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Learn Latin: How to Improve Your Latin in 10 Minutes a Day

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Master A Latin Text, 10 Minutes At A Time

The last cou­ple of years peo­ple have fre­quent­ly asked me how I learned to speak Latin and what they could do to improve their own Latin even if they had extreme­ly lit­tle free time. I believe every­one can teach them­selves to speak Latin and read Latin flu­ent­ly. It’s just a ques­tion of moti­va­tion, method and material.

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There are many ways we can build our skill in a lan­guage. Today I will treat one I’ve enjoyed a lot of suc­cess with.

For more sug­ges­tions, read this arti­cle about a method I adapt­ed from Erasmus.

First off, the key ingre­di­ent to gain­ing flu­en­cy in Latin is con­sis­ten­cy and habit. Get­ting a good dai­ly read­ing (or lis­ten­ing) habit is essen­tial. Now, this is some­times extreme­ly dif­fi­cult with jobs, fam­i­ly life, hob­bies and, well, life get­ting in the way. But there is hope: here’s a quick-fix or, more accu­rate­ly, a “slow-fix”.

So today I thought I’d present a tech­nique I use when I don’t have the time to read an hour a day.

This tech­nique is not only about read­ing but about real­ly mas­ter­ing a piece of text and mak­ing it your own. When I’ve done this, I’ve found I know the expres­sions and struc­tures almost off by heart. Then when speak­ing Latin, I have a ready source to draw from. Also, when read­ing a dif­fer­ent text, it’s eas­i­er to see sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences in expres­sions if you know a cou­ple of texts real­ly well.

Last­ly, being real­ly famil­iar with a num­ber of texts helps enor­mous­ly with build­ing con­fi­dence, which is an inte­gral part of per­se­ver­ing on the road to flu­en­cy. Let’s get into it.

I dis­cuss this tech­nique and more in this talk (in Latin) I gave in Flo­rence 2016 (Sub­ti­tles in Latin are avail­able!):

Day 1: Material—interesting & level appropriate

First off, we need a text. An inter­est­ing text that we can also under­stand, more or less. Pick one. It does­n’t have to be per­fect. For some sug­ges­tions look through our grow­ing selec­tion of short record­ings of Latin texts.

Pick a text and look through it with­out read­ing it.

Just famil­iar­ize your­self with it.

Read a few words here and there. It’s a first date, you’re just get­ting acquaint­ed. Put it down and let it rest until tomorrow.

A new day and a new step to take.

Pull out the old hour­glass (or use a less fun timer). Set it to ten min­utes. Start reading.

How much you read dur­ing your 10 min­utes is not impor­tant, but to be able to per­form the next steps, keep it to a few pages tops. Read at a pace at which you can under­stand and visu­al­ize the things you read. Note where you stopped.

Extra Credit: Visualizing

Visu­al­is­ing is a great way to see if you real­ly under­stand a text. If you can pic­ture it in you mind, you most like­ly under­stand it. 

Fur­ther­more, it makes under­stand­ing more lengthy sen­tences much eas­i­er. For instance take a sen­tence like this from good ol’ Caesar:

“Pri­ma luce pro­duc­tis omnibus copi­is dupli­ci acie insti­tu­ta, aux­ili­is in medi­am aciem coniec­tis, quid hostes con­silii caper­ent expectabat.”

Cae­sar, de Bel­lo Gallico

When read­ing a sen­tence, try pic­tur­ing each part before pro­ceed­ing. For exam­ple, after reading

“pri­ma luce pro­duc­tis omnibus copi­is dupli­ci acie instituta”

try to see a field with the sun just ris­ing where the troops have been led out and placed into a dou­ble bat­tle line. Then read on

“aux­ili­is in medi­am aciem coniectis”

and visu­al­ize the aux­il­iary troops in the mid­dle. It does­n’t mat­ter if you know what this actu­al­ly looks like, just pic­ture some­thing plau­si­ble. Try to see the sol­diers stand­ing in these lines. Con­tin­ue with:

“quid hostes con­silii caper­ent expectabat”

Pic­ture the gen­er­al on his horse look­ing around and wait­ing to see what the ene­my will do.

