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How to Learn Latin Quickly!

By Yann, published on 23/06/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Academia > Latin > 5 tips to learn Latin quickly!

If you are fascinated by Roman civilization, history, geography, the ancient world of Greece and Rome and by ancient languages, choose the Latin option in secondary school. Making this decision will drastically help you if you are learning other Latin-based languages such as French or Italian. 

A common trend among Latin students is that after they have finished their last classes and years go by they have completely forgotten what they learnt. All those late hours of studying go completely wasted!

The Roman Empire was a Great Power Once a vast empire, Roman culture still continues to fascinate people all over the world. Learning Latin has never been so cool! (Source: Visual Hunt)

This may have to do with the teaching you received in High School, Latin is mostly taught in a way that you have to remember things by heart; reciting each word with the first Latin declination and learning the cases (nominative, accusative, vocative, genitive, dative and ablative), without understanding the purpose of why you are learning Latin.

At 15 years old, we may lack the motivation to play with Latin words and, for example, establish a bridge between the numerous European languages which Latin has birthed. We may not realize that learning Latin will help us better understand the syntax and grammar of Spanish and other Latin-based languages.

In addition, dead languages, such as ancient Greek or Latin, may lose peoples interest in comparison to other subject matters or spoken languages used today. This can result in making learning Latin, boring, soporific and uninteresting.

It is impossible to learn Latin quickly if you have those prejudgements…

For experienced Latin students, teaching the exploration of classic Latin letters results in the interest of familiarizing yourself with ancient Roman texts written in the past and reading more about the history of literature, these strategies result in creating better students. 

Therefore, here are 5 tips to learn Latin quickly.

1. Learn a little bit of Latin Vocabulary

The human brain works with an infinite and dense mesh of neurones that connect and disconnect with tens of thousands of others.

When one looks to memorize more Latin vocabulary, it’s the number of neuronal connections that stimulate. Thus, like a computers hard disk, the shorter the circuit, the better our memory will be for remembering Latin vocabulary.

Ancient Latin Writing Learning key Latin words is a great start to successfully learning this ancient language. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Is it better to learn each word from a Cicero or Tite-Live book, or is it more useful to use the most frequently used words, that is spoken in daily life?

Looking to assimilate every word that is taught during your Latin classes in High School, also each destination by heart risks becoming counterproductive because at the end you still won’t know how to translate a text.

That’s why our number one tip is not to only focus on basic vocabulary.

Starting with a small rudimentary English Latin lexicon will make it ever more possible to understand the most used phrases used in classic literary texts.

For example, we could apply the Pareto principle of 80-20 to help us learn beginner Latin: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, which means that if you memorize 20% of the words this will permit you to understand 80% of the most used words.

Studying a lower amount of words permits you to break up your learning in different sections: you start with a small list of 10 to 15 words and, little by little, add more words as the weeks go on.

This will notably prevent you from becoming discouraged when you realize all the work that needs to be done in order to learn Latin.

To achieve this, a great idea would be to divide a list of certain words from an English Latin dictionary, or those from a Latin text you read that are misunderstood, with the number of days that are left in the month.

Start by writing a list of English to Latin vocabulary. Then read the list and repeat the words by hiding the translated English form.

Recite aloud each ending (whether it has to do with a noun, pronoun or verb) and try to remember the word translation in your mother tongue. If you are successful and have recited it well move on to the next one. If you have failed write a little check mark beside it.

Write all the words with a check mark beside them on a separate piece of paper and repeat the exercise until you have remembered all the words on the list.

Quizlet has great basic Latin vocabulary flashcards to help you learn simple and necessary words in order to play the aforementioned game.

You’re on your way to becoming a Latin expert!

2. Create Mental Pictures to Learn Latin Quickly!

To do your Latin exercises without fault, to stimulate your reasoning and memorization of common Latin phrases and to improve your Latin expressions, creating mental pictures is a fundamental tip of metacognition, awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.

It is a mnemonic technique that permits you to visualize what you are learning because mental pictures that we create in our brain are easier to retain than abstract ideas.   

Mental Pictures can help you learn latin quicker The human brain is a wonderful thing. Creating mental images will help the brain remember faster. (Source: Visual Hunt)

When we are presented with new Latin words it is often difficult to guess the whole meaning of the word. Here are some examples:

  • Regnum (kingdom, realm, rule, kingship, throne),
  • Caput (head, judgement, capital),
  • Imperium (empire, government, command, control, mastery),
  • Vox (voice, sound, expression, tone),
  • Pax (peace, serenity, truce, calmness),
  • Caelum (heaven, sky, air, atmosphere), etc.

A mental representation of the situation of a Latin phrase helps the human mind to transform an abstract word into a concrete image to naturally memorize it.

In our examples of Latin words, we can imagine laurels on the head of the ruler (regnum) Julius Caesar as he goes from the Colosseum to the Capital (Rome, representing the Roman empire, caput) speaking with an imploring voice (vox), begging the sky (caelum) to bring peace (pax) to the empire (imperium).

Even if this paragraph or association of words seems crazy and childish to many historians and linguistics, it helps us paint a mental picture and memorize certain words that would have been impossible before.

