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Tips for Learning Latin with Less Stress


As we prepare for the new school year students and parents and teachers ought to consider ways to manage their studies so that Latin can be a successful adventure and not a stressful or overwhelming test of endurance.  Recently a colleague shared a set of tips listed on the classics page for Cornell University.  This is a fantastic list!

Cornell is a private 4 year liberal arts  college situated in Mount Vernon, Iowa.  This prestigious school was awarded a place of honor among the 40 Colleges That Change Lives.  Check it out.

General Guidelines

  • Do your studying in relatively small chunks (ca. 40-60 min).
  • Do take breaks while studying.
  • Be an active and interactive learner.
  • When studying, use as many senses as possible: speaking, listening, writing, and reading.
  • Spend 45 minutes each day reading.
  • Practice with a friend.

Specific Suggestions

  • Practice saying new words out loud (or writing them).
  • Study vocabulary several times a day for 5-10 minutes at a time.
  • When learning vocabulary, practice conjugating new verbs or declining new nouns and adjectives.
  • Practice using new vocabulary in simple sentences so that you get used to seeing the word in context.
  • Practice with a friend, making up sentences about the pictures, asking questions about the story, creating short questions and answers, and quizzing each other on grammar and vocabulary.
  • Imagine a specific context (e.g., the home, the market, the tavern, the forum) and create sentences that describe what is happening in that setting.
  • Review old vocabulary and grammar before doing the written homework.
  • Study new vocabulary and grammar before attempting the written homework.
  • Re-read an old reading passage to get you thinking Latin before attempting the homework.
  • Read a new passage for content first, guessing at words that you don’t know, looking for key words to help you unravel the meaning of the paragraph.
  • Read a new passage quickly on the first try while listening to the tape, trying to get the gist of the passage (aural and visual reinforcement).
  • Read the passage aloud, trying to speak the story in phrase groups that belong together (recognizing sense units).
  • Better to read through the passage several times rather than just once.
  • Rewrite a paragraph or two of a reading passage by changing the time (tense) or the point of view (person and number).
  • After reading the passage carefully, try listening to it on tape without looking at the text (testing comprehension).


  • Don’t panic. It’s normal for language students not to master new grammar or vocabulary on the first try. Language learning is a cumulative process.
  • Don’t study for several hours in a row without a break. You’ll go nuts, and it will be less likely to become part of your long-term memory.
  • Don’t be a passive learner. If you use all your senses, if you use the language to create new sentences, you will learn it better.
  • Don’t just read an assignment to yourself: say the words or write them.
  • Don’t study vocab for more than 15 minutes at a time, preferably no more than 10 minutes at a time.
  • Don’t begin your written homework without first reviewing old vocabulary and practicing old grammar (you’ll end up having to look up too many words and forms and you’ll feel like you are spinning your wheels).
  • Don’t begin your written homework without studying the new vocab and grammar (ditto).
  • Don’t refer to grammar charts and vocabulary lists as you do your homework. If you have already reviewed the material, try to work from memory. Then go back and check your work after you have completed the entire exercise.
  • When doing a reading passage, don’t read the passage just once. This is a foreign language, not your native language. Give it time to sink in.
  • Don’t write out a literal translation of a reading passage. Better to spend the time re-reading the passage.

Bonam Fortunam! Learning Latin can be fun if you make it fun!

2 Responses to “Tips for Learning Latin with Less Stress”

  • Rachelle Bennett:

    Hi, sorry to post/comment here, i did not know how else to try and reach you.
    I met you at the THSC in The Woodlands, I did not get your card to contact you. You told me to order Introduction to Latin by Susan Chadwick Shelmerdine and the answer guide. I am having difficulties locating the answer guide. Should I still purchase this book for my son. He is a junior in H.S. this year. What else would you recommend for him?
    THank you so much!

  • Karen Moore:


    My apologies for the late response. I am not 100% certain that this book has a TE. I suggest you contact Focus Publishing directly and ask them. It seems that there must be an answer key of some kind. I have just never used one. It is a great book for high school students learning Latin. If you are uncomfortable proceeding with out an answer key or TE of some kind, then you might consider looking into another curriculum. I am not sure about resources and TE material for other curricula. We certainly have a TE for the LA program, but since it is a 3 year program I am not sure if your junior wants to tackle that. Of course, being a junior he will likely proceed through the material faster than younger students.

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