Cogito, ergo I Long to Learn Latin.
November 25, 2008 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Help a linguistics-obsessed college student learn Latin via the magic of the interwebs.

I'm a double English-French college student who loves languages, especially those that are dead or invented creations. While I'm not a linguistics genius, I do pick things fairly quickly and can grasp grammatical concepts without too much trouble.

Here's the rub. I've never learned Latin. I've always wanted to but it's not fit into my schedule in high school or now, in college (particularly with a double major!) As Latin isn't exactly a language where pronunciation is key, I'd love to teach myself using resources on the internet. Ideally, I would like to find a structured course with downloadable lessons, exercises for homework, etc. but even a website with a well-organized grammar section and vocabulary lists would also be helpful. In the past, I have tried a Learning Latin for Idiots book but I grew to dislike the smarmy tone and ridiculous sentences. On the other hand, I loved the Ardalambion Quenya Course and greatly enjoyed completing that.

My goal in learning Latin is severalfold: 1) improve my understanding of English (and while I'm at it, French) vocabulary; 2) become better educated and able to translate quotations, legal terms, etc.; 3) continue my dream of being an accomplished woman (19th Century Style). I am not concerned with studying a specific branch of Latin per se, like the Latin of the Romans or of the Catholic Church (though I understand that there are differences). I'm not sure if "Generic Latin" exists, but if it does, all the better.

I hope this isn't too vague. To recap, I'd like to find internet resources to learn Latin, preferably with exercises for practice. What is the best solution?
posted by fantine to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend the Oxford Latin Course with support from Cornell, and many, many other University sites. There's a ton of online support for this.
posted by Wilder at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I should have added "Paging languagehat!".

What you're describing is the study of classical Latin, which will help you avoid using the word severalfold ( ;-)
It is an incredibly useful language for you to learn having read your question.
posted by Wilder at 1:05 PM on November 25, 2008

The Oxford course Wilder mentioned is a good pick, as it emphasizes reading skills early on, rather than making you memorize a ton of verb and noun endings before even get to translate a complete sentence.

For the sake of diversity, another option could be the LatinStudy List, a mailing list based group of independent learners. They use Wheelock's Latin text, which is a classic in the field (and relatively inexpensive), but not everyone cares for it (just read the reviews on Amazon).
posted by dicaxpuella at 1:15 PM on November 25, 2008

Best answer: You want classical (Roman) Latin. The other Latins are all derivatives of it, mostly relaxed grammar and new vocabulary. It will be relatively easy to read any Latin once you've got classical down. You should be able to find quite a lot of useful material online, since most Latin texts' copyrights have expired, except of course Gulielmi Fumonavis.

Since you're not in a Latin class, you don't have to read Caesar. Don't believe books that tell you you have to. Caesar is the worst part of learning Latin that doesn't have an i-stem.
posted by fidelity at 1:26 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll plug TextKit for many online texts (especially grammars and source texts) for Latin and Greek.
posted by jquinby at 1:42 PM on November 25, 2008

It's true that pronunciation isn't key, but it still helps to have an idea of how classical Latin is spoken.

If you need translation practice but want to avoid Caesar, and you do want to avoid Caesar, I'd recommend Catullus' poems. The man had a sharp tongue, which can makes translation rewarding beyond the usual sense of acocmplishment.
posted by truex at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, y'all!

Wilder, I did write "severalfold" with a sense of inner turmoil, so I'm aware of its lack of correctness -- never fear! The link to the Cornell page looks most excellent -- but the Oxford Latin Course page only had links for each book, and those links were broken. So the Oxford Latin Course is a series of physical textbooks rather than a specifically online course?

I'll look forward to perusing the other links as well, thanks. Also, I appreciate the note that I don't need to read Caesar (reassuring since I don't find him particularly compelling). I have previously read some translations of Catullus which I did enjoy, so I'll be sure to pick some of his poetry for translation exercises.
posted by fantine at 3:03 PM on November 25, 2008

What fidelity said, especially about Caesar. And I highly recommend Catullus!
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2008

Best answer: Oh boy, I'm so glad you asked this question since I just found out today about the Pope's principal Latinist, Father Reginald Foster. Check out this video in which he speaks about the history of the language and its status fluent Latin.
In addition to his work for the Pope, Foster taught classes at Gregorian University in Rome, until 2006 when he was fired by the university for allowing too many students to participate in his classes for free. Father Foster is passionate, you see, about getting as many people to learn the language as possible, so after he was fired a friend of his helped him put all of his lessons online for free in .pdf format. After learning about Foster's website I thought, "It would have been nice to see these lessons when I was starting out."

