• Ana Martin

What is the best Latin course for you?

Updated: Sep 22


I get often asked which is the best Latin course available. The truth is that there is not a straight answer to this question, and, luckily, we are truly spoilt for choice!


In this post, we can look together at the different Latin courses available and find one that speaks to your needs. I have written this mostly with independent learners and homeschoolers in mind. This is pretty much a work in progress, so I would love to hear your views!


Before you look at the different options, you should ask yourself the following questions:


  1. Are you looking for self-learning course? Or would you rather have a private or class teacher?

  2. What is your budget? Are you looking for a completely free Latin course?

  3. What is your goal? Do you want to sit an exam (e.gr. GCSE, A Level or AP Latin), acquire Latin as a living language, or perhaps something more particularly, like being able to read poetry?


Bearing in mind these three questions, I assess below the most popular options for home learners, adult learners and those following the school curriculum. Feel free to ask any questions in the home learning group if you would like to find out more about the experience of others.

Popular Latin textbooks for beginners

De Romanis, by Katharine Radice


As a private tutor, I work with different courses and get to try a variety learning methods. Of all the KS3 options available, De Romanis has become my first choice for those who are considering sitting a GCSE qualification later on.


Not only does De Romanis teach how to read in Latin from the onset, but it also stays focussed on the essential grammar and vocabulary, going over it often and clearly enough to help with consolidation. The method recognises the importance of explicit linguistic awareness and does not shy away from using Latin as a starting point to learn about syntax, the history of words and even encouraging the use of the dictionary.


One of the many strengths of this course is that it can be adapted to learners of different interests and abilities. The stories and background material chosen for both books are relevant, appealing and a great knowledge base to understand the world of the Romans -women included- without resorting to sugar-coating. For students with dyslexia, the clean and uncomplicated layout of the book is a great asset, as is the fact that it presents the grammar in an explicit and clear way, rather than relying solely on comprehensible input.


De Romanis for homeschoolers: the course is a great choice for students of Latin outside of the traditional classroom. It is very clearly organised and it comes with a wide range of free companion resources, from answer keys to exams, quizzes and powerpoints.

Veredict: this is the best course to learn both Latin and Classical Civilisation in one go at KS3. Thanks to the companion resources, it can be used as a self-paced self-learning resource, and the choice of activities is varied and interesting.


Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, by Hans H. Ørberg


This is an incredibly popular course, and rightly so. It teaches you Latin as a living or 'natual' language, providing comprehensible input (see above) and explanations in the target language throughout. It is a great option for those looking to join online communities and network internationally, and the internet is constantly buzzing with it.


However, despite the current popularity and the very vocal advocates of this book as the greatest way to learn Latin, I have to disagree when it comes to recommending it as a first approach to Latin. I find it works great as supplementary material, but it is not a book easily accessible to everyone for the following reasons:


- you are left to work out the meanings of words for yourself. I understand that there is much to say in favour of enquiry as a way of learning, but, for some learners, for example when there is dyslexia, this does not always help. Sometimes you just want to look up a word in the dictionary and find out the meaning so that you can move on with your learning.

- The texts are long and, particularly for younger learners, not particularly gripping. This is of course an opinion based on my personal interests, and I must repeat that this course is extremely popular, although not so much so in the UK, where I am based.


- If you do not speak another Romance language, the input is not always comprehensible, and I think that, despite the underlying philosophy, the course implicitly expects you to have a sound vocabulary base and understanding of the theoretical workings of grammar, which is not always the case with very young learners.


Lingual Latina per se Illustrata for homeschoolers: this course can work for homeschoolers if somebody knowledgeable about Latin and the direct method of teaching is supervising the learning. I would not recommend it as a whole family independent enterprise. However, if you have access to a teacher or tutor that is an expert in teaching with this methodology and are looking to eventually master Latin as if it was a foreign language, then it may be right for you.


Veredict: you can learn Latin fluently with this course, but the time, effort and resources needed are considerable, particularly if young learners are to be involved.

