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Learning Latin Made Simple(r): A Self-Study Guide

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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…

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.

All About Latin

Latin was 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?

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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 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.

Resources for Learning Latin

From textbooks to YouTube channels and apps to radio shows, there are plenty of resources to help you study Latin – no matter how traditional or modern an approach you’re looking for.

Online Latin Classes and Language Exchanges

A teacher can help you direct your studies, answer queries, and correct your errors. You don’t have to enroll at a university to find a Latin professor, either.

italki has a small selection of Latin teachers, all of whom are publicly reviewed, set their own prices, and publish their availability online. You can also use the platform to find language exchanges, ask questions in the forum, and publish writing for critique and corrections – although you might not always get responses. Want more information? Read our detailed review.

If italki’s not to your liking, take a look at Verbling. There are fewer teachers to choose from, but we like the easier payment process that allows you to buy just one class at a time.

HiNative is a Q&A app that allows you to ask the community questions about any language. While there isn’t much about Latin on there, and questions about Latin sometimes attract answers relevant to Spanish, it could be worth a try if you have a query. Alternatively, Reddit has a fairly active Latin community.

For many languages, apps like HelloTalk, Speaky, and Tandem are a great way to connect with native speakers and other students to practice communicating. While language exchanges aren’t most Latin learners’ preferred study method, it could offer you a way to improve your fluency or just find someone who’ll empathize with you when you’re struggling through Ovid.

That being said, these apps suffer from the same problem as HiNative. When I looked for language exchange partners on HelloTalk, most of the people on my list of potential matches were from Latin America as opposed to Latin language learners. Despite that, I did find a couple of people studying Latin. If you’re interested in a language exchange, these apps could be worth trying out – you might strike lucky. Want more information? Check out our reviews: HelloTalk, Speaky, Tandem.

While mostly offline, Paideia Institute organizes regular Living Latin events, from multi-day conferences to scavenger hunts. SALVI also organizes in-person weekend and week-long spoken Latin events. Participants try to communicate only in Latin as they socialize, solve puzzles, and attend lectures. Both Paideia Institute and SALVI have occasional online classes and events, too.

Online and App-Based Latin Courses

Tabella is a free online Latin course from Trinity College Dublin combining videos and text-based breakdowns. The classes typically begin with a video introducing new vocabulary, followed by a short Latin text that you’re invited to translate using the vocabulary you’ve just learned. There are links to grammar explanations.

These two free Medieval Latin courses are run by the UK National Archive. They’re designed for complete beginners; in fact, the first topic is “what is a verb?” As well as easy-to-understand explanations, it contains checklists, interactive activities, and example sentences.

Latin Online is a 10-class course from The University of Texas at Austin Linguistics Research Center. It has a heavy focus on translation and grammar, and could be too challenging for beginner students. However, once you’ve got some familiarity with Latin, it might be a valuable additional resource.

Linney’s Latin Class is a mixture of YouTube-hosted lectures, set texts, and homework with an answer key. It’s designed specifically for self-study.

The Ancient Language Institute has an extensive Latin syllabus that takes inspiration from modern language studies. It focuses on active learning through live classes and level-appropriate readings that, in theory, shouldn’t require a dictionary. At higher levels, you can choose which type of Latin you wish to specialize in. Unlike most of the resources in this article, the Ancient Language Institute courses are structured like university-level modules and priced accordingly.

The Mango Languages Latin course is a little different: while it takes Latin texts from Caesar, Cicero, and other classical writers as its base, it focuses on helping you build your own Latin sentences and can be a useful tool for learning Latin pronunciation. Beginner students might appreciate the focus on active learning, although the featured texts are very short. It has a 14-day free trial or you can find out more about the features in our detailed review (focused on modern languages).

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Petrarch’s Livy, featuring 12th-century annotations by Petrarch and Lorenzo Valla. Public domain.

Duolingo also has a Latin course, although some language learners find it hard due to the lack of in-depth grammatical explanations.

Mondly is another option. It generally wouldn’t be our first choice of language-learning resources as it can be a bit dull. However, it could help you memorize some basic vocabulary and sentence structures.

Meanwhile, Memrise doesn’t have an official Latin course but does host several community-made ones. Most of them are designed to accompany specific textbooks, making them a viable supplementary activity that will help you drill the content.

Generally, we don’t recommend Rosetta Stone. We found it to be expensive, dull, and repetitive. But it is another option if you’re looking to learn Latin in a non-academic way. While we’d suggest trying out some of these other courses first, you may find it worth looking at.

Latin Courses to Avoid

In our experience, Transparent Language can be monotonous. It involves memorizing words and phrases with very little grammatical explanation. On the plus side, it does give some historical context to the phrases – yet without exploring Latin grammar in greater detail, we question how useful it can actually be.

Cudoo is a one-size-fits-all approach to language learning: after all, what other beginner-level Latin course would promise to teach you how to give out your phone number? It doesn’t seem like any attempt to customize the course material has been made.

We don’t guarantee that you’ll learn how to talk about phone numbers, either: in our experience, Cudoo doesn’t always deliver on everything in the course description. Plus it’s dull, devoid of grammatical and cultural explanations, and ineffective at drilling.

Latin Grammar Breakdowns and Guides

The Latin Library contains links to numerous Latin grammar breakdowns organized by function, as well as vocabulary handouts for textbooks, exercises, and readings. These are designed as supplementary materials for Latin courses from George Mason University, but make excellent guides if you want to better your understanding of a particular grammatical point. There’s also a Declension Exerciser.

