Read Latin


A long time ago Latin was taught in a very mechanistic way, with a massive emphasis on rote learning. Many youngsters were put off by this. Now a whole generation has grown up with little or no contact with this language. But there was a time when it was the one language, besides that spoken at home, which every educated person knew. Many texts were circulated, handwritten by scribes, and were very valued, as well as expensive.

This online resource has one aim: to let anyone with the leisure and inclination be able to read any simple Latin text. For their own pleasure and satisfaction. This may be done as a group, such as those organised by the University of the Third Age, or privately on one's own.

You will need to have access to the internet, and to be familiar with using a browser.

The text we will study is the Latin translation made in the 4th century by Jerome of the Gospel of John. You will easily find an English translation of this in your Bible, so you have a permanent crib sheet whenever you are stuck translating.

The text will be presented here in such a way that a mouseover on any word will give a simple explanation (in the space on the left, or between the lines, depending on your browser), so it will be like having a teacher in the room with you.

A great deal of material from the internet will be used. The links on the right part of the page should be used as required, and you can navigate through the Gospel at your own pace. But you should certainly spend a lot of time reading the background material first before going on to begin actually the real translation work. Use the links on the right to get a better understanding of grammar concepts first, both in English and in Latin. Use the grammar tables as you work through the text, looking up each declension or tense as required. And use the online dictionary (you type in the Latin word in the space provided) whenever you need to.

Recommended Study Method

Because Latin is so highly inflected, it is essential to become familiar with the pattern of the endings of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. The grammar resources of the internet freely supply all you need, but the best way to learn is this: make your own grammar textbook, hand-written in an exercise book.

The are five noun declensions. Look at the internet grammar pages and note the grid layout for all the cases, singular and plural. Replicate this for each of the five. Adjectives follow a similar pattern. Write out a grid for each different pattern, using the examples you find on the internet pages. The most common pronouns each decline in their own way. Make a written grid for each. Verbs similarly, all the tenses, active and passive, for all the conjugations, then all the extras: infinitive, participles, imperative, gerund, and gerundive.

This may seem a big chore, but it is an investment that you will be grateful for. In the old days, school children would be expected to rote learn all this. Nowadays the emphasis is not so much on rote learning, but unless you can recognise from the ending of a word what it is doing in the sentence, you will struggle for fluent understanding. So writing out these patterns by hand will cement them in your memory. Hopefully. And the end product will be a very useful reference book.

The target of this course is that will be able to read through the Latin text of John's Gospel with only the occasional need to look up a word in the dictionary. To this end you may eventually get a hardcopy of one. And for simple reading, you may download an ebook, which I have made specially to accompany this course of study. If you have a hand-held ebook reader, you need only to ensure it copes with the epub format. My iPad does so nicely. Even smart mobile phones nowadays do this too.

Ready to go? Click this link to get the opening of John's Gospel in Latin, remembering to mouse over every word as you begin to read your way through these verses.