You know it: Latin is a dead language, that is to say that it is not the vernacular language, spoken every day, of any country. Nevertheless, this language is still very present, if only because it is at the origin of all Latin languages (French, Italian, Spanish …), but it also has its influence on languages others (English, German). Many Latin words are present today in medicine, botany, law … Latin is not widely taught, you have to resolve to learn it yourself. You must start by mastering the pronunciation of Latin, and therefore its letters. Then comes the difficult time of learning the grammar, syntax and variations of Erasmus's language. like any language, you have to learn the rules, the theory and then move on to practice with exercises: bonam fortunam (good luck!).
Method 1 of 3: Master the alphabet and pronunciation of Latin
Step 1. Know what Latin consonants are
Latin consonants are all found in French, a language derived from the first. There are three or four ways to pronounce Latin: here we will talk about French pronunciation. The consonants are pronounced as in French with a few exceptions:
- the letters c and g have a harsh sound, as in cane and ford;
- the letter v is pronounced or, as in wet;
- the letter x is pronounced as in French, ie ks, as in exit (which is a fully imported Latin word);
- the letter r is rolled up, but everyone goes their own way, there is no rule.
Step 2. Identify long vowels with the macron
In ancient times, there was no diacritic mark to mark the vowel amount of a vowel. There are five vowels in Latin, the same as in French, minus the y. Long vowels have a hyphen (the macron) and the sounds are as follows:
- the long vowel à is pronounced like the a de pâtre;
- the long vowel ē is pronounced like the e of beast;
- the long vowel ī is pronounced like the machine i;
- the long vowel ō is pronounced like the side o;
- the long vowel ū is pronounced like the u of rude.
Step 3. Locate the short vowels
They are unsigned, as in our alphabet. No sign in ancient Latin, but the purists mark them with a small sign… a brief (ă). Any unsigned vowel is considered short and is pronounced as follows:
- the short vowel a is pronounced like the card a;
- the short vowel e is always pronounced é, as in light;
- the short vowel i is pronounced like the i of liter;
- the short vowel o is pronounced like the o of bol;
- the short vowel u is pronounced or as in color.
Step 4. Remember the special case of i and u
Classical Latin only used i / I and u / V (for capital letters), J / j and v were not introduced until later. For the Romans, the u and v were just one letter and as a consonant the letter was pronounced like the w of the word twist. As a consonant, the i is pronounced like the y in eyes.
In editions of Latin texts, it has long been customary to insert the letter j and J in certain words in place of i and I. This happens when the Latin i acts as a consonant. In this case, the pronunciation of this consonant is that of our y. This is how the famous name Julius, written a thousand times on the stelae and in capital letters IULUS, is actually pronounced YOU-liou-ss
Step 5. Pronounce the consonants distinctly and separately
General rule: all consonants articulate separately. Latin consonants have a pronunciation that is not altered by the letter that follows or by the one that precedes. However, there is one exception: in the presence of bs or bt, the b is pronounced like a p. The s between two vowels is pronounced ss.
- The h is pronounced K even before e or an i. The word pulcher (young girl) is pronounced poul-kè-r. In the particular case of the group ph (ph iloso ph us), the pronunciation is that of an f, but attenuated.
- The group gn is pronounced with a single articulation as in the word lamb, even if some pronounce it wrongly.
- In the case of doubled consonants (tt, dd…), both are pronounced, as if they were detached. Thus, the Latin word admittent is pronounced admit tent with as a brief pause in between.
Step 6. Learn that diphthongs are pronounced as a single syllable
A diphthong consists of two vowels, but is pronounced as one sound. There are 6 diphthongs in Latin. If you encounter the double vowel ii, the pronunciation is that of two separate i's, as if there was a pause between the two:
- the diphthong ae is pronounced like a simple é, that of danced;
- the diphthong oe is pronounced è, like the ei of sentence;
- the diphthong ei is pronounced eï, as in best;
- diphthong ui is pronounced ou-i, as in hearing;
- the diphthong au is pronounced a-ou, as in meow;
- the diphthong eu is pronounced by convention è-ou.
if you meet 2 neighboring vowels, they are not necessarily diphthongs and in this case, they are pronounced separately from each other. This phonetic change is called a “dieresis”.