This may seem a very lengthy exer­cise, but describ­ing a pic­ture requires, well, a thou­sand words. In real­i­ty, pic­tur­ing some­thing is a lot quicker.

Try it.

Pic­ture an ele­phant read­ing a book. Then write down that descrip­tion. Takes a while, right?

Now, many may say that they are not visu­al, but I think most peo­ple are.

Think of any book you’ve read and then seen a cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion; maybe you’ve gone “that’s not what X is sup­posed to be like, look like etc.”; the movie’s images con­flict with your own visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the text.

Day 3: Re-read & Record & Read

On day three you set your timer and re-read the same text that you read on the pre­vi­ous day.  This will be a lot eas­i­er, and prob­a­bly quick­er, than the first time.

Now comes the cru­cial part. In the time you have left do this: Pull out your phone or any device with a micro­phone. Set it to record and start read­ing the pas­sage that you’ve by now read two times. Read slow­ly into the microphone.

When you record, it does­n’t have to be per­fect, not even all that good, because between lis­ten­ing to a less than per­fect read­ing of a Latin text and not lis­ten­ing at all, the choice is easy.

Record until your timer goes off. Save the file. Done for today.

The next day you con­tin­ue read­ing. Then on the day after you record that text, and con­tin­ue in the same fashion.

No Time To Record?

Some­times there’s just not enough time or strength to record it. It hap­pens to all of us. Here you can find our Latin audio archive sec­tion; pick what­ev­er piques your inter­est and start from step 3.

You can find more audio and hours of video in Latin on our Patre­on page. Become a Latini­tium sup­port­er, and get access to tons of mate­r­i­al, and new videos in Latin every week.

Day 4: From The Top

If you fin­ished record­ing the pas­sage on the pre­vi­ous day, start from step 1 and pick a new pas­sage; oth­er­wise, fin­ish record­ing the pre­vi­ous one.

Listening

So, now we have some text record­ed, what now?

Apart from the use we get from re-read­ing, we get a record­ing to lis­ten to when we are going about our day.

Now we have to find time to lis­ten to it and this can be tricky but I’ll give you some exam­ples of when I’ve lis­tened to Latin:

  • While brush­ing my teeth
  • While hav­ing break­fast (maybe less social­ly accept­able if some­one else is present, but hey…)
  • While com­mut­ing to work
  • While walk­ing
  • At the gym
  • While doing the dishes
  • At the gro­cery store (this often leads to me walk­ing around for­get­ting what I was sup­posed to buy.)

These lit­tle bits of time amount to a lot of lis­ten­ing if we do it every­day. For exam­ple, I would esti­mate I spend around 10 min­utes stand­ing in line dur­ing a reg­u­lar work day (cof­fee shop, pub­lic trans­port, gro­cery store).

Now, in a month that would make 10 × 20 = 200 min­utes = 3h 20min. That’s not bad.

Extra Credit: Go Fast

When we’ve accu­mu­lat­ed some record­ings and have lis­tened to them a sev­er­al times, we will know the con­tent pret­ty well. Now to go through it faster, if your device allows it; you can lis­ten to it at dif­fer­ent speeds such as, 1.3X, 1.5X and even, for the brave ones, 2X the speed. Mod­ern soft­ware tend to keep the pitch more or less intact so that you don’t sound like a chipmunk.


Recap Of The The Steps:

  • Day 1: Pick an inter­est­ing text that you can under­stand. Famil­iar­ize your­self with it: Read a few words here and there.
  • Day 2: Set a timer. Read.
  • Day 3: Re-read the same passage(s). Record as much as you can in the remain­ing time.
  • Day 4: Read a new pas­sage or pos­si­bly fin­ish record­ing the pre­vi­ous one.
  • Repeat.

Give it a try. I always get a lot out of this method. Let me know how it goes. Start today by pick­ing a text.

If you liked it, please share it with your friends!

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

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