How to teach yourself Latin everyday and everywhere

How to learn Latin

Although writing and speaking to someone else are great ways to learn Latin, we don’t always have the chance to sit and write, and we don’t always have a Latin speaking friend at hand.

What can we do instead?

I give you three ideas that can be practiced everywhere and at any time, without any particular equipment. Although nothing prevents that you write something down, if you wish, these exercises are particularly suitable to be made orally – or even silently in your mind, if you don’t like to draw the attention of all the passer-by.

The principle at the basis of these exercises is that we can take advantage of common, everyday situations and objects that usually surround us to expand our vocabulary – this principle is not mine, however, Erasmus had already tought about it.

Think about a toddler that is learning his mother tongue: parents will probably stimulate their kid with constant information about how to name things around him; if he points to a bicycle on the road, some adult who is with him will probably tell him that that is a “B-I-C-Y-C-L-E”, and maybe repeat that word more than once, and ask questions to make sure that he is able to retell the word…

Well, although we won’t probably benefit from an adult who continuously provides us with linguistic stimuli, luckily we can do it ourselves; learning new words in everyday situations is in fact one of the most natural and effective ways.

Here are just three ideas that you can consider introducing in your daily routine.

#1 Naming everything around you: this is one of the easiest ways to expand and review our basic vocabulary. When you are cooking in your kitchen, try to name every tool you use, all the foods you are preparing, everything that you can see around you. When you go to the toilet, do the same (you will be probably sitting on a sella pertusa, then you’re going to wash your hands using sapo in a labellum…). You can do the same while you are waiting in line at the supermarket, sitting on a train, taking your dog for a walk… Try to set you some small goals, like, let’s say, learning to name absolutely everything in your house within a month; in this case, you could also think about placing sticky notes on the things whose Latin name you tend to forget, with their name written on them.

(When you are trying to name something for the first time, chances are that you’ll need to look for some words in a dictionary. As for modern everyday objects, here is a really useful lexicon).

#2 Describing things: simply try to describe something or someone you have before your eyes, in Latin. The more detailed you are in your description, the better. This can work very well, for instance, if you are looking at a picture, at a painting in a museum, or if you are sitting in a train or at a concert and trying to describe people around you. What do they look like? Suntne capilli eorum longi an breves, flavi an fusci? Sedentne, iacent an stant? How are they dressed? What are they doing?

#3 Telling stories: this is a variation on the previous exercise, and it’s perfect if you like to get a bit more creative. How does it work? Make up a story about the couple sitting before you. Pick three random objects you’re seeing around you and try to tell a story that includes the three of them. Or, if you can’t think of anything fancy, just try to retell (in Latin!) the plot of the last movie you watched, what you’ve done in the morning. Also, you can describe in detail what you are doing in that precise moment (“Nunc e lecto surgo, balneum peto, manus lavo dentesque frico…”).

(If you like telling stories and you’d like to propose it as a game to your Latin-speaking friends – or to your students – you could even consider buying a set of storytelling dices).

You don’t have any excuse anymore, now: go and practice your Latin!