Other than that I highly recommend The Perseus Digital Library. I am a second-year Latin student and we're reading Cicero's First Oration Against Catiline. The Library has all of his writings in English and Latin, as well as the writings of numerous other authors of the classical world.
The book we used in first-year was Keller's Learn to Read Latin, doing problems from the workbook alongside it, although Wheelock's Latin was used at our university for a long time before this book.
This year we have moved on to Allen & Greenough's New Latin Grammar, but it is pretty dense, and I wouldn't recommend it until you've gone entirely through a beginner's Latin grammar text.
Another popular series is the Loeb Classical Library, by Harvard University Press. These are Ancient Latin and Ancient Greek texts with English translation on the facing page. They run ~$25 each brand new and are always snatched up from the used bookstores around campus. I would only caution that you be careful with some of the English translations, as they occasionally need to be condensed to match page space with the originals.
Lastly, I would recommend the online translator, William Whitaker's Words. It doesn't work very well going from English to Latin (for reasons you'll understand when you begin learning the language), but it's been an invaluable tool for me to look up the English meanings of Latin words I don't know. Plus it tells you what declension, conjugation, case, number, person, tense, voice, mood, etc. your word is in.

Now, while I understand that you want to learn this language yourself, I can't say enough about how much it has helped to have a classroom environment, with the resources of a language department and the expertise of my professors. More power to you for wanting to learn on your own, but if you're really serious I would advise you to also consider finding a reading group or class to join, even if you're just auditing and it's not for the grade.
posted by Demogorgon at 3:55 PM on November 25, 2008 [9 favorites]

Oops, there was supposed to be a link in there to the Perseus Digital Library homepage.
posted by Demogorgon at 4:07 PM on November 25, 2008

Best answer: Although I know you're you want to use online resources (and that is useful for a taster) or for public domain textbooks, I would recommend Wheelock's Latin. It's only US$15. You are right that learning a dead language (for want of a better term) is quite different from learning a living language (although there are some who want to bring more of the pedagogical tools from living languages over to languages like Latin). Wheelock's is very simple for a self-learner to use. You read the discussion of the grammar, then you memorize the chapter's paradigms and vocabulary, then you translate about a dozen sentences from Latin that Wheelock has made up (clearly with a Roman setting in mind), then you translate four or so sentences from English into Latin (which is useful for noting if you really get the lessons he is trying to teach), and then you have fifteen or so "Sententiae Antiquae", which are generally adapted sentences from Latin texts (usually Classical, although a few are medieval). Asterisks indicate that the sentence has not been modified. Then there are two passages (usually adapted) from Latin texts. Here lots of unmodified couplets by Martial are used, because it's possible to do that. And then he ends a chapter with etymologies and some very hokey puns and jokes. That last part I could do without, because I am humourless. And then repeat for forty chapters.

Then he has some lengthier modified and unmodified passages at the end of the book to translate, if you want. And additional exercises for people teaching themselves, with a key and tied to each chapter. And finally pages of the paradigms taught and a vocabulary for the Latin in the book

It's a reasonably comprehensive package. I used it in a class, but I've revised with it since, and found it very helpful. Also, I know someone with excellent Latin skills (albeit an Italian native speaker) who taught himself introductory Latin with Wheelock rather than doing the first year course at my university (based on Wheelock) and is doing a Classics degree.

Finally, William Whitaker's Words, as recommended above, is excellent, although you should note that Wheelock uses macrons to help you learn vowel length and William Whitaker's Words, per Latin as actually written, doesn't. Also, there are various commentaries and aids to Wheelock available on the Internet and in print. I'm not sure how useful or necessary they are, but they're there. So, yeah, my recommendation is to just pay the $15 (take it out of the library first if you want to check it out) and get that one volume. If you succeed with it, you can branch out easily to what interests you more specifically. And Wheelock doesn't have much Caesar (a lot of Cicero, though, who can come off as a very sanctimonious prick).
posted by Gnatcho at 4:46 PM on November 25, 2008

Wheelock also has a supplementary book (I guess it's considered intermediate Latin) called the Wheelock Latin Reader. I really loved the selections in this book and found them to be diverse and fun.

