Monday, May 9, 2011

Teaching Yourself Latin and Greek

In college too many decades ago, I was a classics and ancient history Ph,D. candidate. I did not stay in the field and did not keep up with the languages. But a little more than a year ago, beginning to plan for retirement, I decided to resurrect my Greek and Latin. I have been pretty successful, teaching myself. So drawing on this experience, I would like to provide some useful facts, opinions, and recommended resources for an English-speaking person trying to decide how to learn or relearn classical Latin or Greek outside the school or university system.

Three caveats:

First, if you have no experience whatsoever with a highly inflected language, or don't know what "highly inflected" means, you should seriously consider having a teacher rather than relying entirely on self-learning. In any case, read "Latin by the Dowling Method" (see reference below) and see what you think.

Second, I am well aware there are many books and resources besides those I mention. The ones I mention seem to be among the most popular ones, but they are by no means the only ones.

Third, in my experience, I can divide folks who want to teach themselves Latin or Greek into three types I will call Dabbler, Serious, and Intense. Serious wants to have a foundation in the language as a means of understanding the culture. Serious wants to be able to read quotations as well as selections from a limited number of authors, perhaps largely in bilingual editions. Intense intends to read entire works in a reasonable amount of time, with minimal need for translation and student edition crutches. There's nothing wrong with dabbling; I dabble in a lot of things myself. But this blog is for Serious and Intense (I classify myself as Intense).

The most important resource is free

Latin or Greek, Serious or Intense, there is one indispensable resource: PATIENCE. Other than keep-you-motivated quotes from classical authors or the New Testament, you're not going to be reading unadapted Homer or Plato, Cicero or Ovid, in six months. And, especially if you are Intense, decide right now you don't want to be reading them in six months. Read on.

Two fundamentally different approaches

In resurrecting my Latin, I came to know of two fundamentally different approaches. As manifested in actual textbooks and resources, the difference isn't always hard and fast. Probably not all textbook authors make the distinction or are even aware of it, and I'm sure some teaching professionals find it a false or simplistic one, but nevertheless I find the difference profound. We can call these the grammar-first approach and the natural-language approach.

The names are self-descriptive. In the grammar-first approach, you learn the grammar first, while staying motivated via etymological tidbits and quotes from classical authors. You follow that with guided readings, that is, selections from ancient authors generously glossed with word definitions and explanations of grammar, idioms, and context. After that, it is assumed you can "read" the language.

The emphasis in the natural-language approach is to first learn to speak and read (and to some degree write) Latin or Greek as the everyday languages they were. This is not a function purely of grammar. It's more like if you were going on a year's assignment to Poland and decided to learn Polish. You would probably buy a grammar and a phrase book, but you would also learn by watching Polish TV, listening to the radio, picking up on idioms, mimicking, evolving your ability to pronounce "correctly," and reading everyday prose. At the end of your assignment, you might feel confident enough in your Polish to read and appreciate some recognized classics of Polish poetry or prose.

Going back to what I said about patience, what you want after six months of Latin or Greek is to be well on your way to a bottoms-up natural feeling for the language, a confidence that with continued effort you could read the daily Athenian or Roman newspaper and converse with the sausage seller. For example, with respect to reading, you won't have to look up every third word in the dictionary and that - Latin and Greek are highly inflected languages where word position does not determine meaning - every sentence won't feel like a jigsaw puzzle. Read on.



So let me start with Latin. The epitome of grammar-first is Wheelock's Latin, by Frederick M. Wheelock, revised by Richard A. LaFleur, available since 2005 in its sixth edition and also now in a Kindle version. (As i write this in May, 2011, I see a seventh edition scheduled for availability in June.) Wheelock's Latin gives all the foundational elements of Latin grammar in forty compact chapters. Each chapter contains one or more elements of grammar plus a vocabulary list, example sentences, brief quotes from classical authors, and Latin-to-English etymological tidbits. The example sentences are not translated, but an appendix has self-tutorial exercises for each chapter and answer keys to these exercises. In this approach, you learn the grammar first, while staying motivated by the tidbits and quotes, then follow up with guided readings from Latin authors, for example, using Wheelock's Latin Reader. (There is also a Workbook for Wheelock's Latin, which I am not familiar with.)

The sixth edition of Wheelock explicitly caters to independent study as well as to the classroom. For Serious, I think it works fine, and being in its sixth edition, it clearly has worked for many others, not just Serious. In my quest to resurrect my Latin, I started with Wheelock.

Adler, Millner/LATINUM, Ørberg

However, for Intense, I soon became aware of the natural-language approach, which in my experience yields superior, I would say far superior, results, provided you have the patience. This approach is sometimes also referred to as the immersion method, as it is similar to the immersion methods often used in learning a contemporary language. The particular method I followed I dub "Adler + Millner + Ørberg." I got my direction here from Alex Sheremet's customer review of Wheelock's Latin on Amazon and an online essay Sheremet cites by Rutgers professor William Dowling, Latin by the Dowling Method. Dowling had me with his first sentence: "The problem about Latin is that you can study it for six years and still not be able to read a Latin sentence." As a one-time Ph.D. candidate who passed all his language exams with flying colors, this brought back the gnawing guilt I felt at the time that Latin seemed to me more like a puzzle to be solved than a "real" language.

Read Sheremet and Dowling. They explain the problem better than I could. The point is to learn Latin (and Greek) as a natural and living language, not as an exercise in grammar. For my part, let me describe what "Adler + Millner + Ørberg" is.

Adler refers to an 1858 Latin grammar by George J. Adler, available digitally and in print, called A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language: With Perpetual Exercises in Speaking and Writing (1858). Notice "perpetual." Notice "speaking." In ninety-seven chapters (remember, patience!), it covers grammar as thoroughly as any book I know, far beyond foundational. But you get there in parallel with graduated ("perpetual") exercises in speaking and writing "everyday" Latin, question and answer pairs to be translated into, and spoken aloud, in Latin. (Adler provided Latin translations for the exercise questions and answers in a separate volume, A Key to the Exercises Contained in Adler's Practical Grammar of the Latin Language.) "Have we any more hay?" "We have some more." Can you say "any more" in Latin? "Some more"? Without having to think about it? The point is to learn the language first, rather than leaping from grammar directly to the high art of a Vergil or Cicero or Horace, writers who, as my graduate school Latin professor put it, manipulated the language like a late Beethoven string quartet.

The Latin content in each Adler chapter includes forms and vocabulary that haven't been covered yet but whose meaning can be induced from the context and from knowledge of cognates and similar forms. This method of inductive learning is employed to one degree or another by all the natural-language or immersion approaches.

Speaking? Here's the cool part. Evan Millner has put all ninety-seven chapters of Adler in his LATINUM podcast: grammar exposition, grammar drills, exercise sentences (that is, their Latin translations from Adler's Key). It took me about a year to get through the ninety-seven chapters, reading each, listening to the podcast, frequently hitting the pause button to repeat the Latin out loud, but believe me, at the end of the year Latin for me was a living language, not a grammatical puzzle. Not to mention I could achieve this while on my exercise bike. Check out LATINUM for many other valuable resources, and if you believe in the humanities, make a donation.

As I worked through Adler + Millner, I read Ørberg. Ørberg refers to Hans Ørberg's Lingua Latina. Lingua Latina comes in two halves: Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Pars I Familia Romana is the foundational Latin; Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Pars 2 Roma Aeterna is the reader. (English-speakers, you want the Focus edition of Lingua Latina, which you'll find on Amazon or directly from Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Company.)

