Today’s Phrase for Latin Lovers

Rem ipsam dic, mitte male loqui.

Translation:
Speak out the whole truth boldly, but use no bad language. -- John Adams, 1775

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Ancient History

Latin Prudentia

Each morning, I tweet a daily Latin phrase and post the translation in the upper left corner of The Prudence Paine Papers.

Don’t let this mislead you, however, as to my level of expertise. I’m a complete Latin (lingua Latina) novice. Years ago, I bought a used textbook and after completing the first chapter and having no answer key to test my learning, I put it on the shelf. Only recently, once I began to study philosophy from its very beginnings, did I become interested in trying to learn Latin once again.

So I pulled out my old Latin textbook, plowed through several more chapters and finally decided it was time to get some study materials that included the answers.

I quickly found that it’s not necessary to go to a college bookstore to get Latin textbooks. A large selection is available online through sources such as Amazon. I sorted through all of the reviews and narrowed down my options to four Latin programs/textbook series. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. As various friends and acquaintances have asked about the books I’m using, I’ll share all of my research with you. Perhaps my comments can lead you to the best program for your purposes.

WHEELOCK’S LATIN

It appears that the standard Latin textbook used in many high schools and colleges is Wheelock’s Latin. Looking at the numerous reviews on Amazon and other places, it also appears that Wheelock’s is universally deemed dry, boring and complex, especially in its focus on the rules of grammar, which it apparently doesn’t explain very well.

However, I’m a grammar geek, and I love the challenge of dry, boring, complex. So I ordered it and several accompaniments: the Workbook for Wheelock’s Latin, the 4-CD set Readings From Wheelock’s Latin (an audio collection of passages from the man textbook to help students develop an ear for proper pronunciation—although, reviewers complain of the reader’s voice and style, but they don’t quibble with the results), A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock’s Latin (a supplemental textbook to instruct you on what the heck the main textbook is saying), 38 Latin Stories: Designed to Accompany Frederic M. Wheelock’s Latin (one very short story per chapter with vocabulary lists, but no further translation given), Scribblers, Sculptors, and Scribes: A Companion to Wheelock’s Latin and Other Introductory Textbooks (more extensive stories that can supplement Wheelock’s 40 lessons), and Wheelock’s Latin Reader: Selections from Latin Literature (more in-depth than 38 Stories, considered an intermediate student follow-up text to the main Wheelock’s Latin textbook).

My findings: ay-yi-yi, oh my. It is dry, boring, complex. Grammar, grammar, grammar, with very little to put all the grammar memorization rules into context. If you need to study Latin for professional purposes, to become an expert in Latin, you need Wheelock’s. If you are learning Latin more for personal pleasure and enjoyment, or to better understand grammar and related languages, you may still want to go through the Wheelock’s program, but I would highly suggest doing one of the other programs first. Once you are to a level where you can read a little Latin and have something to supplement and apply the mind-numbing grammar lessons to, Wheelock’s will make much more sense and its grammar rules and memorized tables stick in the brain better.

I personally have put my Wheelock materials aside until I complete one of the below programs.

LINGUA LATINA

Looking further, I came across the Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata series, by Danish professor Hans Orberg. The program appears to proceed quite simply and traditionally, combining grammar and vocabulary lessons with readings and exercises. I like the patient, gentle temperament of Danes. Orberg doesn’t disappoint.

Part 1 of the course contains readings and skits about Roman family life: Lingua Latina Pars I: Familia Romana with its workbook: Lingua Latina: Exercitia Latina I.

Part 2 focuses on Roman history: Lingua Latina Part II: Roma Aeterna, with its workbook Lingua Latina: Exercitia Latina II.

Since I so often have my computer with me these days, and because it was ultimately cheaper (including all of the four above books, plus the answer keys), I bought the core Lingua Latina program on CD-ROM: Lingua Latina: CD-Rom of Familia Romana, Roma Aeterna, Excertia Latina I & II & Grammatica Latina (for the MAC OS X). NOTE: I haven’t found a PC version that contains both parts, though you can purchase CD-ROMs and audio CDs of individual books or, say, all of Part I, such as Lingua Latina Pars I: Familia Romana—Interactive CD Rom (PC). If you want the CD versions of the books, just be alert to the “formats” box on Amazon near where it displays the price of the book. If an audio or multimedia version of the same item is available, it will often be listed there. (You may have to click the “Show more formats” link.)

The nice thing about the CD-Rom version is that the entire book can be read to you, and the exercises are nicely set up as fill-in-the-blank. The poor thing about the CD-Rom version is, I miss paper, being able to hold it in my hands, flip quickly through to find what I’m looking for. With the CD, I can’t view non-lesson pages (such as the table of contents), and what I can view, I have to scroll around to see everything. Plus, while I love being able to hear the Latin stories read to me, there is apparently no way to pause it and restart. If you pause, you are starting all the way back at the beginning of the lesson when you resume. That’s gonna get tiresome.

A number of supplemental booklets can be purchased for the Lingua Latina program:

My findings: So far so good. The readings and exercises are rather repetitive at this stage, which begins to verge on boring, but then I realize, “hey, I know this now.” It doesn’t move too fast. Each chapter actually covers quite a bit of vocabulary and some good grammar chunks.

LATIN VIA OVID

The Latin Via Ovid series (which offers a Latin Via Ovid: A First Course textbook and the Practice! Practice! workbook) uses stories direct from Ovid’s Metamorphosis to instruct beginning Latin learners. The early passages have been modified from Ovid’s original Latin in order to use a suitable vocabulary for the student’s first few lessons. But the authors promise that by the end, students are reading Ovid’s exact words.

If you have difficulty with understanding the grammar terms such as dative and ablative cases and declensions and subjunctive mood and gerunds, then you might want to get a little book by the Latin Via Ovid author Norma Goldman: English Grammar for Students of Latin. Its focus is on English grammar, reviewing in a very simple manner all the different parts of speech and how they operate, and showing how it relates to Latin grammar. It won’t teach you Latin grammar, but it will prevent you from freaking out when your Latin textbook starts telling you there are no “articles” in Latin, or to use the “accusative case.” You’ll know what that means. NOTE: This book can be helpful for any Latin student, no matter which textbook or program you use. If you need a quick refresher on English grammar, this is your book.

On the bright side, there are audio materials for Latin Via Ovid. On the dark side, they cost $255 (or $229 through Amazon currently). That’s puts them out of reach for many, even though it could be less than the price of a college course. What a shame. Even I am afraid to spend that much—especially when there is a free audio program offered online….

My findings: Frankly, I’ve spent more time with the Lingua Latina program and the Linney ones below, simply because of the audio advantage. My initial impression is the textbook is easy to follow, with lots of information in English, including instructions. It’s exciting to be just starting out in my Latin studies and already reading one of the great ancient texts in its original language, making me feel like a Roman schoolgirl. And of course, having lasted 2000 years, the stories here are more lively and entertaining than the Lingua Latina program. There’s less repetition here too, so swift learners may prefer this program.

On the downside, the book does not come with an answer key. You have to email, write or call Wayne State University Press, the publisher, and request a teacher’s guide (which they will also provide for free to home study students). They responded to my request for the guide pleasantly and rapidly. Disappointingly, out of the five or so types of exercises at the end of each chapter, the teacher’s guide only gives the answers for the exercise in which the student translates the sentences from English to Latin. All the other exercises, such as verb work and other grammar tests and answering Latin questions about the readings, are left unanswered, which is especially disappointing when some of them are structured as matching or fill-in-the-blank questions. The student workbook, however, covers much of the same material, and it contains all of the workbook answers. Therefore, I look forward to spending more time with Latin Via Ovid.

PROFESSOR LINNEY’S INTERNET LATIN COURSES

William Linney’s Getting Started with Latin has the subtitle of “Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age,” and that’s exactly what it is. The first few of 134 lessons are shamefully easy, taking only a couple minutes to complete (and that’s if you go wild and not only translate from Latin into English but also translate back into Latin). The next few are only slightly less shameful, as are the next, and before you know it, you’re making great progress.

Getting Started With Latin is introduced as a pre-Latin workbook, something to get you warmed up and ready for the real thing. Some people complain that it’s too simple. Perhaps it would be for someone wanting to do intensive study, but for younger students and adults who only have a few minutes a day to devote to a Latin lesson, this is a splendid place to start.

Plus, Professor Linney is an enthusiastic and devoted teacher. He has developed a website for purchasers of his book where he gives tips and free audio recordings of the exercises so that you can learn correct pronunciation. For each lesson, he carefully goes over the main points of the lesson and then reviews each workbook question. What a joy he is as a professor.

Once you’ve completed (or while you are completing) Getting Started With Latin, Linney can also guide you through a 100-year-old classic Latin textbook: The First Year of Latin. Offering internet lectures on this public domain gem is a labor of love for Linney. He is barely halfway through the text with his chapter-by-chapter lectures, but for a free course, you can’t get any better. Plus as with the Latin Via Ovid textbook, this classic textbook has you learning by reading Caesar’s own words from his The War With the Helvetii, so you are getting in your ancient history and literature lessons at the same time.

My findings: I have thoroughly enjoyed Linney’s gift of free lectures. The Getting Started With Latin book (which is basically a workbook) might be a little slow for me, but hearing Linney’s lectures on each simple exercise makes it all worthwhile. I can’t help but feel very smart indeed when I’ve finished my Linney work. The high repetition has made the vocabulary and grammar rules stick like glue to my brain, and my pronunciation is pretty good. (Or so my cat says.)

I very much recommend the Linney programs to anyone feeling the least bit trepidatious about learning Latin. What a confidence booster, and you can’t beat the price.

