Learn Latin

First day of learning Latin: what to do

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

You’ve decid­ed to learn Latin? 

Fan­tas­tic! That is one of the best deci­sions you’ll ever make, believe me! 

Read­ing and under­stand­ing the writ­ings of peo­ple from ancient Rome, the Mid­dle Ages, and the Ear­ly Mod­ern peri­od is almost time-trav­el­ing. I’ve been teach­ing Latin for over a decade and have seen the joy and plea­sure stu­dents get from read­ing some­thing from two mil­len­nia ago. You’ve made a great decision! 

But what now? What should you do next?

On the first day of learn­ing Latin, there are sev­er­al deci­sions to make. You will have to decide if you should teach your­self Latin or do it with the help of a teacher or tutor. You will have to find and decide on a method, find books and ancil­lary mate­ri­als. You will have to decide how much time you can set aside for your stud­ies and cre­ate a rou­tine for them. You will also have to for­mu­late your goals and moti­va­tions for learn­ing Latin.

All these things might seem minor com­pared to the big deci­sion about learn­ing Latin, super­flu­ous even. They are, how­ev­er, imper­a­tive, and once you’ve dealt with them, they will get you to where you want faster and smoother.

And don’t worry!

We’ll go through it all and dis­cuss what to expect at the begin­ning of your stud­ies. Towards the end of this arti­cle, I’ll share a great tip to get you start­ed with your Latin studies. 

So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s have a clos­er look at what you could do on day one of learn­ing Latin.

Goal and Motivation for Learning Latin

The first thing you have to do on your first day as a Latin stu­dent con­cerns your end goal and motivation. 

Learn­ing Latin is fun and excit­ing, but there will be times when you will want to throw it all out the window. 

So, before you start with any­thing else, sit down and think about why you are doing this and where you want it to lead. Write it down and put it some­where visible. 

This might seem redun­dant, but it will help you fur­ther along with your stud­ies and remind you of your pas­sion. Do not skip this step. 

Read more about moti­va­tion and goal set­ting: How to learn Latin: Goals, moti­va­tion, and habits

Teaching yourself Latin vs having a teacher

The sec­ond thing you have to do is decide if you want to learn Latin on your own, get a pri­vate tutor, or sign up for a class. It’s a mat­ter of pref­er­ence, and per­haps you already know what you want. 

There are pros and cons to each, and you will have to con­sid­er them all: which things do you think would be impor­tant, annoy­ing, impos­si­ble, fan­tas­tic with the dif­fer­ent alternatives?

Sug­gest­ed read­ing: The pros and cons of hav­ing a teacher vs teach­ing your­self

If you have the means, you can always try them all or in com­bi­na­tion. I would begin by study­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, with a tutor or coach that could hold me account­able and help plan my stud­ies and be at hand for any ques­tions that pop up. 

Lat­er on, once you have a grip on Latin, you could take a few class­es and per­haps even go to a Latin immer­sion course where you get to speak and hear only Latin for days and even weeks!

Decide on a study method

There are dif­fer­ent meth­ods for learn­ing Latin, like any oth­er thing in life. But, how do you choose? Should you go with the tra­di­tion­al Gram­mar-Trans­la­tion approach? A read­ing-based approach? A more induc­tive, immer­sive approach? 

In this case, you will have to decide what you think suits you best. There is no pres­tige in how you chose to learn. As long as you get the work done and make progress towards your goal, you’re good. How­ev­er, I urge you to keep an open mind and dare to try new things. 

I always teach my stu­dents by using a com­bi­na­tion of great amounts of easy read­ing and some gram­mar study with a large amount of con­ver­sa­tion in Latin.

This means learn­ing to read and under­stand in Latin—with­out trans­lat­ing, while at the same time learn­ing every­thing about gram­mar and the lan­guage. Doing this in Latin means my stu­dents hear and immerse them­selves in Latin even when learn­ing about grammar. 

