency.

Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar is a reference book rather than a textbook. It can be a useful resource if you want to check declension tables or double-check a grammatical point.

You might come across Classical Latin: An Introductory Course and the accompanying workbook being used in courses. However, these tend to be less popular among people studying by themselves.

Teach Yourself Latin receives mixed reviews, with many criticizing it for being too challenging.

Latin Texts: Roman, Medieval, and Modern-Day

Finally, we’ve got to the whole reason why you’re studying Latin (probably): the texts.

Although you’re likely keen to read Caesar and other famous texts, it could be worth starting with something a little more accessible. If you haven’t used the Lingua Latina textbooks, you might like to give them a try. While described as a textbook, they read like stories, and are popular among beginner-level Latin students.

Latinitium’s Pugio Bruti: A Crime Story in Easy Latin is 70 pages long yet only uses 350 distinct words. It’s designed to help Latin learners memorize those 350 words through their natural repetition throughout the story, which focuses on a young woman, Terentia, and a mysterious dagger left to her by her father. There is also an audiobook version and an accompanying online course. Some of their Patreon membership levels include additional Latin stories and audio.

When you’re ready for authentic texts, you could start with Hans Henning Ørberg’s readers. He authored the Lingua Latina series, and while the readers are more challenging, they will support you through the transition to classical texts. He has published readers for Vergil, Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, and more.

Alternatively, you could try bilingual Latin texts, such as the Loeb library or, if you’re interested in Renaissance Latin, the I Tatti library.

If you are interested in medieval Latin, try Beeson’s A Primer of Medieval Latin or Reading Medieval Latin. Meanwhile, Piccolomini’s Renaissance-era is more salacious than you might expect from someone who later became the Pope.

As for classical Latin, you have plenty to choose from when you’re ready to forgo bilingual texts and readers: Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Tibullus, Livy… Try to pick texts that interest you, and don’t be afraid to switch to something a little easier if your current text proves too challenging.

You could also try using LingQ or SPQR Latin to help you out with your reading. LingQ contains a selection of Latin-language texts and a mediocre flashcard tool, but our favorite thing about it is the ability to import the texts you want to read. You can then look up new vocabulary without exiting the LingQ app.

SPQR Latin works in a similar way but, as you can probably guess from the name, was built specifically for Latin students. It has an extensive range of classical texts and some medieval ones, as well as textbooks. There’s also a dictionary, flashcards, and Latin parser. Unlike LingQ, there isn’t a free version. However, the one-off payment for SPQR Latin is affordable, and the app will likely offer most students greater value than LingQ would.

Magazines, Dictionaries, and Other Resources for Learning Latin

Did you think magazines were too modern for Latin? Think again. There are over 200 editions of Palaestra Latina, all of which are available online. They were originally published in Spain in the early- and mid-20th century, and so there are some that readers might find uncomfortable (especially the ones from the time of the Second World War).

Alternatively, Docere was published in a range of languages in 2002 and 2003. There were only seven issues, but you can read all of them online for free.

With all this reading, you’re bound to need a dictionary. You might like to try Whitaker’s Words, Online Latin Dictionary, or Latdict.

This Latin pronunciation guide will help those looking to speak or listen to Latin. This pronunciation guide, meanwhile, is specific to Ecclesiastical Latin.

Latin might be considered a “dead language,” but you won’t get bored studying it. From podcasts to novels and magazines to spoken Latin events, there are plenty of interesting ways to use Latin – even before you’ve picked up one of the classics.

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