Latin to GCSE 1 and 2, Henry Cullen and John Taylor


I call this course the ‘zero to hero’ miracle. If you are looking to work towards a GCSE and want to be working with original texts quickly and effectively, this is a great option. Granted, it is not the most friendly layout and it takes a very traditional approach to grammar presentation, i.e. it is a textbook example of the grammar-translation method; but if you are looking for a course to help you prepare for OCR examinations in a short space of time, you can be sure to learn everything you need plus a good dose of Roman culture with this course. An added benefit is that you also have the Latin Stories book to complement it, and that if you are familiar with the format you can move on seamlessly to Latin Beyond GCSE by the same author, John Taylor.


Latin to GCSE for homeschoolers: this is the best choice if you have limited time, are looking to work on your grammar and want a solid, no-frills path to getting to GCSE level. Also, the Bloomsbury companion site has additional resources including answer keys, which means that, at least for Latin to GCSE 1, the supervision of a Latin specialist is not crucial.


Veredict: this is a very good course if you are looking into learning Latin in a traditional way. The quality of the texts is outstanding, and the additional resources, such as the grammar notes, dictionary and additional tables (e. gr. easily confused words), are a terrific asset for those preparing for a GCSE exam.


Cambridge Latin Course


This course has been the main textbook used in UK schools for a while now, and when it came out it was revolutionary in the way it presented the grammar and the cultural aspects of Roman society. I have taught this course to several years of English-speaking students, and I would not hesitate to recommend Book 1 as an introduction to Latin and the Romans, particularly for younger learners. Here are the reasons why I think it is worth giving it a try:


- the course is now online and free to access, both the textbooks and complementary materials

- the stories from the first book are very appealing to young learners: there are dogs, lions and a good dose of humour. The layout and images are conducive to getting engaged with the storyline.

- it does not rely completely on comprehensible input to teach the language – and the glossaries are indeed very helpful, but it still gives you a good opportunity to sample learning the language in a more natural way. You can get a flavour of what Latin grammar has to offer without going into thorough analysis.


However, from Book 2, the course becomes a bit less accessible -particularly without a qualified teacher to lead it. Also, the textbooks have slowly become old-fashioned, and if you are looking for a contemporary approach to gender, race and class, you will need to find complementary resources.

Cambridge Latin Course for homeschoolers: this is a great course to give Latin a try and see where you want to go from there. There are plenty of resources online, and the course is accessible and interesting for learners of all ages. They also offer guided courses, which you can find about on their website.


Veredict: a Classic course with which everyone should at least have some contact. However, speakers of Romance languages be aware: the level of challenge is quite low if you are a native of, for example, Italian or Spanish, and I would recommend it chiefly only to speakers of English, which is the target audience.


Suburani


This course seems bound to become the next Cambridge Latin Course. I have not taught with it yet, but from attending trainings and leafing through it, it seems to share much of its teaching philosophy but with a renewed, more explicit approach to the grammar as well as more consideration for the role of women and the realities of life in the ancient world. You can see for yourself on their website, where you can check out a sample of the UK and North American version for free.

As soon as I have gathered some more experience, I shall be adding my thoughts on it, but the online component and the associated resources seem promising for group classes.


Henle Latin First Year and Henle Latin Second Year


I have only recently started to work with students who follow this course, and a longer review is in the making. For the moment, I can advance that if you are following the Classical Conversations curriculum this is the book that you will get recommended. For those not connected to Classical Conversations but keen on learning Catholic Latin in the grammar-translation or traditional way, this may be an option to consider, at least as a source of additional contents. The book shows its age, and it targets a very specific audience.

Wheelock’s Latin


This is a Classic in American universities, and it is designed for those keen on learning with the grammar-translation method and diving into unadapted texts straightaway. There are plenty of free resources to work along the course online, and quite a large community of people working on it and sharing tips and materials. One of the strengths of the method is its thoroughness and, personally, I adore the fact that it guides students explicitly about where to place the stress on the words in addition to the more usual notation of long and short vowels.

Wheelock’s for homeschoolers: in my experience, Wheelock’s works better with older students and those looking to continue with Latin at university level. Answer keys are available and the grammar notes in the most recent editions are very clear and easier to follow.


Veredict: great if you are looking for a course that uses ‘authentic’ Latin straightaway, rather than highly adapted or directly ad hoc written stories.