Step 7. Emphasize certain syllables
In Latin, the stressed syllable is most often the penultimate or the antepenultimate of a word. Each vowel, with the exception of diphthongs, constitutes a syllable. Since the last syllable is never stressed in a two-syllable word, the first one is.
- In front of a word of at least three syllables, know where to place the tonic accent. The stressed syllable in such a word is one that contains a long vowel, diphthong or short vowel, followed by at least 2 consonants (the letter x is considered to be two consonants, namely ks).
- If the penultimate syllable is long, it is this which carries the accent, otherwise it is the antepenultimate syllable which carries it.
Method 2 of 3: Study Latin
Step 1. Learn the conjugations
The conjugation of verbs is an essential step in a language and Latin is no exception to the rule. Unlike French, verbs are conjugated without personal pronouns. It is the ending (end of the word) which provides information on the gender and number of the verbal form.
- In the present and singular, regular verbs end in -ō in the first person (I), in -is in the second person (you) and in -it in the third person (he, she). This only applies to irregular verbs that have other endings!
- As in all languages, Latin irregular verbs do not follow a general rule. And there is only one way to remember their conjugations: to learn them and practice them constantly.
the observation of the verb of a Latin sentence makes it possible to know which is subject and complement. The difficulty lies in the fact that in Latin the place of words and of the verb differs from that of French. The verb is often at the end of the sentence, so it is it and its ending that will allow you to understand or translate the sentence.
Step 2. Identify the cases of nouns, adjectives and pronouns
Depending on their use, nouns, adjectives and pronouns are available. For each function (subject, COD, COI), a case (nominative, accusative, dative). Adjectives follow the declension of the words to which they are attached. The declension changes according to the number (singular or plural) and the gender (masculine, feminine or neuter).
Learning the variations is a real retreat in Latin. There are five variations and six cases per variation. Certainly there are similarities, but the devil is in the details. Where things get tough is that you also have to swallow the declensions of adjectives and pronouns. For a speaker of a language without declension, it is difficult. As with conjugations, you have to learn its variations
Step 3. Download a mobile app to help you
You will not be able to truly learn Latin with applications, but they can be real tools on certain particular points, such as vocabulary, grammar or etymology. Think of them for what they are: a practical help. Some are free, others pay in one go or by subscription.
- It is the reference in terms of the Latin French dictionary, the Latinist's Bible: the Gaffiot. This huge dictionary is now at your fingertips with the application Gaffiot for iOS. On Android, this dictionary is (hardly) accessible from the Bossvocable application.
- Vice Verba, available for Android devices, is a very good app for conjugations.
- If you are interested in Latin quotes (and God knows if they are frequently used in French!), You can download Latin Quotes which exists for both iOS and Android devices.
Step 4. Practice with textbooks
Unlike modern languages, Latin cannot be learned by speaking with speakers. This is why good grammar, vocabulary, lesson and exercise books are necessary to progress.
- Of course, there are the consistently high performing printed books, but today there are, for some, their digital versions. Often, the best pays off: quality pays off! Otherwise you can always go to a search engine and type in a query that best defines your needs, such as "Latin for beginners PDF" or "Latin grammar exercises (answers)".
- After you have done your exercises, correct them and see the points that are worth reviewing. It goes without saying that you will have to take up all your shortcomings so as not to repeat the mistakes. It is long and tedious work, but essential.
Step 5. Practice Latin every day
What is true of modern languages is also true of Latin. A language is learned by constant impregnation. Admittedly, 10 minutes a day may be enough for a distinguished Latinist, but in the learning phase you have to spend more time there. Halfway through the course, you will do your exercises and practice the version (translation from Latin to French) and the formidable theme (reverse translation). In either case, you will need a dictionary: in fact, there is only one really valid, the Gaffiot!
- Practice writing in Latin in a limited time (5 to 10 minutes per session). When you are missing a word, write it in French, you will put its Latin equivalent later. At the end of the exercise, reread yourself, reread it even aloud, then complete the untranslated words and parts. Using your textbooks, check that you haven't made any mistakes in conjugation or declension (and for the latter, both in form and use).
- It is also a good exercise, the one which consists in doing the version of what you have written by pretending that you will discover the text for the first time: it is a very formative exercise which allows you to find errors. This job of writing in Latin is a bit long and difficult at first, but over the weeks and months you will find that you will go faster with fewer mistakes.