You will search in vain for any non-Latin word in Lingua Latina (except for the title page and back cover of the Focus edition). Immersion. There's no preface; you dive in with the first sentence of the first chapter of Familia Romana, "Roma in Italia est." On that simple linguistic, historical, and geographical foundation, there follows thirty-five chapters of delightful, often wry stories about a family from Tusculum in the second century CE, stories that in my opinion rise to the level of art. All-Latin marginal notes and illustrations (per se illustrata) greatly assist comprehension. At the end of each chapter is a Grammatica Latina section, in which all grammatical terms are likewise in Latin. (Focus publishes various ancillary materials in the Ørberg Series, including a handy thirty-two page paperback all-Latin compendium of declensions and conjugations, Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Grammatica Latina. There are also CD's that are probably to be recommended, but I'm not familiar with them.)

The sophistication of the Latin and your Latin reading skill progressively build as you work your way through the fictional stories about Julius, Aemilia, and their family. The only quotes from classical authors are brief selections from Ovid and Catullus, recited in a later chapter by family and guests at a family-hosted convivium. The chapters present related vocabulary about a given subject (farming, animals, army life, the Roman calendar, etc.) together, in connected prose. This is far more effective than vocabulary lists of unrelated words as a means of building your lexicon. Your vocabulary at the end of Familia Romana is much richer than at the end of, for example, Wheelock's Latin.

In sum, obviously you need to learn Latin grammar in order to read Latin. You can learn grammar first, as an exercise largely unto itself, or in the process of learning to speak and read the everyday language. Dowling points out the danger in the grammar-first approach - not the inevitability, but the danger - i.e., that at the end you still can't comfortably read a sentence of Latin! I guess the danger of the natural-language approach is, you're itching to read Cicero and Ovid and you lose patience.

Latin, Intermediate Level

One way or the other, you'll learn the grammar and want to begin reading the ancient authors. And one way or the other, you'll need to go through an intermediate stage before confronting Latin in its full nakedness, say in a Teubner or Oxford Classical Text edition. Of course there are numerous contemporary textbooks for doing this, not to mention the proliferation of reprints of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century student editions. I read Ørberg's Roma Aeterna and Wheelock's Latin Reader in their entirety and recommend both.

Roma Aeterna provides the dual benefits of solidifying your Latin while teaching you Roman history. The first chapter is Ørberg's walking tour of the ancient buildings and monuments of the eternal city through the reign of Antoninus Pius. The remaining chapters are slightly adapted selections from Vergil, Livy, Sallust, Cicero, and others that cover the history in chronological order from the mythical foundations through the fall of the Republic. (The Vergil is mostly prose versions of the verse.) Each chapter concludes with all-Latin, mostly fill-in-the-blank exercises to reinforce specific points of grammar. I am not aware of any keys to the exercises, but they are pretty easy, and if you're not able to answer them with confidence, you've probably gotten too far ahead of yourself. To beat the immersion metaphor to death, by the end of Familia Romana and Roma Aeterna, you're swimming in the deep end of the pool.

(For some reason Roma Aeterna, unlike Familia Romana, doesn't contain an index to the vocabulary. You'll want to get from Focus Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Indices, which indexes the vocabulary for both volumes.)

Hans Ørberg passed away in February, 2010, almost to the day when I began Familia Romana. I am very sad I cannot email my eternal gratitude to this great and warmhearted humanist.

Wheelock's Latin Reader contains mostly unadapted selections from Cicero, Livy, Ovid, Pliny the Younger, and, what I especially like, some Vulgate and Medieval Latin. It is in the format of Latin on the right page, concise English-language guidance on the left. It would have been nice if the Vocabulary in the back was indexed to at least the first occurrence of each word. And one pet peeve I have is the asterisking of words in the Vocabulary that occur "five or more times in the book" because such words "should be memorized." Doesn't memorize mean learn? So I shouldn't learn, for example, oleum (olive oil) or operor (to work, labor), and not have to look them up again and again? There is no shortcut to learning a language. Can we please not dumb it down.

