Targeting Vocabulary

A276 – Learning Latin – Tip 1




If you’re balking at tackling Latin then you might (hopefully) find this useful. It’s based on my own experience of learning OU Latin (A276, A297 and A397) and Greek (A275, A296 and A396). I’ve also taught a lot of Latin, too. So I hope you’re persuaded by a fair bit of personal experience that’s backing me up here.




I’d suggest getting to grips with vocabulary is a top priority. It makes a massive difference to how rewarding you’ll find your Latin language studies.

So – imagine the typical points during an average day when you’re relatively static, and occupied with something that doesn’t (much) involve your mind: brushing your teeth (morning and evening); driving or taking public transport (to and from work); preparing a meal; doing the washing up; having a shower; even going to the loo. That’s EIGHT opportunities EVERY DAY when you could be concentrating on learning just ONE Latin word. That’s FORTY words EVERY WEEK if you count just Monday to Friday; and you then have weekends to consolidate last week’s learning and plan ahead for next week’s!

Crucially PLANNING is the key. Obviously, you’ve plenty time (e.g. the few minutes it takes to brush your teeth) to get to grips with the fact that tamen means ‘however’. The trick is to plan in advance; to know that you’ll be doing that first thing Monday morning and so on Sunday you’ll need to write a post-it note saying “tamen = however” and stick it on the bathroom mirror over the sink. And novelty and variety are the key. Play around, week to week, with when, where and how you’ll fit in your few new words every day. One friend wrote a different one in wipe-off pen on her white coffee mug every mid-morning, lunchtime, and mid-afternoon break. Another, who was forever checking his phone, keyed his words in as texts to be continually reminded of them. Similarly, someone else set all his up in advance as timed message alerts. Think all that through, every weekend, and get yourself set up ready for the coming week.

At a rate of eight words a day, five days a week, with weekends to consolidate and plan ahead you’ll clock up a couple of hundred words in just five weeks. The A276 course is about 35 weeks long. That’s potentially 1,400 new words you could tackle this way in that time! In fact, there are only about 350 words you have to learn (see Consolidated Vocabulary at the back of the Language Reference Book). So there’s plenty of opportunities to take a week off from vocabulary learning when you’ve a TMA due, or when you want to review what you’ve done so far before you launch into learning more. As time goes on you’ll almost certainly want to incorporate into your learning plenty of going back over words you’ve learned before to make sure you haven’t forgotten them. And there’ll always be those stubborn ones you’ll need to keep returning to again and again because they just won’t stick in your head.

Steve Havelin (01.10.17)

Read Steve’s classical biography here: Classics was my Chrysalis, by Steve Havelin