Successful word pictures begin with a lot of exaggeration and are associated with movement and unusual behaviour or events.

The word tsunami helps you remember the word for wave as does an anvil for a hammer etc., this helps paint a picture in the brain of an impressive image that will not soon be forgotten.

Also, mental pictures are more easily retained than static things: do not hesitate to create absolutely absurd scenarios.

3. Mobilize the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

During interdisciplinary teaching, the English Latin teacher can use various methods to assimilate Latin to their students.

The human brain develops through the memorization of three different forms: auditive, visual and kinesthetic. We all have different types of intelligence: a visuospatial or kinaesthetic dominant intelligence.

Learning languages requires putting importance on chess and maths with the result of multiplying your different forms of intelligence.

King and Queen It is often said that chess players are more intelligent. The same can be said for those learning Latin; it stimulates cognitive reasoning. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Remembering all Latins nouns, irregular verbs, qualifying adjectives or prepositions can seem like a bit of a headache especially for those who do not a visual memory.

With Latin being a dead language, it is not spoken commonly as a mother tongue and is merely found in books.

With that being said, it is much easier to learn Latin when you base your studying on written works rather than audio files.

In the mother tongue of Cicero and Seneca the Younger, there are many grammar points that can be easily confused: where to place the supine, how to determine the accusative from the dative, how to conjugate the verb to be, how to remember each declination?

Creating a mind map, or in other words, a heuristics diagram can be a great help.

This method consists of putting down on paper a visual diagram that ranks the English words or each word form in Latin. It’s a very well known technique used in cognitive science to summarize a book, prepare for an exam or learn a new language.

For example, we draw in different colours the superlatives issimus, errimus and illimus in a shaded box in the middle of a page, then we associate with each one the radical of the adjective, writing down expressions or comparisons for each relation.

This helps to retain more clearly the relative superlatives and the absolute superiority: doctus (the wise one) becomes doctissimus which means, “the wisest one.”

Soliciting the efforts from both sides of the brain and establishing links between ideas, the student will go directly to learning the most essential Latin and will create a shorter circuit to ease their memorization.

4. Use the Spaced Repetition Method to Learn Latin Rapidly!

There is nothing more boring and pointless than endlessly reviewing pages and pages of Latin theory and conjugation tables.

When we read texts in an intensive way, “it goes through one ear and out the other.”

Swallowing a colossal mass of Greek and Latin vocabulary during one sitting is frankly impossible and is the recipe for a learning indigestion!

Our brain does not work in a photographic mode to maximize its retention of knowledge, it needs to take little bits of information and repeat, ruminate, revise and then repeat again.

That’s the reason why it is preferable to take language classes at a balanced rhythm that contain regular, spaced intervals. This will make learning a lot more entertaining.

The spaced repetition method was theorized by philosopher Allemand Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909),  who was considered being the father of experimental learning psychology.

In fact, to avoid being overloaded, our brain sorts selects and in an exceptional way constantly forgets information that it judges not to be important.

Now with this theory, the repetitions of Latin phrases or quotations, the infinitive or subordinate proposition of a Latin grammar point, will diminish the impact and the time of forgetting and we can, therefore, increase the time between each revision session.

That’s the forgetting curve put into practice by H. Ebbinghaus during the process of learning.

Carefully spaced classes about Greek and Roman civilization, mythology or Latin literature (Ovid, Horace, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, etc.) will anchor each piece of information in the mind and create automatisms that will enable us to bring out the idea naturally.

Taking your time is, paradoxically, the greatest method that can win you precious time.

To learn Latin in a quick and practical way, it is better to do 10 sessions of revision for 20 minutes each time spread across one to two weeks, than an intensive two-hour session.

5. Finding Mnemonic Techniques

Learning the Latin language comes a little bit easier for those who are living in Latin-based countries such as, France, Italy, Spain, Romania, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec and the Latin American continent, than those who speak Germanic languages or even worse for those who speak Asian languages.

Therefore, your mother tongue does play a key role. If you speak a Latin-based language, the etymological roots and Latin origins will come easier because it is as if your linguistic ancestors were from ancient Rome itself.

To memorize the morphologic skeleton or this Italic language, mnemonic techniques need to be used in order to simplify and facilitate the learning process.

Here is a list of what the Latin learner can do to become mildly fluent:

  • Make theme based flash cards: the daily life of Romans, the first Latin declination, the Latin verbs, adverbs etc.,
  • Create mental stories with the conjunction of the subordination, the personal pronouns, the verbal adjectives, etc.,
  • Plaster your indoor and outdoor walls with post-its that have words in English and Latin associated with things from the house, the garden, and other commonly used items, 
  • Get to know certain words by heart that have to do with sounds, places and commonly done movements.

Sticky Notes can help you memorise latin vocabulary These little notes are very useful for learning a new language. Write your new Latin words and stick them to the corresponding objects in your home. Piece of cake! (Source: Visual Hunt)

Finally, our last Superprof tip:

Latin students from all different levels can profoundly improve their knowledge of conjugation tables and word lists of Latin vocabulary.

How? By singing.

Singing is a great tool to learn dictation and can be great fun to help you decipher a Latin text!

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