Latin Dictionaries and Reference Grammars

Though in theory not necessary while working through the introductory and intermediate texts, which have their own vocabularies, you'll probably want a dictionary. Cassell's Latin Dictionary: Latin-English English-Latin is excellent and reasonably priced. Save the $300-ish Oxford Latin Dictionary for when you are both rich and Intense Intense (Oxford Latin Dictionary replaces Lewis and Short for classical era Latin, if you go back in the day)!

Similarly, the appendices in any introductory text provide templates for all the declensions and conjugations, but eventually, if you're somewhere between Serious and Intense, you'll want a full reference grammar that covers the nuances of syntax much more comprehensively than an introductory text. Adler, while not a reference grammar, is excellent for this. In addition, many of the early twentieth-century reference grammar classics are, well, classics, and available in a number of reprints. The most thorough Latin reference grammar I know is Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar (1898/1903). I also use Charles E. Bennett's more concise New Latin Grammar (1895/1908/1918). (One advantage of having these is that many of the reprinted late nineteenth and early twentieth century student editions cite them. Except for Adler, I'm not providing links to the reprints, because there are many of them and I don't want to vouch for their quality.)


And now to Greek. Let me repeat my caveat that the resources I am about to cite, while seemingly the most widely used, are by no means the only ones. Also, some of the resources I will cite have serious drawbacks for self-study.

"Ancient Greek" covers a millennium's worth of styles and dialects, from Homer to Hellenistic and biblical Koine and beyond. Most introductions, and the ones I discuss, are for classical Athenian Greek of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. I don't cover specialized introductions to Homer, Koine, non-Attic lyric poets, inscriptions, etc.

Greek on the computer; accentuation; pronunciation

As a student in the classroom or as an autodidact, you'll want to type in ancient Greek (i.e., polytonic Greek, meaning with appropriate diacritics). Go to the American Philological Association's GreekKeys site, purchase a license for GreekKeys 2008 (2008 is the current, Unicode-enabled, Mac- and Windows XP/7-compatible version). It takes a little practice to learn the right key combination to get the desired combination of diacritics, but it's really cool (the natural-language method doesn't require writing on parchment or papyrus!).

Along with the different alphabet, accents are in fact one of the initial hurdles in learning ancient Greek. The introductory texts give you all the rules you need and perhaps will ever need. But Intense will at some point want to read Philomen Probert's A New Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek, which is a scholarly work but also has exercises (with answer keys).

As an autodidact, you'll need to make a decision about which pronunciation to follow. The three primary choices are modern Greek, Erasmian, or classical Athenian as restored by contemporary scholarship. If you choose restored, you then have to decide whether to attempt pitch accents (classical-era Greeks spoke with pitch accents, but that is very difficult for most English speakers) or to accept the compromise of restored pronunciation but stress accents. You can imagine this becomes a hairy scholarly and pedagogical subject. Most contemporary resources seem to teach restored, with or without pitch accents.

Whatever your choice of pronunciation, or to help you with your choice, get Stephen G. Daitz's audio CD, The Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek, from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, as well as a separate disc, The Living Voice of Greek and Latin Literature: PDFs For All Recordings. (My order from Bolchazy got mixed up, and by the time it was resolved, I'm not sure how I ended up with the PDF disc, but the audio CD works off material in the PDF, so be sure to get both. The PDF contains the text for all the readings in the Bolchazy-Carducci The Living Voice recordings, including the entire Iliad and Odyssey. You'll want Daitz even if you get other resource-specific audio CD's like those mentioned below.)

