Learning a classical language like Latin comes with many benefits. Apart from enabling you access to a vast amount of literary sources spanning two millennia, it can be of great help in learning a host of modern languages. Not just Romance languages, either: according to most estimates, at least 60% of English vocabulary is derived from Latin, directly or indirectly. Even if you pick up a little Latin, it surely won’t go to waste.
A common complaint, at least by high school kids who still get to learn Latin in many schools around Europe, is that learning it is boring and pointless because it’s a “dead language”. I couldn’t agree less on both counts, although it is true that Latin largely continues to be taught in a very boring and outdated fashion. While I can’t argue with students who are simply disinterested and indifferent to this language, I can offer some pieces of advice to those who do wish to learn it, even if it’s just for their own personal enrichment (and, frankly, that’s the best reason to do it, anyway).
For the purposes of this post, I’ve deliberately chosen contemporary material, to show that Latin is very much alive and that you can learn it and use it like any other language.
LEARN WITH DUOLINGO
Duolingo is a very popular language learning app and website, used by millions of people to get the basics of their chosen language using a variety of simple vocabulary and grammar exercises. Duolingo courses are created with total beginners in mind, so you don’t need to have any previous knowledge at all. As of 2019, there’s also a Latin course, designed in partnership with the Paideia Institute. Unlike the smartphone app, the desktop version comes with vocabulary and grammar notes, and you can also access a discussion forum.
LISTEN TO RADIO PROGRAMMES AND PODCASTS
For the following resources you will need some knowledge of Latin (intermediate and above), so think of these as listening practice.
For many years, Finnish public broadcaster YLE produced news in Latin. While the service was discontinued in 2019, you can still access the Nuntii Latini (“Latin news”) archive and use the available audio files for listening practice.
For up-to-date news in Latin, head over to the website by the same name, Nuntii Latini, hosted by Western Washington University. News there is available in audio files as well as the accompanying transcripts.
Yet another podcast with the exact same name is produced and broadcast by Radio Bremen, Germany, on a monthly basis (hence the German title Lateinischer Monatsrückblick). It comes in audio format and readily accessible transcripts, and it also includes German translations which can be very helpful (if you know some German, that is).
Last but not least, there’s the Vatican Radio and its 5-minute weekly podcast Hebdomada Papae (The Pope’s Week), on the air since 2019. Vatican Radio also regularly broadcasts religious programmes, such as the daily Holy Mass and Rosary in Latin, which you can listen to online or, depending on where you are in the world, via shortwave radio (click here for the current frequency guide).
READ NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES
If you want to do some reading on the latest news, current affairs and many other topics, there’s the online newspaper Ephemeris, based in Warsaw, Poland.
Beginners (levels A1/A2) will enjoy the Adulescens magazine published for many years by the European Language Institute (ELI), specifically designed for learners. This is the only resource mentioned here that is not free of charge; current annual subscription is around 20 EUR, which will get you a total of five 16-page issues. On the website listed above you can preview an entire issue and see what the magazine is like.
SING ALONG TO TUNES IN LATIN
There are many pieces of classical music sung in Latin (mainly religious in nature). If that’s not your thing, you can explore the contemporary Latin music scene. Yes, there is such a thing! (Don’t confuse this with ‘Latin music’ as in Latin American música Latina, which is sung mainly in Spanish or Portuguese.) Bands performing in Latin today will probably sound a bit unusual to you, not so much because of Latin, but because of the typical genres and subgenres connected with that language today, such as neo-medieval folk, gothic rock, or various types of metal. See how you like these bands and their songs:
Lesiëm (Germany): Justitia
If you don’t like any of that, check out the Wikipedia entry titled “List of songs with Latin lyrics” and do some exploring of your own. You just might discover a passion for Gothic metal or Neo-Renaissance folk!
Another website to visit is YouTube, where you’ll find covers of many pop songs in Latin, such as this rendition of Adele’s “Hello” (that is, “Salve”) done by Keith Massey, or “Yesterday” by the Beatles (“Heri” in Latin), translated and performed by Luke Ranieri. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any videos of the Finnish professor Jukka Ammondt who famously recorded an album of Elvis Presley songs in Latin back in the 1990s; you might have better luck.
Once you go down the rabbit hole of contemporary Latin on the internet, there’s far more content than you would’ve imagined. I haven’t even mentioned online forums, Facebook groups, mailing lists etc. They can all be used to learn, practise and actively use this beautiful and rich language that is not dead just yet.
You’ll find additional links to learning resources and other Latin-related material on my Pinterest, on the Lingua Latina board. If you’ve come across other resources that you’ve found useful, either in teaching or learning Latin, tell us about them in the comments section below. Gratias ago!