How to teach myself Latin?
April 29, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I want to teach myself Latin. Where should I start? What are some good resources? Is it feasible?

I'm interested in linguistics and language, and I'd like to learn Latin as a way to better understand language in general. Taking a class is not out of the question, but my language enthusiasm is really only a hobby and I'd prefer to learn it myself if possible/advisable.

Hive mind, can you recommend a very good book, website or other resource to help me get started? I'm pretty okay with Spanish, and can understand written French and Italian, if it helps.
posted by moons in june to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wheelock's Latin is the classic beginning Latin textbook - my husband started with it and is now quite advanced in Latin.
posted by barnoley at 12:18 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Wheelock's. It's the standard text. Just work your way through it. Learn the rules. Learn the vocab. Wash, rinse, repeat.
posted by uncannyslacks at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2012

Thirding Wheelock. Wheelock and flashcards. Good luck, and enjoy!
posted by mmmbacon at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2012

I took latin at college. I had one class that used Wheelock; I had another class that used Latin For Reading. They aren't that expensive, so I'd get both and see which system works better for you.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, Wheelock's Latin is on its way from Amazon. Keep the suggestions coming please -- I want to put my free Prime account for students to good use!
posted by moons in june at 12:39 PM on April 29, 2012

Best answer: While not a Latin textbook, I think you'd get a lot from Donald Fairbairn's Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek & Latin. Provides an excellent overview of Latin syntax, showing what it does and doesn't have in common with English. Highly recommended -- I wish I'd read it before I started with Latin.

I'm not a huge fan of Wheelock. At all. In my opinion it suffers from the same problems found in every other beginning high school language text. For self-study, you might like the contextual method used in Hans Orberg's Lingua Latina. It's really a brilliant piece of work. It assumes zero knowledge of Latin and has you reading at a fairly high level by the end. I'm pretty confident it will make you much more proficient than Wheelock, at any rate.

You can get bogged down struggling with grammar and forms for years and never get any reading done. Some brute force memorization of endings is unavoidable, but I recommend Lingua Latina because it gets you reading right away, and seeing the forms in context.
posted by Cortes at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wheelock's is excellent, if a bit daunting at times. I'd also recommend Lingua Latina. Its a natural immersion textbook that is entirely in Latin. It's easier than it sounds.

As for flashcards, I use Anki.

You might also want to check out the forums at Textkit.

One final piece of advice, try to do something everyday, or else there's a chance you'll end up like me and months and months will pass between lessons.
posted by khaibit at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2012

I took Latin for 8 years and you can absolutely teach yourself, if you are disciplined. I agree Wheelock's is a good start. Also, while I have never tried the Rosetta Stone series myself, I've heard good things and, surprisingly, they offer Latin.
posted by katemcd at 1:13 PM on April 29, 2012

Best answer: I learned Latin from Wheelock, while in college, but if I were starting out from scratch, I'd use Waldo Sweet's textbook, Artes Latinae. Sweet emphasizes learning to read Latin the way a native speaker would: by taking each word as it comes and trying to make sense of it (a process called "metaphrasing"), rather than by taking a whole sentence or period and trying to render it in English. It's more frustrating at first but in the end will make you a much more fluent reader of Latin.

If you know French, then I would suggest you get Assimil's course on "Le Latin." Assimil has applied its living language model to teaching dead languages with much success. I've gotten more out of Assimil's ancient Greek course than I did from two summers of working through Hardy Hansen's Greek textbook--and that's not because Hansen is bad, but rather, because Assimil has put a lot of thought into how you would teach ancient Greek using what we now know about language acquisition. I would guess that their Latin course is equally good. (The other benefit of using Assimil is that you reinforce your French at the same time. It's why I used the Langenscheidt Dutch course when I needed to learn Dutch well: while learning Dutch I also reinforced my German.)
posted by brianogilvie at 1:47 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

One more thought: most Latin textbooks put far too much emphasis on grammatical rules, and far too little on actually understanding what you read. Sweet's approach, and the Assimil approach, emphasize the latter. Frankly, unless you are a grammarian, you do not need to know that there are 19 (or whatever) kinds of ablatives in Latin; what you need to know is what an ablative means in the sentence that you are reading.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:49 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I took a lot of Latin, but only in school. I find that it's really useful to start trying to read in a language as soon as possible, and since it's harder to find stuff in Latin--since you can't exactly go down to the local bookstore and pick up a murder mystery in Latin--I thought I'd point you to the Latin Library. There are no translations anywhere on the site, but it's a good collection of a lot of different Latin works. When I learned Latin, our progression went (in case it's helpful as a metric): two years of grammar and small excerpts, and then Caesar, de Bello Gallico; Ovid's Metamorphoses, Vergil's Aeneid, and finally the poems of Catullus and Horace.
posted by colfax at 1:53 PM on April 29, 2012

I was also coming in to reccommend Wheelock's Latin. We used Wheelock's in my first year, and another textbook in my second, and Wheelock's was much better organized and laid out, especially for adults teaching themselves.

Once you have a bit of the basics and have worked through the texts quoted in Wheelocks, I would then recommend reading Caesar's Gallic Wars to practice -- that's a nice text to begin on, with relatively simple grammatical constructions, but interesting content.
posted by jb at 2:52 PM on April 29, 2012

You are learning Latin for the same reasons I did, because you are interested in language and linguistics. I worked my way through Wheelock's Latin every night and had a great time with it. I was a student of linguistics with a lot of free summer evenings at home.

You really should also get Professor Dale A. Grote's Study Guide to Wheelock's Latin. It was published as a book, but is now available to download for FREE from this web site (also here if the first goes away). The whole thing is in plain text which you can print out and read along with each chapter of Wheelock. (The online version is in ASCII, so unfortunately it doesn't have the "long marks" on vowels. I wrote them in by hand as I went along; it's not hard to do as you're learning.)

The great thing about Grote is that he spells out all the grammar issues you need to know, talks about historical Indo-European roots that explain Latin's irregularities, and gives you lots more practice exercises keyed to each chapter of the original textbook. It's what a good Latin teacher would cover in a class that used Wheelock.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I took Latin in high school we used the Ecce Romani series and I liked it so much I still have the books 15 years later. It focuses on introducing new words and grammatical concepts gradually in context, and the stories are really charming and funny.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:59 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, MeFites, thank you all so much. I really feel like I have a good grasp of where to get started, and can't wait to begin conjugating...
posted by moons in june at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2012

« Older Hitting a lowball out of the park?   |   Examples of surprising data Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.