Get the materials you need for your Latin studies

Depend­ing on the method, you might choose dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als. There are count­less books, and I have looked at the most pop­u­lar and unpop­u­lar ones. The book I swear by is Famil­ia Romana by Hans Ørberg. It is a text­book of ca 200 pages writ­ten whol­ly in Latin! 

Fab­u­lae Syrae, Exerci­tia Lati­na I and Famil­ia Romana, from the series Lin­gua Lati­na per se Illus­tra­ta by Hans Ørberg. Pho­to: Amelie Rosengren.

It starts with the sen­tence “Roma in Italia est” and through an impres­sive feat of weav­ing text with images and sym­bols, it takes you to the abil­i­ty to read quite com­plex Latin, all the while teach­ing you gram­mar. For more rec­om­men­da­tions check out our list of Best books for learn­ing Latin.

If you choose Famil­ia Romana, you don’t need to wor­ry about get­ting a dic­tio­nary or a gram­mar book in the begin­ning. But, do get the exer­cise book, Exerci­tia Lati­na I.

(For a method of using Famil­ia Romana, see the end of this article.)

How much time do you have to study?

We all tend to fill our days with work, fam­i­ly, friends, read­ing, Net­flix, and many oth­er things. If you want to learn Latin, you have to take an hon­est look at your day and see how much time you have. 

It would be best if you aimed to study or read every day. It’s bet­ter to study 20–30 min­utes a day than eight hours on Sat­ur­day. Habit is key!

If you are work­ing full time and have a fam­i­ly, it might be dif­fi­cult to find four hours to study dai­ly. But some­times we have more time than we think—I once mea­sured every sin­gle minute I was work­ing for a day and I was shocked, to say the least: all the lit­tle breaks, the walks to the bus, the wait­ing in line, the scrolling of YouTube…

Do what you can to carve out as much time as possible—be it 4 hours or 20 min­utes. Ide­al­ly, you want at least 40 con­sec­u­tive min­utes to study, and then through­out the day, you can revise and prac­tice what you’ve learned. But any amount is good as long as you can fit it in with the rest of your life. Make it doable and realistic! 

Create a study routine of habits

So, you’ve decid­ed how you’d like to learn, what method and books you will use. You’ve deter­mined how much time you will spend each day on Latin.

Now, it’s time to make a plan!

It’s tempt­ing to start read­ing, but with­out a plan, you run the risk of quit­ting as soon as the rush of nov­el­ty tapers off. The best plan is to cre­ate a set rou­tine built on habits for your studies. 

In the begin­ning, I sug­gest you lim­it your­self to one study habit: work­ing with your text­book every day, at the same time.

Read this arti­cle to learn how to cre­ate a last­ing Latin learn­ing habit

It’s impor­tant to focus on the habit, not on the out­come. You can’t decide that you will reach a par­tic­u­lar out­come, but you can per­form a set of habits every day, which in time take you to your desired outcome.

Augustinus' Confessiones open in the middle, standing amongst spoons and old plates in a kitchen.
Read­ing Augusti­nus in the kitchen. Pho­to: Amelie Rosengren

What to expect at the beginning of your Latin studies

On your first day of learn­ing Latin, you will like­ly feel two things: “This is so excit­ing!” and/or “I have no idea where to start!” 

Learn­ing Latin is quite dis­tinct from learn­ing mod­ern lan­guages: When learn­ing Latin, we are learn­ing the lit­er­ary lan­guage that evolved in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal con­text: the lit­er­ary elite of ancient Rome 2000 years ago, and there are no native Romans left that we can ask when we are in doubt. 

How­ev­er, remem­ber that it only takes time and prac­tice to learn Latin. 

L’In­spi­ra­tion du poète, Nico­las Poussin c. 1629–1630

To com­bat stress and fear, I always tell my stu­dents to imag­ine they already knew Latin well and could read with ease. What do you pic­ture your­self doing? Read­ing Ovid? Going through Medieval man­u­scripts? Write ever­last­ing poet­ry your­self? Just imag­ine the possibilities.