Crosby & Schaeffer

The distinction between the grammar-first and natural-language, or immersion, approaches applies to ancient Greek as well as Latin. An Introduction to Greek by Henry Lamar Crosby & John Nevin Schaeffer (popularly known as Crosby & Schaeffer) enshrines the grammar-first approach for Greek. This 1928 classic is available on Amazon in a 2009 unabridged reprint from Dover. It is also available from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, evidently with a "New Introduction" and "An Appreciation" added (I was unaware of the Bolchazy edition and bought the Dover reprint). The approach is virtually identical to Wheelock, or maybe I should say the Wheelock approach is virtually identical to Crosby & Schaeffer. Not counting review chapters, Crosby & Schaeffer packs foundational grammar into sixty incredibly concise chapters (each headed by an equally brief keep-you-motivated quote), along with limited vocabulary (primarily to prepare you to read Xenophon, as many older Latin school textbooks aimed at preparing schoolboys to read Caesar) and a limited number of Greek-to-English and English-to-Greek translation exercises. (The pronunciation guidelines in the Introduction would be considered Erasmian.)

There are no "officially" published keys to the exercises in Crosby & Schaeffer that I am aware of. This and its brevity of exposition seriously limit its value for the autodidact. It was the textbook used when I first learned Greek in college, so partly out of nostalgia and partly out of the multiple-warhead approach I have chosen to relearn Greek, I am using it along with what follows. For most self-learners, though, it's not going to suffice, especially if you're teaching yourself Greek from scratch.

Just as seriously, in my opinion, at least for Intense, Crosby & Schaeffer suffers the same drawbacks of the grammar-first approach discussed above for Latin. Fortunately, there are two outstanding contemporary realizations of the natural-language, or immersion, approach, though one is near fatally flawed for self-learning purposes.

Reading Greek/Cambridge and Athenaze/OUP

I refer to the Reading Greek series by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT), published by Cambridge University Press, and the Athenaze series by Maurice Balme and Gilbert Lawall, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). Like Familia Romana, these two Greek series teach grammar in conjunction with immediate immersion in stories about a fictional family. In fact, in both series the fictional lead character is Dikaiopolis, a character borrowed from Aristophanes's The Acharnians. The setting is the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. Woven into the story line about Dikaiopolis are threads from Greek mythology, Homer, and Greek and Attic history, threads that gradually include mildly adapted content from classical authors. Both series are handsomely packaged and rich with illustrations of ancient art and architecture and with excellent essays on Greek and Attic history and life.

(Readers beware! The stories in Reading Greek and Athenaze have a dark side to them absent in Familia Romana. Maybe it's the difference between the era of the Pax Romana in which Julius and his family live in the Familia Romana and the turbulent times in Attica at the outset of the Peloponnesian war.)

Both series are in their second editions and require the purchase of multiple volumes. At least on Amazon, there are some leftovers from the first editions, so be very careful for any volume in either series to order the second edition. (Reading Greek was first published in 1978, the second edition in 2007. Athenaze was first published in the early 1990's, the second edition in 2003.)

Reading Greek

JACT requires the following three volumes:
  1. Reading Greek: Text and Vocabulary
  2. Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises
  3. Reading Greek: An Independent Study Guide
Strictly speaking, it requires the first two volumes. The Independent Study Guide is for the self-learner. JACT explicitly caters to self-learners as well as classrooms. The study guide gives translations of the exercises in Text and Vocabulary and keys to the exercises in Grammar and Exercises.

A criticism of Reading Greek, one I regard as trivial, is that you have to switch back and forth between the volumes when you study.

In addition, you'll want the Reading Greek 2-disc audio CD, which contains an introduction to the restored pronunciation and entertainingly dramatized readings from many of the chapters.

Finally, I would recommend the companion, The World of Athens: An Introduction to Classical Athenian Culture, thought it is not required for language learning and though it is excerpted throughout the textbooks.

Without qualification, I have found Reading Greek a perfect self-learning vehicle for learning or relearning ancient Greek.


Since Athenaze is almost identical in concept and production, I would like to make the same unqualified recommendation for it. Unfortunately, I can't. Unlike its Cambridge brethren, OUP does not cater to the self-learner. In fact, it seems this is intentional. But read on.