ESSENTIAL REFERENCE BOOKS
All students of foreign languages need a dictionary and a dreaded verb conjugation book. As a novice student, I haven’t the knowledge to evaluate the organization or completeness of these, so I relied on reviews to select one of each for myself:

Now for the fun stuff….

FUN READING PRACTICE
Study is critical to any learning process, but sometimes it’s good to just break away from the lesson plan and have some fun. With any foreign language, it must be used to be learned and retained. Therefore, if you want to be able to read Latin, you have to practice reading Latin.

Popular books are often translated into other languages so that people around the world can enjoy the story. Who knew that some books are translated into Latin—including children’s books. But you don’t have to be a child to enjoy the pleasure of a simple story, and one that you can read yourself.

Here’s a list of a wide variety of books, from children’s tales to adult literature and history originally written in Latin. Find one that seems to be on your level of Latin expertise and interest, and dig in.

Classic Storybooks

Dr. Seuss

Fairy Tales, Myths and Fables

Harrius Potter….For Real

Latin Nursery Rhymes and Poetry

Young Adult Literature

Ancient Latin Literature and History

Loeb Classics
These lovely, pocket-size volumes have stood the test of time, most having been in print for nearly 100 years by the Harvard University Press. Some translations have been updated and modernized since then. The real appeal to these books is that they have the Latin (or Greek) on one page, and the English translation on the other. Therefore, if you are ready to move away from the student readers that have vocabulary lists and grammar notes, you will want to start building a Loeb library for yourself.

Below I have selected a few of the most essential Latin writers, and have thrown in a few fun books. Almost all of the these books have portions of them used in the first two years of Latin classes, so start thinking about some of these once you are about halfway through your first Latin textbook.

These are just a few of the over 500 volumes in the Loeb Classic Library collection. If you don’t see something here that you’d like to dive into, there’s sure to be others for you. Happy reading!

MORE LATIN MISCELLANY

Latin Audio Books
If you wish to speak and understand spoken Latin, then you will want to use a program that has audio materials to instruct you in proper pronunciation. (There are two forms of spoken Latin: classical and ecclesiastical, the first being what would have been heard in ancient Rome and in modern college classes and the latter being what is heard still today in Latin masses and other church-oriented uses.)

The four programs above have partial or complete audio recordings available. You may wish to supplement your studies with more entertaining or educational audio books, such as:

Latin Language Music

Grammar Songs

Christmas Music

(When Christmas approaches, someone remind me to find other traditional Latin language Christmas songs. There’s lots of beautiful medieval and classical ones to choose.)

The Good Stuff
A sampling of fine medieval, classical and ecclesiastical music, written and performed in Latin.

Latin Crossword Puzzle Books
Need a break from a boring lesson? Try a Latin puzzle instead.

  • Easy Latin Crossword Puzzles [Some complain that these puzzles are too easy, so don't expect the New York Times crossword in Latin.]
  • Latin Crosswords [According to some reviewers, this puzzle book is not just crosswords. It also has other Latin word games included.]

Latin for Young Children
In the Latin Readers section above, I listed numerous books that included fairy tales and popular children’s literature. Those books I believed would prove enjoyable reading to child and adult alike. However, for very young children, it may be necessary to use Latin books that adults would not be likely to read on their own.

Numerous Latin programs exist to teach children as young as 4, 5 and 6 to read and speak Latin. Below are a few that caught my eye, primarily because they seemed fun and engaging. I have not used any of these books, so please be sure to carefully read the descriptions and reviews to see whether they would appeal to your child. If not, you may wish to scroll through the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought” window at each book’s page on Amazon to locate other programs for young kids.

Latin Comic Books
Some young adult literature is published in graphic novel form. Some of the popular French comic books in The Adventures of Asterix series by Rene Goscinny (which chronicle a Gaul village resisting Roman invasion) have been published in Latin. Here’s a few hard-to-get ones that are currently available.

Casual Latin for the Non-Student
If you don’t want to bother with all the vocabulary and grammar and study, you too can still speak Latin with the help of these casual phrase books.

Conversational Latin
Believe it or not, there are programs will teach you to speak Latin conversationally, such as Rosetta Stone. Not sure what you can do with it, as I haven’t seen too many cocktail party chitchats conducted in Latin, but it can take the edge off of having to recite Cicero and Virgil.

Latin Vulgate Bibles
If you attend a church that conducts its services in Latin, you may want to own a Latin Holy Bible.

  • Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Vulgate) This volume is Jerome’s translation of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into Latin, which, according to the publisher, was recognized as authoritative during the Council of Trent (1546). I think it is the version from which the King James version was translated.
  • Douay-Rheims and Clementina Vulgata: English-Latin Bible [Leather bound, gilded edges, gorgeous. With English and Latin side-by-side on the page.]

Latin Language History
Finally, perhaps you don’t care to know any Latin at all, but are a history buff who would enjoy reading about the evolution of Latin. If so, this final book’s for you.

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