User Reviewed

How to Learn Latin on Your Own

You can teach yourself Latin without the help of a teacher if you put your mind to it. All you have to do is get the right textbook, learn from its exercises, and practice writing and reading in Latin as much as you can. And though your friends and family members probably won't be able to speak Latin to you, practicing your speaking will also improve your fluency. If you put in the effort, you'll be speaking Latin as well as the Pope in no time.


  1. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 01
    Get your hands on a beginners' Latin textbook that has lots of exercises and an answer key. The answer key is particularly important because you won't have a teacher to check your answers.
  2. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 02
    Read each lesson, do each exercise, check your answers, and memorize. It will take at least a few months to work your way through the book, perhaps years. In schools, Wheelock's Latin is used in several consecutive introductory courses spanning a few semesters.
  3. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 03
    A note about textbooks. There are two schools of thought in teaching Latin which differ in their methods. The first method focuses on a disciplined and organized exposition of grammar and vocabulary, and is heavily dependent on memorization. Wheelock's Latin and most older textbooks like D'Ooge's Latin for Beginners belong to this category. The second method focuses on reading, is heavily dependent on the teacher, and puts slightly less emphasis on memorization. The Cambridge Latin Course is an example of a textbook that belongs to this category, like the Athenaze series in Greek and Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. This is more similar to the mediaeval and renaissance teaching methodology.
  4. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 04
    You may choose the method that best suits you. The advantages of the first method are that you should be able to progress without a teacher, and there are textbooks available in the public domain which use this method. The disadvantage is the amount of effort required and the potential for getting discouraged. The second method is useful if you want to start reading soon, learning only the grammar and vocabulary that is necessary to read selected texts. A teacher's intervention is highly recommended in order to guide the student when certain principles of grammar have not been covered. It is unlikely that answer keys will be readily available, and textbooks using this method are not generally to be found in the public domain.
  5. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 05
    Once you've finished the textbook, you need to get your hands on some easy reading. Here are some good choices:
  6. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 06
    Now that you've built a basic vocabulary and mastered the rudiments of Latin grammar, the next step is to achieve a certain level of fluency. This is the most important and most difficult step. You must move beyond translating sentences in your head to instinctively understanding them. In other words, you need to learn to think in Latin. The way to achieve this is by immersion. Since Latin is pretty much a dead language, the closest thing to immersion you'll find is reading and understanding large quantities of Latin text. There is available an Assimil course for Latin that uses immersion and is good if you study alone. But, this book is no longer available to purchase new, you can buy it used or search for the book and the audio in the internet (only available in French and Italian).
  7. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 07
    Speaking Latin is not so common nowadays, but you can improve greatly your fluency doing that. Speak a language is the best fluency exercise.
  8. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 08
    As you read, make your own personal Latin dictionary. Only add words and phrases that are new to you. It can be useful to make separate entries for words with multiple meanings and idiomatic phrases that have their own peculiar meaning.
  9. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 09
    To entice you into reading lots of Latin without getting bored, you can try reading some famous novels in translation. If you get through all these novels, you'll be well on your way to becoming reasonably fluent in Latin:
  10. Image titled Learn Latin on Your Own Step 10
    You can move on to classical Latin texts when you feel comfortable doing so. Some authors are easier to read than others. You could start out with Caesar's De Bello Gallico and Cicero's Orations.


  • While you're still at the textbook stage, you'll have a lot of memorizing to do: declensions, conjugations, vocabulary. There's no shortcut. This is where motivation is important.
  • Latin is a language with a relatively poor vocabulary, which means that a single word may have many meanings. This also means that Latin uses many idiomatic phrases which need to be learned in the same way as vocabulary. You will come across passages where you understand each individual word, but where the overall meaning doesn't seem to make any sense. That's because you're making a false assumption somewhere about the meaning of a word, or because you haven't identified a phrase and are only seeing the individual words composing the phrase. For example, the phrase hominem e medio tollere means to kill a person, but to someone who doesn't know the phrase, it could be taken to mean "to remove a man from the middle."
  • Choosing the right dictionary is a matter of what you'll be reading. If you're only interested in classical Latin, then get Lewis's Elementary Latin Dictionary or the Oxford Latin Dictionary if you can afford it. But if you're also interested in late Latin, medieval, renaissance and neo-Latin, you should get Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary, but it's expensive. Otherwise, you'll have to make do with Cassell's, which isn't all that useful, or a pocket dictionary. Unfortunately, there is no clear choice, as there is a lack of a good low-cost dictionary as an alternative to Lewis and Short. If you understand French, the Grand Gaffiot is pretty affordable and more useful overall than any of the aforementioned Latin-English dictionaries.
  • Don't underestimate the value of writing Latin. Even if your objective is to learn to read, you should not ignore exercises that call for translating sentences from English to Latin. Latin composition is an excellent way to learn the rules of syntax.
  • Avoid poetry until you've mastered prose. You wouldn't recommend that someone learning English read Shakespeare when he still can't read the newspaper properly. The same goes for Latin.
  • Review vocabulary often. Carry around word lists or flash cards you can review in the bus, on the toilet, at church, etc.
  • Don't go too fast. One lesson every few days is plenty. If you speed through the lessons, you won't have time to memorize everything. On the other hand, don't go too slowly, or you won't progress and you'll start forgetting what you've learned. Aim for one lesson per week, or whatever works for you.
  • If your answers to the exercises don't match the answer key, you probably missed something. Go back and review the lesson.


  • Learn Latin because you want to. Don't try to impress people. You will come across as pretentious.

Article Info

Categories: Latin