Method 3 of 3: Read and listen to Latin
Step 1. Get started with bilingual texts
On paper and a little less online, there are bilingual texts, that is to say with the original Latin version on one page and the French translation on the next page. There is something for all levels and when you have mastered Latin well, you will go directly to the works of the Ancients (Cicero, Livy, Seneca…) which, for many, have been published on paper. The translations were made by eminent specialists.
- Texts of Latin literature, poetry, history are quite easy to find online in their original version and for free. Full bilingual texts are rarer, because they pay. Do not hesitate to read them, understand them and translate them faithfully.
- It is also a beautiful formative exercise, that which consists in listening to a classical text and writing it as the dictation proceeds. Thus, you gradually train yourself in the spelling, syntax and structure of Latin.
Step 2. Bookmark quality sites
When you go to Latin literature for the first time, you will inevitably come across unfamiliar words and syntactic turns. First try to guess by context the meaning of the word or the logic of the phrase, and if you can't, use a dictionary or grammar manual. As a preventive measure, if you guess the translation of a word, go anyway check in a dictionary and take the opportunity, if it is the case, to see if the word in question does not have other meanings.
The best French Latin dictionary for decades is the Gaffiot, it is essential. If you intend to be a great Latinist, you will buy it in bookstores, otherwise you will consult it online at:
Step 3. Try forums where people write in Latin
Let's face it: finding people who speak Latin is rare. Latin is a dead language and the National Education is sacrificing this language! However, there are still Latin aficionados who have spent time setting up Latin forums and blogs. Even if they were foreign sites, it would not be serious, since the language practiced would be Latin.
- The Internet page https://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-forum/, admittedly in English, offers many forums in Latin: what are you likely to go and take a look?
- Rather rare, there are lectures which are given entirely in Latin by a few specialists in the language. Perhaps more numerous those which relate to the Roman civilization: to learn a language also supposes to know those which spoke it.
if you are lucky enough to live near a large college town, chances are you can meet some distinguished latinists to interact with. Latin classes or clubs open to as many people as possible may be held in your town, school or nearest university.
Step 4. Confront yourself with Latin literature
It is rich and varied, both in the themes addressed (history, philosophy, sciences, etc.) and in the styles of the authors (Cicero, Seneca, Plautus, etc.) Of course, you can start reading the translated works at the start, but at the end After a few years of study, you will rather choose bilingual editions, and there is only one reference: the Guillaume Budé collections from Les Belles Lettres editions. There are practically all the texts of the great authors. On the left page, the Latin text, on the left the translation and at the bottom of the pages, the critical apparatus. The edition is only on paper.
- Over the years, as with any language, you will be so imbued with Latin and Roman civilization, that you will understand the ancient texts without needing to translate them…, but it is a result that the we only get it late.
- It is a good exercise which consists in making the version of a text already translated, but without looking at it. Second, you compare your translation with that of a scholar. From there, you can try to understand the differences. If good translations are rare on the Internet, don't let that prevent you from downloading Latin texts, which are easier to find for free!
Step 5. Listen to sacred music in Latin
Composers, classical or more modern, from many countries have composed thousands of pieces in Latin for the Church, Bach is the most beautiful example. The Latin of the Catholic Church has a pronunciation known as "Italian", different from the academic pronunciation qualified as "restored".
- Gregorian chants constitute a large part of liturgical chants. With very rare exceptions, all are in Latin.
- If you want to hear Church Latin, watch Traditional Masses on YouTube. Likewise on the Internet, you can listen to hymns, hymns… and pieces in Latin (like the masses for the dead by Mozart or Verdi).
Step 6.Watch short videos about Latin
You can find everything on the Internet, even people who speak Latin for their pleasure. They don't read the Ancients, they speak Latin on current topics. This makes Latin more alive, more than consulting the texts of the Ancients, which offer other pleasures. In addition to videos, there are also podcasts.
- These videos and podcasts are retrievable from YouTube and some video streaming sites. For these, go to the sites of French-speaking universities that offer Latin instruction. In their search engine, type a broad ("Latin") or precise ("Latin poetry under the Republic") query.
- Although the site (johnpiazza.net) is in English, you should take advantage of the videos and podcasts available there. The address is: