Not long ago, my students and I just finished another trip through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, by Hans Orberg.
Every time I read this book, I am amazed.
I am amazed at how well it teaches Latin. And, I am amazed at how tough it is.
Did you catch that? Let me repeat that.
Lingua Latina is tough.
Hans Orberg wrote Lingua Latina in Latin.
That’s right. If you have not seen the book yet, it is completely in Latin.
There is no English explanation. There are no sidebars with English notes. There are no grammar points in English at the end of each chapter. Most shocking to my students, there is no “Latin to English” dictionary at the back.
Lingua Latina: Per Se Illustrata means: The Latin Language Illustrated through itself.
In other words, Latin will teach you Latin. The reader will use the Latin he knows to learn the Latin he does not know.
Chapter 1 begins with pictures of new words and a map of the Roman empire. Students read Roma in Italia est.
Looking at the map, students see that Rome is in Italy. This simple sentence just taught four words in Latin. Each sentence, each paragraph, and each chapter from this point forward will add to your knowledge.
By the time you finish the book, you will know almost 2,000 words in Latin. This is significant. I’ve been studying languages for twenty years. As best I can tell, a learner with about 2,000 to 3,000 words in another language possesses the foundation needed for basic conversation and possesses the foundation for more advanced reading.
By contrast, another text I use to teach Latin, First Year Latin by Robert Henle, teaches students about 500 words. Really, that isn’t much. When you finish the book, you are not going to be able to read much in Latin.
By chapter 28, in Lingua Latina, students are reading from the New Testament in Latin! In other words, if you tackled a chapter a day, starting today, you could be reading the New Testament, in Latin, 28 days from now. Admittedly, that would be one tough assignment to hand yourself, but… theoretically, it could be done.
At the end of the book, chapter 35, students read Latin poetry, Latin wit, and a few Latin jokes. If you can understand jokes in another language, you are either fluent or almost fluent.
I think I have read almost every Latin textbook out there. I spent years looking for something like Lingua Latina. The day I found it, I was hooked.
Mr. Ørberg was brilliant.
He turned a tough subject, one almost always taught from a grammar-based approach into a novel.
Instead of reading dry disjointed sentences, students read about family squabbles, school fights, pirates, dramatic rescues, runaway slaves, and stolen money.
Not only is the story completely in Latin, it is actually interesting!
Lingua Latina takes the reader from completely ignorant in Latin to near fluency. Keep that in mind. When I tell you that this is one of the toughest books you will ever read in your life, I am not kidding.
If you are plowing through Lingua Latina and you are struggling, be encouraged. You are supposed to struggle. Push through.
Soon you will be able to read in Latin.
That, my friends, is worth the struggle.