I also like the Review Text in Latin by Freundlich. Not cheesy, very clear and easy to follow.

The Perseus Digital Library is also a good resource, but I usually felt my translations were more clunky when I relied on it rather than a dictionary. YMMV.

Good luck and enjoy it!
posted by Mouse Army at 5:06 PM on November 25, 2008

Here are some more links I dug up going through my bookmarks:

eLatin eGreek eLearn - Mostly fun, but educational modern Latin stuff.
Vicipaedia - Wikipedia in Latin
Forum Romanum - Digital library of Latin literature
YLE Radio - Finnish radio broadcast of the week's news in Latin
Ephemeris - More news in Latin
Radio Bremen - German radio broadcast in Latin
Thesaurus Linguae Latinae - Latin thesaurus
The Stoa Consortium - "Serving news, projects, and links for digital classicists everywhere"
Diotima - Via the Stoa Consortium, women and gender in the ancient world
VRoma - Online community for teaching and learning classics
posted by Demogorgon at 5:12 PM on November 25, 2008

Best answer: I've learned Latin twice (or three times, depending on how you look at it) and my feeling is that you're not going to get a satisfactory learning experience primarily from online sources. Being that it's not a spoken language, and not in high demand, online treatments of Latin tend to be sketchy, designed to back up another course of study or made for those with a certain amount of facility with the language already. Also, since you say you're really into languages as a general rule, you'll likely be much happier with a good textbook than a hodgepodge of online stuff.

The recommendation for the Oxford Latin Course is a fine one, but the OLC uses the inductive method (i.e. it 'tricks' you into learning new grammar, making you read first and fill in logical gaps, and only secondarily teaching you the forms themselves). This is the method I learned with try #1 and #2, and it's vastly unsatisfying. Also, the OLC books are really light on grammar, as they are designed to be used in a classroom setting, so you may struggle to get what you need out of them. The same goes for the Cambridge Latin Course.

I'd recommend Wheelock, as gnatcho did above, or Latin: An Intensive Course. Both target grammar as well as vocabulary, both have comprehensive grammar within their pages (instead of assumed in the mind of a teacher), and people I know who have learned Latin from either of them have had impeccable skills.

Once you get through these, you'll be able to move on to proper Latin texts to polish and improve. I highly recommend the texts published by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Weird name, I know, but their texts are primary sources with facing vocabulary & grammar notes, and are designed for intermediate readers - really great learning tools, once you get some basic rules down.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2008

Response by poster: Excellent! Thanks for all these suggestions!

Gnatcho, great recap of Wheeler's. I'm certainly not adverse to selecting a textbook -- I used a book to start my study of Old English -- and you make a good case for it. I'll probably check it out and see how the style feels.

AthenaPolias, thank you for pointing out that the OLC uses the inductive method. I did try another Latin book that used the same concept (just figure it out as you go along!) and found it very trying. I'd rather have the concepts of grammar and vocabularly laid out clearly, rather than divining them out and possibly teaching myself something incorrectly.

Demogorgon, I am quite excited about checking out all the links you sent -- I very much appreciate it!

I did forget to mention that I have several friends at uni who know Latin, so perhaps they will look over my translations and exercises if I bribe them with baked goods.
posted by fantine at 1:11 AM on November 26, 2008

I also recommend Father Reginald Foster's site and the Learn To Read Latin set. However, if you have any inclination to learn Ancient Greek I'd study that first. I struggled with Latin. Ancient Greek is much more straightforward and it helped me grasp everything I didn't get about Latin. Plus it's fun. Since you have a background in French, I would think that Latin should be a piece of cake. I never studied French but because I know Latin I'm amazed at how much I can put together while watching French films. I suppose understanding Spanish helps as well.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:27 AM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: *Gah, I mean Wheelock's, not Wheeler's. Please chalk that up to caffeine deprivation.
posted by fantine at 8:41 AM on November 26, 2008

Response by poster: Hokay! I received Wheelock's Latin, the Workbook, and Winnie Ille Pu over the holidays -- and tomorrow I'm going to start with the studying!
posted by fantine at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2009

In case you're still checking this thread, fantine, here's a website that might be of use: Sphinx Classical Grammar Drill. Also, as I see it hasn't been mentioned above, Vox Latina is AFAIK the standard reference on the pronunciation of Latin. I hope your studying has been going well!
posted by Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2009

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