So you really want to Learn Latin, by N. R. R. Oulton


This book has been quite popular in the UK, and it serves those that are studying Latin with the grammar-translation method and preparing to sit formal exams such as the Common Entrance. The book is very clear in its goals and it achieves them well. The comic drawings and the short stories in English can be quite funny, but they have not aged very well, and they are certainly not very appropriate in the current post ‘me too’ climate. The book is set in a predominantly male world, and it may appeal those who are interested in sitting exams in all male institutions that use this method. The answer key is provided online.


So you really want to Learn Latin for homeschoolers: the book says itself that it does not intend to make it fun or engage learners of different abilities. To give an idea of the orientation of the book, it says on the bookcover that it is “not aimed at pupils whose collective intelligence is assumed to be on a par with a squashed hedgehog”. So do not expect much in terms of differentiation. But, can you have fun learning with this course? Of course you can, and I certainly do! However, you will need the guidance of a good teacher for this.


Veredict: a book that works well to prepare for 13+ examinations in schools where this is the route taken.

Latin to Common Entrance series, by N. R. R. Oulton


Written by the same author, the philosophy is similar to So You Really Want to Learn Latin, but with more thought given to different pedagogical approaches. It is very helpful to prepare pupils for ISEB exams, and the background material and layout is much more appealing to young learners.

Latin to Common Entrance for homeschoolers: as the course above, this is particularly targeted at students working towards CE and scholarship. If you are considering these examinations, this series of books is a great way to make sure you learn the right vocabulary and get familiar with examination formats.


Veredict: recommended for 13+ preparation and revision.

Getting Started with Latin, by William E. Linney


This book comes with all the answers and wants to be a course in itself for those who have had no contact with Latin before. I find it useful that the book has plenty of space for notes and working out solutions, and I think it could work well as an exercise book, rather than a textbook.


There is not much emphasis in this book to teach about the Romans in particular, and you may be surprised to find sentences for analysis such as “My car is dirty” and “Sam loves chocolate milk”, which are, in my opinion, unnecessarily anachronistic. When it comes to Latin vocabulary, it does not get particularly exciting, with plenty of farmers, girls and sailors doing the usual watching and counting in different numbers and persons.


Getting Started with Latin for homeschoolers: a fun extra to have, but probably not the best course to follow as main textbook.


Veredict: I have not checked the quality of the answer keys personally, but from what I have gathered so far, it can be a useful tool as an additional resource.


If you think the courses above are too much of an investment at the moment, there are smaller ways to get started with Latin, and in this blog post you can find links to give Duolingo or the Open University intro a try if this is what you are looking for.


Conclusion


Over the years, I have not only taught but also learnt languages in different settings with very different methodologies, and my opinion on those has changed over time and, particularly, once I have become a teacher myself. The jury is really out about the best way to learn a language, and it does not only vary from person to person, but it even varies for the same person depending on the language and the context.


Whereas the grammar-translation method is currently under fire, we must not forget that it opens the door to accessing classical literature quickly and to developing the skills of a philologist. Yes, philological skills are not particularly trendy at the moment! But there is much to say about a rigorous approach to a text and the study of the history and nature of languages per se.


The first language I learnt with the communicative approach was German, and I found it very useful because it helped me communicate in basic conversation effectively very fast - no problems to order my meal in a restaurant! I did end up reading classical German literature as well, but not without sitting down and memorising vocabulary lists and looking at paradigms later on. On the other hand, I was taught French with a grammar-translation method when I was very young, and I am still surprised at how quickly I was reading original works of literature. However, I still have a terrible accent and need to think quite a bit when I am having conversations in French. So, in a very simplified way, you can see both sides of the argument pretty much reflected here.


Of course the best way to learn a language as a child is to be immersed in it and acquire it naturally. That is how we learn our first languages - or, if you are multilingual, languages. Should you do the same about Latin? As you can see, that will depend on why you want to learn Latin: is it to read texts from other historical periods written in this language? Or do you aim to learn more about the nature of languages and improve your knowlege of Linguistics? Perhaps you are particularly interested in communicating with other Latin speakers – there are more than you would think! All these questions will dictate which is the best course to follow.


Whichever course you choose, I would love to hear from your experiences. I do not teach regularly with all the courses above, so I am always keen to hear different views on using them as a main textbook.


Leave your comments below or get in touch through the Facebook group for homeschoolers.

Best of luck for your future studies!

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