To pursue Athenaze on your own, you need the following volumes (Athenaze distributes its thirty chapters over two books, so you wouldn't have to get the second books immediately):
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Book I
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Book II
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Workbook I
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Workbook II
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Teacher's Handbook I
  • Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Teacher's Handbook II
  • An Audio CD to accompany Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek
Unfortunately, OUP only makes the teacher's handbooks and audio CD available to teachers and institutions purchasing the set for classroom teaching. They have confirmed this is their policy, for example, in correspondence to me from their Marketing department: "For obvious reasons we do restrict distribution of any text that provides the solutions or answers to the problems in the student books. I understand that this leaves the self-taught student in a difficult position." Actually, the reasons are not obvious to me, especially since it doesn't seem to trouble JACT, but that's OUP's policy.

For the record, I was ultimately able to persuade the publisher to sell me the teacher's handbooks and the audio CD, but it was an ordeal, and you should assume you wouldn't be as lucky. The teacher's handbooks indeed are not just the translations and exercise keys; they are full of suggested teaching techniques and so in fact addressed to teachers and not students. Unfortunately, as a self-learner, I am both the teacher and the student. And the handbooks are the only source with keys to the exercises in the main books. (It's shortsighted to try to learn a language without doing exercises and without checking your answers. I continually amaze myself at how stupid, or careless, I can be.)

The Introduction to Ancient Greek Books I and II contain the stories plus grammar and exercises. As I've said, only the teacher's handbooks have the story translations and exercise keys. The complementary Workbooks I and II provide additional exercises for each chapter, with an answer key included. And no audio guidance. So it's a mixed bag. (The Reading Greek 2-CD set sweeps the Academy Awards for best performance by male and female leading and supporting actors, best sound and dramatic effects, and best documentary explaining the restored pronunciation. But the Athenaze CD serves its purpose; I especially like that it sticks with the pitch accent throughout its readings and does so at a pace you can follow and practice.)

The Italian Athenaze

If you browse around, you'll undoubtedly find references to an Italian edition of Athenaze, by Luigi Miraglia and T. F. Bórri: Athenaze: Introduzione al greco antico. You can get more information from the publishing arm of the Accademia Vivarium Novum. Miraglia took the first edition of the English-language Athenaze and Ørberg-ized it (my vulgar term, his acknowledgment): He and his co-authors added stories (without disrupting the Dikaiopolis plot line) along with Lingua Latina-like marginal notes (all in Greek, of course) and illustrations, with the pedagogical goal of learning vocabulary and grammar more by contextual induction, less by native-language glosses. In a virtuous circle, the second edition of the English Athenaze in turn acknowledges "inspiration" from Miraglia.

The Vivarium Novum web site claims a teacher's guide is in the works (Guida per i docenti), but it seems it's been in the works for over ten years. In lieu of the guide itself, the site provides Miraglia's sketch for a guide. It makes for interesting reading. Despite a classical education many of us would be jealous of, Miraglia gives autobiographical witness to what Dowling warns of: After years of diligent memorization of grammar, after many guided readings, confronted with the simplest sentence, without the aid of translation or glosses, you still have to "sweat seven shirts" and frantically consult the dictionary just to elicit a plausible "deciphering" of the sentence's meaning.

Like the English editions, the Italian Athenaze distributes its chapters over two books, Athènaze A (I) and Athènaze B (II). Each has a companion volume of additional exercises, written by Carmelo Cònsoli, Meletèmata A (I) and Meletèmata B (II). For the sixteen chapters of Athènaze A, Alessandro Barbone has provided yet more supplemental exercises, Quaderno d'esercizi (cap. I-VIII) and Quaderno d'esercizi (cap. IX-XVI). And as supplemental reading to chapters twenty and beyond, Alessandro Barbone and T. F. Bórri have added an edition of The Tablet of Cebes (La Tavola di Cebète), an allegorical work passed down in the tradition as being the work of Cebes of Thebes, a pupil of Socrates.

