I received this email:
I am very worried that I am not doing well with my Latin. Up until around Chapter 32, I can read most of the chapters pretty well, even if I read pretty slowly. But I can hardly read Chapter 32 at all, and I know we’re supposed to be starting Chapter 33 now, but I can’t even begin to read and understand it. I don’t have any problems with understanding the grammar: I think it’s just vocabulary. Is there anything you could suggest that would help me study and memorize the vocabulary for Chapters 32 and up? I am afraid I am going to fall behind and get abysmal grades otherwise…
Here is my reply:
The process of learning a language is more a marathon than a sprint. It takes a long time. The reason I choose Lingua Latina is that, believe it or not, it actually speeds the process.
For example, First Year Latin by Robert Henle is really a grammar book with a lot of English explanation. Students finish the book knowing only learn about 400 words. That’s not enough.
On the other hand, Lingua Latina teaches students about 2,000 words. 2,000 to 3000 words is about all you need in a language to be fluent in the language. Of course, you can continue studying vocabulary as much as you want for the rest of your life. That’s what I am doing.
The problem is, getting to those 2,000 words, especially in Latin, is tough. I have found that the best way to achieve the goal is via repetition.
This is why I suggest that my students read the book again each month. On the first day of the month, read chapter 1. On the second day of the month, chapter 2. On the third day of the month, chapter 3. You get the idea. When you stall out, and you will, pause and focus on the problem causing chapter for the rest of the month. For example, if chapter 17 trips you up, spend the rest of the month reading chapter 17. Read it over and over again until you master the chapter. Then… move on.
Don’t be afraid to repeat. Just as you can’t train for a marathon by running around the block a couple of times, you can’t learn Latin by reading a book just once. You must repeat the process over and over again. You may be able to pass standardized tests in school, with one reading, but to truly own the language, you are simply going to have to repeat the process multiple times. This is why I choose Lingua Latina. It’s a novel. At least it’s interesting. I don’t mind reading interesting books multiple times, and chances are, neither do you.
No one wants to read First Year Latin by Robert Henle, or books like it, twice.
Another thing students sometimes ignore is vocabulary. The vocabulary in Linga Latina is aggressive. Each chapter teaches you about 50 words. That’s quite a lot. This is why I emphasize to my students over and over again that they cannot skip vocabulary training. Review the vocabulary every day. Review the vocabulary for the chapter that you’re currently in. For example, if you’re studying chapter 17, and if you are struggling with Chapter 17, then master the vocabulary for chapter 17. Study the vocabulary for chapter 17 over and over and over again.
You can create flashcards for yourself if you like. Or, you can use the flash cards over at quizlet. You can also learn the vocabulary by looking up each difficult word you encounter in the chapter.
This is my favorite way to learn new vocabulary. You learn in context. Best of all, with Lingua Latina you learn vocabulary via a story. This story helps you remember the vocabulary. This is why I emphasize strongly that students who have learned Latin read the New Testament in Latin.
The New Testament is the most famous story on the planet. You can learn so much and vocabulary so fast if the New Testament is the first book you read once you know the grammar of a language. I do this with every language I study.
I know that you’re discouraged by the final chapters. That’s fine. I, too, was discouraged by the higher chapters when I first read the book. But, I kept coming back. Over and over and over again. Now, Latin is a skill and a knowledge that I will possess the rest of my life. Some things are worth building. A lot of girls from your generation have memorized the lines and lines of the Gilmore girls. Probably nothing wrong with that. I don’t know. I have never seen an episode.
However, it will not have the long-term benefits that mastering another language will have.