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Is there a translation of Familia Romana?

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

I have been teach­ing Latin using a com­bi­na­tion of spo­ken Latin and tra­di­tion­al meth­ods for over twelve years, both in pri­vate lessons and at uni­ver­si­ty. The text­book I use and always rec­om­mend is Famil­ia Romana by Hans Ørberg. The book is writ­ten entire­ly in Latin, and many online ask whether there is an Eng­lish trans­la­tion avail­able or not.

Sug­gest­ed read­ing: Best books for learn­ing Latin

The Latin text­book Famil­ia Romana does not have an offi­cial trans­la­tion into Eng­lish or any oth­er lan­guage. This is by design. Famil­ia Romana is writ­ten entire­ly in Latin and con­struct­ed in such a way as to lead the read­er from the eas­i­est Latin such as Roma in Italia est (“Rome is in Italy”) to more com­plex nar­ra­tive texts. 

How to not need a translation

If you strug­gle and feel like you need a trans­la­tion when read­ing Famil­ia Romana, you are not alone: many stu­dents say this. How­ev­er, this is usu­al­ly because they are mov­ing too fast through the book. They might say, “I get this, I under­stand this,” and move on. But it’s very easy to miss the lit­tle things that pile up, and before long, the text is “too dif­fi­cult,” and you need a translation.

To com­bat this, I have my stu­dents work on one chap­ter dili­gent­ly: they re-read it care­ful­ly at least five times and do all the exer­cis­es in the Famil­ia Romana book and the exer­cise book Exerci­tia I, at least two times prefer­ably more. In addi­tion, dur­ing our ses­sions, we dis­cuss the text, and I ask ques­tions and cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion using the chap­ter’s vocab­u­lary— in Latin.

To help you get going, you can read this step-by-step method of study­ing Famil­ia Romana, or if you are pressed for time, below you’ll find a short­er ver­sion of the same method:

  • Read the first chap­ter sec­tion (Lec­tio I) look­ing at the mar­gin­al notes and images
  • Reread the lec­tio two more times aloud
  • Using pen and paper, do the exer­cis­es for that lec­tio in the Exer­cise book twice
  • Reread the lec­tio again, try­ing to pic­ture every­thing that is happening. 
  • Repeat the process for the next section.
  • When you come to the end of the chap­ter, read the whole chap­ter in one go, pic­tur­ing every­thing described.
  • Do the exer­cis­es (Pen­sum A, B, and C) in the Famil­ia Romana book, which per­tain to the whole chapter.

This might seem bor­ing and take much time. That could be true, but what is a guar­an­tee is that with this method, you will mas­ter the vocab­u­lary, turns of phras­es, and the gram­mar step-by-step, ever build­ing on it as you progress.

After doing this, you will most like­ly not require a trans­la­tion, as you will under­stand every­thing perfectly.

What if I still need a translation?

None of my stu­dents who dili­gent­ly fol­low this method has felt the need to use a trans­la­tion with Famil­ia Romana. There might be a word or two here or there where you might be unsure: it’s fine to look up that word (after fol­low­ing the method above!) in a Latin dictionary.

Be sure to use a suit­able dic­tio­nary, such as The Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin & Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, and not a schol­ar­ly dic­tio­nary like Lewis & Short or the Oxford Latin Dic­tio­nary. These lat­ter two are too detailed and will give you every pos­si­ble mean­ing and def­i­n­i­tion across cen­turies of authors. At the start, stick with a small­er, more acces­si­ble dictionary.

Check out this guide to find the best Latin dic­tio­nary for your lev­el.

Why you should avoid using a translation with Familia Romana

Using trans­la­tions when read­ing lit­er­ary works is often a use­ful tool to clear up any dif­fi­cul­ty or get a bet­ter sense of the nuances of the Latin words. But, when study­ing a text­book such as Famil­ia Romana, trans­la­tions can eas­i­ly become a crutch, where you always doubt your­self until you check the trans­la­tion. The trans­la­tion becomes a sort of sooth­say­ing oracle. 

This habit usu­al­ly fol­lows stu­dents for years into their stud­ies, who become depen­dent on trans­la­tions and nev­er being com­fort­able with rely­ing on their own abil­i­ties and judg­ment, always defer­ring to some­one else.

Don’t do that.

Spend more time in the begin­ning, devel­op­ing a strong foun­da­tion in the lan­guage (with the method above) and devel­op a strong con­fi­dence in your own abil­i­ty to under­stand and inter­pret Latin cor­rect­ly. Lat­er when read­ing lit­er­a­ture, you can then use a trans­la­tion spar­ing­ly when you need to, with­out feel­ing the need to con­stant­ly con­sult it. 

You will be a con­fi­dent and bet­ter read­er if you do.

Good luck!

—Daniel Pet­ters­son

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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