With all your deci­sions about how and when you will learn Latin, it’s time to get start­ed. Good luck and remem­ber to have fun! There will be bumps in the road ahead; keep an eye on the hori­zon and enjoy the ride!

One day you will read and share the thoughts of peo­ple who lived thou­sands of years ago.

Pro-tip for getting started with your textbook

Before leav­ing you, I want­ed to give you a tip to kick-start your stud­ies. This is a 13-step study rou­tine that I rec­om­mend my stu­dents for study­ing the text­book, Famil­ia Romana. The method applies to oth­er text­books as well, with a few tweaks. This method will make sure you mas­ter every­thing in the book and nev­er feel out of your depth: 

13-step routine for studying Latin as a beginner with Familia Romana

  1. Sit down at a table with a pen, the text­book, and the record­ing of it.
  2. Push play on the record­ing of the first chapter.
  3. Lis­ten care­ful­ly to the first cou­ple of sec­onds (or just let it play the whole chap­ter for fun!)
  4. Stop, and think if you could under­stand any­thing. Don’t wor­ry if you can’t: you’re just dis­cov­er­ing the lan­guage and its pronunciation.
  5. Now, slow­ly read the first sentence(s) that you lis­tened to.
  6. Make sure you under­stand the mean­ing by look­ing at the mar­gin­al notes and images.
  7. After you’ve under­stood the first sentence(s), restart the record­ing from the start.
  8. Look­ing at the book, read aloud with the record­ing, and try to match your pro­nun­ci­a­tion as close as pos­si­ble to the record­ing, in essence, hav­ing your voice become almost an echo (Here is an in-depth expla­na­tion of this tech­nique). Don’t wor­ry if it’s dif­fi­cult; it only takes time and practice.
  9. Lis­ten to a few more sen­tences, and stop, and then fol­low steps 3–7.
  10. Repeat this for the whole first sec­tion, called a lec­tio.
  11. Now lis­ten to the whole lec­tio while read­ing aloud as in step 8. 
  12. If you still have time, do all the exer­cis­es of lec­tio one in writ­ing. As you write, read out aloud all the words you write. Make a con­nec­tion between the writ­ten word and the sound.
  13. Relax and give your­self a reward! 

That’s way too much reviewing! 

Yes, it is a lot. Many peo­ple rush through the book as soon as they “get the gist”.

They usu­al­ly pay the price lat­er, when they real­ize they don’t have a rock-sol­id foun­da­tion and won­der if there is a trans­la­tion of Famil­ia Romana (no.)

If you fol­low this method, you will build a strong foun­da­tion in the lan­guage and con­fi­dence in your abil­i­ty. Why not try it for 7 days, and see?

Good luck,

—Daniel

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

Teacher and author Daniel Pettersson, M.A., is co-founder of Latinitium and is currently teaching Latin at Stockholm University, where he is also working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Humanist Colloquia. Daniel believes in the importance of Latin literature in the modern world and that you can teach yourself Latin with the right motivation, method, and material.
Written by Daniel Pettersson

Written by Daniel Pettersson

Related articles

How to start speaking Latin: the first daily exercise

How to start speaking Latin: the first daily exercise

Do you want to learn to read Latin well—without looking for the verb or checking the dictionary every other ...
How to Read and Study Classical Latin Texts: 10 Suggestions from a Latin Teacher

How to Read and Study Classical Latin Texts: 10 Suggestions from a Latin Teacher

For most students of Latin, learning Latin means sooner or later reading classical Latin literature. However, ...
Can Latin be Spoken? Common questions answered by a Latin speaker

Can Latin be Spoken? Common questions answered by a Latin speaker

The Pantheon and Colosseum, both monuments of Ancient Rome, are still standing. But an even more enduring Roman ...