The Italian Athenaze has no exercise keys. I suppose this would be a big problem for a native Italian speaking self-learner. For my purposes, especially since I am also brushing up on my Italian, I use the Italian edition as a fun and useful supplement, to aid my Italian as well as my Greek. As with Lingua Latina, I find the all-Greek marginal notes and illustrations a big help in learning the Greek vocabulary.

If you live outside Italy, getting the Italian Athenaze is not necessarily easy. The Vivarium Novum web site is an eye feast and very informative (you can click on each book, enlarge the display, and leaf through its pages). But the shopping cart checkout is broken (as they acknowledged to me) and in any case only takes bank transfers, not credit cards. The only way you can hope to reach them is by phone. A well-meaning young man there tried his best to help me, but they just don't have the logistics to handle overseas orders. You can get the books through other Italian online sellers, once you struggle through trying to create a profile with a U.S. address. I got the books from

(By the way, if you're teaching yourself Italian, I highly recommend La Lingua Italiana per stranieri: Corso Elementare ed Intermedio, by Katerin Katerinov and M. C. Borioso Katerinov. [For the exercise key, La Lingua Italiana per stranieri: Chiave degli esercizi e dei test, and for the corso medio and corso superiore volumes in this series, you'll have to shop around on Italian web sites.] The book is an exemplar of the immersion method: Each chapter starts with a dialog, then grammar, without a single non-Italian word. Caveat: While still available, the publication is from 1985, so the content feels a little dated.)

So back to the English editions. Do I recommend Reading Greek or Athenaze? In my opinion, as an autodidact, you would do equally well with either, if, for Athenaze, you could get the teacher's handbooks and audio CD. If you have the patience and enjoy the readings as much as I do, you'll do even better working through both.

Speaking ancient Greek

Speaking is such an important part of acquiring a natural feeling for the language. So is there an Adler + Millner for Greek? Adler's A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language (1858) is said to follow the approach of a nineteenth-century German grammarian, Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (see the Wikipedia articles on Adler and Ollendorff). This approach is grounded in the verbal repetition of a progressively or perpetually growing repertoire of phrases and idioms. There is an 1852 Greek Ollendorff; being a Progressive Exhibition of the Principles of the Greek Grammar: Designed for Beginners in Greek, and as a Book of Exercises for Academies and Colleges, by an Asahel C. Kendrick, available digitally and in reprint. And indeed the same Evan Millner at least started a podcast of Kendrick's Greek Ollendorff in early 2010, as did a David Clark. (Millner's podcast also uses an 1856 work A New Practical and Easy Method of Learning the Greek Language after the System of F. Ahn). However, it appears these efforts stalled quickly. There seems to still be missing a good tool equivalent to LATINUM for learning to speak Ancient Greek.

(Kendrick's Greek Ollendorff, unlike Adler, is not a grammar. Strictly speaking, according to Kendrick's preface, it is intended to "precede the use of any Grammar." I'm also not aware of a key to the Greek Ollendorff exercises. But Kendrick's Greek Ollendorff has exactly ninety-seven lessons, just like Adler. Is 97 a mystical Ollendorffian number?)

Greek Dictionaries and Reference Grammars

The classic English dictionary for ancient classical-era Greek is the Liddell-Scott-Jones A Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition with a Revised Supplement. (This was originally published in 1843. You may know that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for Henry Liddell's daughter Alice.) So far I have been using the less expensive Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, Abridged: Original Edition, republished in larger and clear typeface, a reprint of the 1909 "Little Liddell."

The classic English-language reference grammar is Greek Grammar by Herbert Weir Smyth, originally published in 1920 and available in reprint, popularly known as Smyth.

