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Classical Latin for Modernity

I started my Latin learning using Gwynne's Latin out of an interest in Classical history (I saw the book in the British Museum and decided to pick it up a bit later, regardless of knowing nothing about the language), particularly the Roman Republic and Empire. Gwynne uses, and proudly so, a very old methodology in terms of teaching. Soon, I began using Duolingo as an additional method. I don't think the app provides enough context to truly understand what is happening behind the scenes in a language (though, the website does a better job), but Duolingo does provide, at least for me, a very good means of measuring my ability to translate conglomerations of the vocabulary I have learned, as well as practice parsing the different cases out of sentences.

I became less fond of Gwynne's Latin not too long after I began. After talking with a Latin teacher I ran into incidentally in a coffee shop, he recommended the Cambridge lessons, Oxford lessons (which Gwynne adamantly opposes in his book), and Wheelock's lessons. I ended up choosing Wheelock's out of necessity (it was the only one available of the three when I went to the bookstore).

One aspect that was immediately appealing to me was the fact that, even with some variation, which is applied to make the learning process easier for beginners, Wheelock's bases exercises off of classical Latin literature, poetry, etc.

When comparing this to Duolingo, we see very little, if any, of that. Most sentence structures are purely based on the germane vocabulary of the current or previous lessons. One of the things I appreciate about Latin so much is that it has such a rich cultural history; that's what brought me to it in the first place. But I also deeply appreciate the structure of Duolingo's curriculum (I don't mean to include the league system or the shortened lessons when I say "curriculum"). This also gives the sense that Latin is alive and still relevant, and helps students create sentence structures that are pertinent to their own lives, instead of only providing constant reference to the past.

I just want to see what other people think on this subject. Do you want more historically-based Latin lessons in Duolingo, or do you prefer that they remain as they are? Perhaps it's really a matter of being in Beta still, though. I know some of the programs, such as German, have "Stories," which provide an on-going dialogue. Perhaps that would allow for some exposure to the more historical aspects of Latin.

What are your thoughts?

December 6, 2019



One of, if not the best book for Latin is *Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata" by Hans H. Ørberg. I personally used it and recommend it highly :)

Also there's a Latin discord server, maybe if you dig around you can find the invite link :)


Exactly! LLPSI makes you understand Latin in Latin.

Wheelock's will not teach you read or comprehend Latin in Latin. It will make you good at grammar drills and translating Latin into English to understand the translation instead of the original text.


Since I found this discussion, I would like to say congratulations to the people that made this course of Latin!!! Ancient Greek shall be the next one!!!


I think this is an excellent idea! Historically-based Latin lessons would be way more interesting to read and learn, than sentences about cookies.


Let's not forget about the parrots.


Or about Marcus and the weasels.


always drunk, poor parrots ! ;)


Either way works for me: Duo's lessons were very enjoyable and good practice. Wheelock taught me Latin years ago and it's a good method of its type.

If you would like to use a method that emphasizes modern situations--well, from the 1960's--try Le Latin sans peine (book, choice of audio formats, or the "superpack" contains book and audio). All sorts of modern situations--traveling, flying, an insane asylum, wedding, hiking, a family party, etc., etc., plus selections from some literature in Latin, modern or classical.

FWIW, those recordings of the book now offered, from as much as I've heard of them, are the best of the several versions Assimil has put out: better than the original (too French accented), or the Italian version (too strongly Italian accented--but does have a complete set of recordings in ecclesiastical Latin too, if that is what you want), plus (for the first time that I know of) the exercises are also recorded, not just the dialogues.

Downside (maybe): the Assimil course is not presented in English, but rather French, or Italian, and may be available in German or Spanish (IDK). If this site is still in operation, English or Spanish speakers can get help with using the Assimil book and recordings in an online (e-mail) class that I highly recommend.

Downside (maybe): the Assimil course is not a regular textbook (w/ recordings) but teaches Latin using the Assimil method.

Prof. John Traupman wrote Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, which has plenty of modern terms. He wrote a Latin method in a couple of volumes, but I've never examined it and don't know if it uses modern terms, although my guess would be that it does, and the Bantam (or AMSCO) New College Latin & English Dictionary, which is widely used.

If you want to see a course that teaches Latin only in Latin (!), try Lingua Latina per se Illustrata: Familia Romana, by H. H. Ørberg. It's pretty nifty. The situation presented is not modern, however, but maybe 2nd- or 3rd-century Rome. Recordings, a 2nd book (Roma Aeterna) and several ancillary books in the same format as the primer--w/ helpful notes all in Latin and illustrations--and a key/teacher's guide, etc. Very worthwhile.

There was an old Latin-English/English-Latin dictionary from Follett that included modern terms (ask, if you want the publishing info.).

Several modern (or fairly modern) novels have been translated into Latin. And there's quite a bit more that could be mentioned.

Thanks for mentioning the book by Gwynne: I've never seen it and will try to find a copy.

[Added] Supplied the link for "this site" above (i.e., to the Schola Latína / Európæa & Úniversális / in líneá") and clarified a few comments.

Also, you may enjoy this discussion: "'Latinizing' Modern Words/Concepts." As an addendum to my note therein about "astronaut-related" material, the author of those videos, who was Latin secretary to the Vatican for about ten years, wrote a very nice translation of the recently very-popular-among-kids Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Commentarii de inepto puero, which also has a well-produced audiobook (which unfortunately is read w/ a rather strong accent).


I would enjoy being able to read original latin texts but I am afraid that they are too difficult for me.

I loved to read an "Asterix"-cartoon strip in school. We read "Asterix apud Gothos" and there are more of them.


That's one of the positives of Wheelock's. It's not just direct text, but derivatives of original Latin text that have been modified to suit the needs of the learner based on it's position within the lessons. I think something similar could be done here.


I have almost no knowledge of Latin outside of Duolingo so I can't speak to that, but historical based stories would be awesome. I can already imagine a Duolingo friendly plot of Pulcher trying to figure out what his chickens eat only to discover that they are thirsty.


A wonderful idea. I would imagine that an interest in the Latin language seldom comes without a commensurate interest in the history and culture of those who used it for various purposes, so there's no real risk of 'alienating' many learners.

Maybe we can include sentences that provide information about the life and deeds of some prominent figures, e.g., Virgilius Aeneida scripsit

Sic itur ad astra!


In another thread I mentioned Nuntii Latini, sadly no more continued https://areena.yle.fi/1-1931339


Hey all, I came across a reference (on the forums) to a site called Mango Languages. My local library provides a free subscription to it with my library card and they have Latin. The first lessons start with Caesar's (ave) Gallic Wars. I recommend checking it out.

Learn Latin in just 5 minutes a day. For free.