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Learning the Latin Language: Language Study Tips for Undergraduate Latin

Updated on February 17, 2015
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.


Latin used to be a huge part of my life, but now it's a little known fact that one of my undergraduate majors was classics. My Latin courses included Vergil's Aeneid, the poetry of Catullus, and several of Cicero's works. Eventually I may delve into other Latin and classics related topics, but I thought that study tips would be a good place to start.

Many of the tips that I detail in this hub apply to other foreign language undergraduate studies as well. I cannot vouch for their ability to transfer to graduate language courses, since I haven't taken any, but I would imagine that many of them still apply there, too. For those of you in high school taking translation courses, such as any of the ones that I mentioned above, these tips are applicable for you as well.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that this is not a hub to convince you of the merits of Latin. Hopefully if you clicked to this hub and have read this far, you are already a fan of Latin and are a little tired of convincing everyone you know that it is a worthwhile pursuit. If you do not fall into this category, there are plenty of articles out there already about the merits of Latin like this one.

This is one of the most awesome things ever.
This is one of the most awesome things ever. | Source

Latin Language Spoken Example

Latin Language Tips

Do not get behind on assignments. It can be tempting to skip your homework for a night when you get swamped with other assignments or with studying for an exam for another course. Don't get behind on Latin translation or other assignments if possible. Most 200-400 level courses, which includes all translation courses, are fairly fast paced. Once you get behind, it's hard to get ahead again, which can mean big trouble when it's time for quizzes and tests.

Writing the Latin above your translation. When I completed my translations, I allowed three lines in my notebook for each line of text: one for the Latin, one of my translation, and one for any corrections or other class notes. This system let me write my translation directly below the Latin text. Yes, this system is tedious, but it's well worth it. It makes it much easier to go back and check mistakes during class that way because you don't have to switch back and forth between the textbook and your notebook all the time. Even if you don't write the Latin out, I still urge you to leave space for notes and corrections so your translation doesn't get too messy.

Vocabulary flashcards for texts. When you are taking a translation course that covers one specific author's text, you will often find that author uses a lot of the same vocabulary words throughout it. Make a note of any recurring words that you find in the text during the first couple weeks of the semester. Then make flashcards as you keep going through the text, adding more as necessary, and review them at least a couple times a week. The more you review, the more familiar the words will be, and thus the quicker the exercise will be. This practice will also save you time as you are translating throughout the semester because many words will become familiar, which means that you won't have to look them all up every time you encounter them in the text.

This may seem like overkill, but the one or two semesters that I did not do this, my vocabulary base was much weaker for quizzes and tests. Unless you have an incredible memory for foreign language vocabulary, consider doing this.

Write clean versions of your translations to study for your quizzes and exams. No matter how hard you try to keep your notebook tidy throughout the semester, certain sections will become pretty jumbled with notes and crossed out words and phrases. Consider re-writing the translation that will be on your exam as a study tool. Writing it is a study exercise in itself. Then when you go through it a few more times, you can refer to this clean version, which will make the studying process go more quickly.

Decide on a study method. Be honest with yourself about whether you study better alone or in a group. I did have a Latin study group during my undergraduate years, mostly because we liked to hang out outside of class every week. I still did a lot of studying on my own as well. It can be helpful to do at least one final review of your translation with someone else in your class, so that you can check your translation against his own and clear up any final questions that you have about grammar, vocabulary, etc.

Stay sharp on your grammar. You will lose a lot more points on exams if you've forgotten your grammar rules than if you've forgotten a few vocabulary words. It can be overwhelming to review grammar frequently with all of the other assignments that you have, but it will be worth the effort. Review your conjugations, declensions, irregular verb forms, and verb tenses regularly. If the author you're currently studying has favorite grammatical constructions, such as ablative absolute, make sure you know those inside and out. Pull out your beginner texts once in a while if you need to. I always kept my Latin I and II books from high school in my dorm room or apartment during undergrad so I could look things up as needed.

Invest in a Latin dictionary. Yes, online dictionaries are very helpful for single words or short phrases in other languages. They are not an appropriate reference tool for language courses. Even In the age of iPhones and smartphones where people look things up electronically all the time, the online dictionaries are still not a replacement tool for published language dictionaries. Cassell's is considered one of the best for Latin dictionaries these days. I liked to keep an additional dictionary around as well so I had an extra source to consult for difficult to find vocabulary.

Do your own translations. Do not rely on published ones. Using a published translation for your homework may save you for a class or two, but it will not help you for a quiz or exam. Most professors know the most famous translations already and will quickly recognize plagiarism. You can use a published translation as a reference, especially if you're stuck on a grammatical construction or particular vocabulary word. The translation may be able to clear up a question or two and get you started in the right direction for your own translation.

Anything else you'd like to see here? Let me know!

Conversational Latin Video on YouTube

Are you looking for an undergraduate program with Latin? Check out the following universities.

show route and directions
A markerValparaiso University. -
1600 Chapel Dr, Valparaiso, IN 46383, USA
get directions

B markerPurdue University -
610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
get directions

C markerUniversity of Illinois -
601 E John St, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820, USA
get directions

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    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 2 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      It's great to hear that, FreakFran, even if the lack of conversation opportunities is a definite disadvantage.

    • FreakFran profile image

      Francine Oliveira 2 years ago from Minas Gerais, Brasil

      Being a native Portuguese speaker, Latin has been valuable for me to improve grammar and vocabulary knowledge. The only thing is that you can't actually practice it, there is no conversation opportunity unless you find another person who studies Latin to make up some conversation.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, rjsadowski! That's great.

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 5 years ago

      A lot of good advice. I studied Latin in highschool and it helped me later when learning other languages particularly their grammar.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Nice information and original hub. I learn much from you. Thank you very much for writing this and share with us. Rated up. Take care!