Online learning

Are there online sites you can use to teach yourself Latin or Greek? I have not made a thorough study of this. It's to be expected that some Web-empowered individuals, some university professors and departments, some classical learning ecosystems and aspiring ecosystems have attempted an online service for learning Latin or Greek. What I've seen, I'm not impressed by, LATINUM excepted. One day maybe someone will find a successful formula. In the current state, if you're not Dabbler but Serious or Intense, my advice is to download Millner's Latin podcasts, then disconnect. Spread the printed or digital or Kindle versions of Adler, Lingua Latina, Reading Greek, and Athenaze out onto your desk - sure, Wheelock's Latin and Crosby & Schaeffer too. Close the door so you can read out loud. Resolve to be patient, get to work, have fun!


  1. Salve, Randy.

    This is an excellent overview of the course an autodidact may follow, as well as some sound advice on realistic goals. Thank-you for taking the time to put this together.

    The worth of one textbook over another can be discussed ad nauseum -- I don't wish to enter into that at length, but I would like to comment on the use of Wheelock's for the grammar-translation text.

    A few years ago, Yale Press came out with a text that, while identical to Wheelock's in approach, is superior in every way, except perhaps cost. "Learn to Read Latin" by Keller and Russell is, in my opinion, the best grammar-translation text available, especially for the adult learner.

    It is more attractive in its layout and presentation, and more thorough in its explanation of grammar and forms. The accompanying workbook has probably the greatest volume of exercises and drills of any text on the market. This text, more than any other, deserves to displace Wheelock's as the default text of choice for college Latin or adult learners who wish to pursue the grammar-translation path.

    Again, thank-you for the wonderful entry.

    Best regards,
    Mark Dawson

  2. I ran across a pdf version of Crosby & Schaeffer, would you like to download it and pass it around?

  3. Thanks much for this thorough recounting of your experience. Let's hear follow ups. Did you hit plateaus. What helped to keep you going? Did your reading strategy change over time?

  4. Thank you for your overview, I'm trying to learn Latin by miself, and its really welcome your help.

    For the pelople how knows Spanish, maybe this is interesting, but is not for learning Latin:

  5. Randy,
    Thank you! THANK YOU!!!!
    By the way, have you come across an immersion approach to German? I need to teach myself enough German to read and understand some 19th century works in mathematics. This gives me hope, as older books have more realistic picture of the language as a habit as opposed to the language as a cerebral construct.

    1. Thank you, img. For German, which I read pretty well but don't speak, three things come to mind:

      (1) The Adler whose Latin method I wrote about was himself German. I just found this link to his book on using the Ollendorff method for German:
      (2) The Yabla German program is an outstanding and fun immersion into contemporary German. It costs $9.xx a month to subscribe and in my opinion is well worth it. Here is there home page:
      (3) The Germans are excellent publicists for their own language. Some years ago I came across an excellent program for learning German from - I think - some agency in the German federal government. They provide many resources, and the one I used most was a daily reading of the daily news, in German. They offered two versions, one read at a normal pace, one read more slowly for the benefit of newer learners. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of provider of the program, but with a little searching I'm sure you can find it.

    2. For the Adler-Ollendorff German book, here is a link to an answer key for the exercises:

    3. Thank you, Randy. I found the answer key on too: Because of awkward cataloguing it doesn't come up in the title searches, but did show up when I looked for everything related to George Adler.

      On a semi-related subject, I wonder if there exists an Ollendorff-like method for Sanskrit. I'll search for it and post findings here and hope that you and the site visitors will do the same.

    4. If you know French, you can use the Assimil Sanskrit materials. They really are wonderful. I recommend working through it for several months before turning to any English-language and more conventional materials, like Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit (an excellent book, but a little forbidding as a primer!).

  6. Do you mean Le Sanskrit Sans Peine?

  7. Thank you so much for your incredibly informative article on learning "the natural way". I have struggled as an autodidact with Greek for 4 or 5 years quite intensely. Having done Olberg in Latin made me see the light.
    This site :
    worked great for me to order the Italian Athenaze. €22 + €24 shipping (ouch!).