The average student of Latin needs approximately 600-650 hours.
At least, that’s what a lot of Internet language learning gurus will tell you, often basing this number on statistics published by various public institutions.
If that number is true, you’re basically looking at 3-5 months in a classroom setting.
The problem is, these assessments don’t take into account a variety of factors:
- Your mother tongue
- Other languages you may have studied
- Your personal discipline
- Your overall language learning skill set
Nuanced considerations, right?
Here’s what I suggest:
Read this page in full. I’m learning Latin myself at the moment and you can hear me quote Seneca and Hugh of St. Victor in Latin from memory in this video:
I’ve learned several languages other than Latin and I’ll share with you the truth about how long it takes to learn a language. I’ve also taught thousands of people how to use memorization techniques to learn languages faster.
Although, I don’t think it’s very likely that you’ll achieve basic fluency in less than 650 hours, I’m confident you can get a lot more out of each and every hour you spend on Latin.
You’re going to love these tips, so let’s dive in!
Why Latin Might Be One Of The Easiest Languages To Learn
You might have heard that Latin has tons of declensions to deal with, amongst other oddities of grammar.
It’s certainly true that without memory techniques, these aspects of Latin can pose a challenge.
But let’s focus on the pros first.
According to Eulalia (European Latin Linguistic Assessment), over 3 million people are studying Latin at the university level. That’s just in Europe.
Internationally, there are many more. And many of them are sharing their learning adventures online.
I’ve learned a ton by going through Luke Ranieri’s live Latin conversation primers, for example. They are great for picking up conversational Latin basics. He also knows a ton about the language and takes you through one of the most important Latin textbooks for beginners.
It’s called Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata by Hans Ørberg. And Luke does it all for free.
Speaking of free, did you know that there’s a Latin version of Wikipedia? You can practice reading Latin for free all day long, no matter where you are in the world.
A Few Reasons You Might Be Struggling To Learn Latin
Despite all of these incredible free resources, there are some key reasons you might not be getting ahead as quickly as the suggested 600-650 hours.
For example, you might not have been aware of the resources I just shared with you.
Or, you might struggle with time management.
It could also be that you lack self-confidence and need to take a step back to work on some mental strength exercises.
Finally, you might not understand the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in language learning. Taking a moment to learn about these factors can help get you on the right track quickly.
One motivation tool I love to use is called The Freedom Journal. Here’s a tutorial on how to use it for language learning.
6 Memory Techniques To Help You Learn Latin Faster
Another reason that people struggle with a language like Latin has to do with picking a particular kind to focus on. There are not only historical differences to factor in, but also regional ones. These issues make it a bit more challenging to know how many words you’ll need to learn.
But the good news is that with proper memory techniques on your side, you won’t have to worry about the vast amounts of Latin words and phrases waiting for you. You’ll always be equipped to learn them.
And if you have goals like some of the students in my Language of Memory program, you might want to memorize entire Latin books verbatim. You’ll be able to do that too.
So here are the best learning tactics I know. They’ll help you get the most out of your time with this language.
One: Call On The Mighty Power Of The Big Five
If you truly want to make progress with Latin at an above-average level, you need to use interleaving.
This is a strategic way of switching between language learning tasks. It helps you tap into what learning scientists call the levels of processing effect. It specifically helps with the retention of words, and to a certain extent, images.
But placing yourself in context is the key, and that means rotation through these activities:
Let’s look now at each of these activities and optimize how you’ll use them for learning Latin faster.
Two: Start Reading Latin Even If You Don’t Understand A Thing
True, it can feel weird to read without understanding.
However, as the authors of my favorite Latin reader suggest, you need to start practicing anticipatory reading as soon as possible. Peter V. Jones and Keith C. Sidwell mention this point in Reading Latin: An Independent Study Guide, and I highly recommend it.
So what is anticipatory reading?
It’s basically guessing what a word or phrase means once you’ve understood the basic context.
Albeit challenging, because it’s challenging, it helps you form memories faster. Research in active recall have validated this idea many times.
As a simple strategy for Latin, read a play by Plautus or Seneca in English first. Then read it in Latin without the English translation.
Because you know the context of the story, you can start to guess what the words mean. This simple process will help you tremendously, provided reading is balanced with the other Big Five activities.
These days, if you feel like reading in a more interactive way, you can also explore AI options. Check out my Latin-based example of chatGPT for language learning to discover some interesting tips.
Three: Speak Latin Daily
When many people start learning Latin, they make it about reading only.
This slows down the process. As Ivan Illich shows in his book, In the Vineyard of the Text, medieval scholars of Latin did not read quietly. They always read out loud.
Four: Listen To Lots Of Latin
As I mentioned above, there are millions of Latin students at every level in the world today. YouTube has many live hangouts where you can listen to speakers have detailed conversations.
It’s also important to use some of the language learning software platforms that can connect you to other Latin learners.
Five: Memorize Latin Using Mnemonics
There are several ways to use a Memory Palace for language learning.
- Memorize vocabulary
- Memorize declensions
- Memorize conjugations
- Memorize phrases
- Memorize entire dialogues
I used a Memory Palace when I memorized Hugh of St. Victor’s famous phrase:
Omnium expetendorum prima est sapientia, in qua perfecti boni forma consistet
(Choose wisdom first because in it is the form of the good)
For “omnium,” I used a mnemonic image of my friend Owen doing the “om” of a meditative prayer. He was with Optimus Prime from The Transformers.
Then, for expetendorum, I had an X-Man (Wolverine) at a Pet Barn. He had a Ten of Spades on one claw while banging down the door for a bottle of rum. This image contains all of the basic sounds in the word at a consonant-by-consonant level.
You won’t have to do that for every word, but some words like this one require more associations than others. Basically, a mnemonist does what it takes to get the learning done, and you’ll be able to do the same. Just be sure to make using the Memory Palace technique a routine.
Six: Write Latin From Memory, By Hand
In order to top things off, you want to maximize spaced repetition. Rather than cramming, spacing out your revisions over time helps your brain form memories faster.
The best way to write Latin from memory in order to strengthen what you’re learning is to follow a simple process:
- Enter your Memory Palace
- Find the images you assigned for a Latin phrase or declension table
- Bring the Latin material to mind
- Write it out
You can also get writing involved by creating your own flashcards, which is another spaced repetition strategy.
How Fast Can You Learn Latin?
Ultimately, you are looking at a bare minimum of 600-650 hours.
But I suggest looking at things a bit differently.
Think about your own mother tongue. Aren’t there still hundreds, if not thousands of words you still don’t know?
I’d hazard a guess that I could spend the rest of my life memorizing English words and still never be able to claim that I know them all.
That’s why in my own Latin journey, I’m treating it exactly like that: as a journey.
Instead of wondering how long the entire journey will take, I focus on creating language learning missions.
For example, Luke Ranieri says it takes him 200 repetitions to master the declension table for one Latin word. I made it a mission to reduce it to 20 repetitions. Using the tips outline above, so far so good.
And if you’d like help mastering your memory so you can reduce the time you’re spending on repetition, get my FREE Memory Improvement Course right here:
It will help you develop rock solid Memory Palaces and use them well.
Seriously, you need this level of memory training.
When you master your memory, you won’t need luck.
But since we’re talking about Latin, let me close by wishing you good luck in a special way.
Di bene vertant, quod agas!
(God turn it well, what you do)