The University of Ohio has a fairly detailed (but still in progress) guide to Latin grammar. Latdict is another in-progress but helpful option.

Conjuguemos has a series of games and practice activities that will help you drill your Latin verb conjugations and moods.

The Latin Learner app won’t teach you grammar, but it will test you on your declensions and verb tenses, as well as on the vocabulary in Wheelock’s Latin. Plus, it has a dictionary.

You can also buy a series of Latin worksheets here.

Latin Vocabulary Builders and Word Games

Limited vocabulary can be one of the biggest challenges to fluent reading. Time spent drilling relevant words can pay off later on when you’re able to read texts without checking the dictionary quite so often.

Some of these tools are designed specifically for Latin; others cover multiple languages. For the latter kind, it may be worth double-checking the words in the dictionary. For example, “apple” can be translated as mālum or pomum, but these words can also be used to mean fruit and tree-growing fruit respectively.

Minimus Etc has a range of flashcards and self-tests. It also comes with some workbooks and worksheets. While it’s designed to be used by children, it can be a good tool for building up basic vocabulary.

Yuni.com has an extensive list of Latin phrases. We like that all the phrases come from quotes, meaning that they are accurate, and also that you can click on any phrase and see ones that start with the same word. Clicking on ab initio (“from the beginning”) will take you to a page with phrases like ab hinc (“from here on”) and ab origine (“from the origin”). This makes it easier to spot patterns, expand your knowledge, and develop more style when writing and speaking in Latin – if that’s your goal, of course.

Android users might like to try Beginner Latin and Beginner Latin 2. The apps will show you a series of Latin words, and when you see a new one, add it to a list for you. When reviewing the list, you can choose whether you want to see the definitions and also do a true-or-false quiz about the words’ meanings. While fairly basic, these apps can help you study on the go.

When you’re ready for more challenging vocabulary, you could try ok Latin from the same web developer. The vocabulary is more advanced, and it also functions as a dictionary and word-of-the-day app. However, the quiz is easier. In fact, you might find it too easy and decide to create your own flashcards.

Clozemaster gets you to guess the missing word in Latin sentences, using phrases such as “How much do the carrots cost?” (Quanti constant carotae?) and “The princess was eaten by the shark” (Principissa a squalo devorata est.) It will repeat phrases until it’s satisfied that you’ve “mastered” them. We like that you get to see the words in context, unlike with many vocabulary builders. Use it with a healthy amount of caution, though: some of the phrases appear to have come from Tatoeba, which relies on users adding and translating sentences.

uTalk uses games to drill phrases. It’s effective, but we’re not sure it’s the best method for learning Latin as we would normally recommend it ahead of a short trip. It won’t teach you grammar, and some of the phrases are focused on going shopping and technology. On the other hand, if you’re planning to attend a Living Latin event and feel nervous about switching from Caesar to small talk, this might be a good option for you.

You might also come across the StartFromZero Latin app. Although it’s made by the same developer as Beginner Latin and okLatin, we would use it with caution. We came across several errors.

The Anki app allows you to create your own flashcards or use another student’s shared deck. If you’re already reading Latin and discovering new vocabulary, it will help make sure that you don’t forget it. We like the way it adapts to how challenging you find a word or phrase.

The Magna Carta, an example of Medieval Latin. Public domain.

Audio Courses and Podcasts for Learning Latin

Whether you’re a believer in Living Latin or just learn best aurally, there’s no reason to overlook podcasts and audio courses.

Just like the title suggests, Learning Latin via Agrippina sets out to teach you Latin through reading Agrippina. It contains the original text, the translation, and introduces similar phrases that use the new vocabulary and/or sentence structures.

The Latin Poetry Podcast is an English-language podcast that breaks down the meaning of Latin poems. It’s an accessible and engaging companion to the poems, and the Latin text is included in the podcast description.

Ready to immerse yourself in Latin? We recommend starting off with something like Latinitium. Each episode is the retelling of a short Latin story, and you can read the Latin text at the same time.

Nuntii Latini was a weekly Latin-language news broadcast that, after 30 years, finally went off air in 2019. However, you can listen to nine years’ worth of episodes online.

The three-person podcast Quomodo Dicitur is slowly but regularly updated, and has over 160 episodes. Many of these are slightly under 30 minutes long.

Alternatively, you might prefer In Foro Romano, Sermones Raedarii, Philologia Perennis, or Legio XIII. There are plenty of options, so it’s worth trying them all out until you find one that catches your attention.

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 set 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 editions, which were 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 audios.

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 Historia de duobus amantibus 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.

Latin Videos and Classes on YouTube

LatinTutorial is a must-use resource for anyone studying Latin. There are 22 playlists on topics such as Basic Latin Essentials, 91 Rules of Latin Grammar, and Figures of Speech.

Latinum Institute has a 169-video Latin course appropriate for complete beginners. The appearance is a little dated, but it’s hard to complain when nearly all the videos were published in 2012.

Paideia Media has both Latin-language videos and English-language videos about learning Latin, such as a recorded live seminar on Using Fables to Activate Latin.

Scorpio Martianus has a 67-video playlist to accompany the Lingua Latina textbooks, Disney songs in Latin, and more.

We’ve already mentioned Latinitium’s book and audio clips. They also have a YouTube account with a range of videos for learners, including a short Learn to Speak Latin playlist (not suitable for beginners).

The videos from Divus Magister Craft are a mixture of Latin-language stories, cultural explanations, and challenges.

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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