- Goal and Motivation for Learning Latin
- Teaching yourself Latin vs having a teacher
- Decide on a study method
- Get the materials you need for your Latin studies
- How much time do you have to study?
- Create a study routine of habits
- What to expect at the beginning of your Latin studies
- Pro-tip for getting started with your textbook
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!
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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
- Sit down at a table with a pen, the textbook, and the recording of it.
- Push play on the recording of the first chapter.
- Listen carefully to the first couple of seconds (or just let it play the whole chapter for fun!)
- Stop, and think if you could understand anything. Don’t worry if you can’t: you’re just discovering the language and its pronunciation.
- Now, slowly read the first sentence(s) that you listened to.
- Make sure you understand the meaning by looking at the marginal notes and images.
- After you’ve understood the first sentence(s), restart the recording from the start.
- 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.
- Listen to a few more sentences, and stop, and then follow steps 3–7.
- Repeat this for the whole first section, called a lectio.
- Now listen to the whole lectio while reading aloud as in step 8.
- 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.
- 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?