Is it possible to speak Latin fluently?
Yes! Many people are not aware that Latin can be spoken fluently, similar to a modern language like English, French or German. Latin offers us all the words that we need to communicate in our everyday lives.
However, we don’t learn to speak Latin just for small talk. Latin is the ideal language for discussing engaging topics such as philosophy, art or science. By speaking the language of ancient Rome, we detach ourselves from our day-to-day life and are enabled to take on new perspectives.
Experience spoken Latin by yourself and participate in our online courses, so you can soon answer the question „Do you speak Latin?“ by saying: Latine loquor – „I speak Latin“.
How can I learn to speak Latin?
Although many roads lead to Rome, we advise you to take the following steps to becoming fluent in speaking Latin.
Step 1: Find people who speak Latin
In major cities such as New York, London or Berlin you can find groups of people who meet regularly to practice spoken Latin. In fact, there is a global “living Latin” movement that has become strong recently. Our group in Berlin is called the Circulus Latinus Berolinensis. Please come by when you visit Berlin: you can find our planned events here. We invite you to join our meetups free of charge.
Step 2: Learn the basics
Whether you have learned Latin in school or are a complete beginner: You should study or repeat the basics of Latin grammar and build up a basic vocabulary. A textbook that we heartily recommend is Lingua Latina per se illustrata - Familia Romana.
What makes Familia Romana unique is that the book is monolingual: Latin is explained in Latin - lingua latina per se illustrata (est), as the title says. The book’s lessons consist of extensive texts and dialogues in Latin, which are meant to be read rather than translated. Explanations are given in basic Latin. As a result, the student is exposed to the language to a great degree. The immersive nature of the book will greatly help you make the first steps towards talking in Latin.
Step 3: Learn Latin words for everyday use
How do you say “Let’s have a coffee” (Vin’ coffeam bibamus?) in Latin? There are several books from which you can learn some useful colloquial expressions and everyday words:
- Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency: Everyday latin dialogues with English translations (be careful, not everything presented in this book is idiomatic Latin, there are some stylistic errors).
- Corderius: Colloquia Scholastica: Short dialogues related to school and learning. Written in the 16th century, still useful today.
- Comenius: Orbis Sensualium Pictus: This visual dictionary of the Latin language presents everyday nouns and verbs in context, making it easy to learn and understand them. Dating back to the 17th century, the book has remained a favourite among many generations of Latin students and teachers. Even today it remains unsurpassed as a treasure trove of Latin vocabulary.
Are there podcasts, videos or apps that can teach you speak Latin? What about TV shows such as Barbarians? Unfortunately, most of what you can find on the Internet contains grammatical or stylistic errors, which is confusing for beginners. That’s why we recommend you to turn to trusted sources such as Corderius or Comenius, whose Latin is impeccable.
Step 4: Improve your style
Having followed the preceding steps, you will be able to communicate in Latin. Now it’s time to improve your style and complete your Latin vocabulary. The proven way to do so is to read and reread classical Latin authors such as Catullus, Plautus and Cicero, whose style has shaped the language of the Roman Empire and is still alive in today’s languages, which have borrowed heavily from Latin.
Here are some works that we recommend in particular:
- Cicero's speeches: Cicero's prose has become the de facto standard of good Latin style. Some of his speeches come close to dialogues (he often addresses his audience as “you”), which makes them good sources of colloquial expressions.
- Erasmus' Colloquia Familiaria: Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote these witty dialogues for teaching purposes in beautiful classical (not medieval) Latin. The conversations are not only funny, they also teach us the foundations of Humanist thought. Highly recommended.
- Plautus' comedies: Written in dialogue form, Plautus' comedies contain a wealth of Latin slang words and expressions found in everyday speech. Try Amphitryo.
Step 5: Enjoy the results!
You will soon realize that given your ability to speak Latin, you will understand ancient Latin texts much better than before. People speaking Latin are in a position to experience the works of classical Latin authors in a more natural way. You will be able to understand large parts of Latin literature at first sight without analyzing the grammar sentence by sentence or consulting a dictionary. You will live and breathe Latin rather than just translate it.
Books from the series Lingua latina per se illustrata
(Photo: Casa editrice Vivarium novum)
Why should I learn to speak Latin?
You might wonder if learning to speak Latin really makes sense even though the Latin speaking population has all but disappeared. European languages such as French, German or English have replaced Latin as official languages in their respective countries. These modern languages were rough and primitive at first, but have matured over time so that scholars and scientists became able to discuss topics such as science, philosophy and art in these new languages instead of Latin.
However, bear in mind that Latin has been the common language, or lingua franca, of the Western world for many centuries, allowing people from different places and cultures to communicate with each other effectively. Although the chances of meeting someone speaking Latin in public are rather low nowadays, we do find the language’s heritage everywhere around us, e.g. in Latin inscriptions. More importantly, a large part of our literature was originally written in Latin and only later translated to modern languages such as English.
Can you really appreciate a Latin speech or poem without being able to speak Latin yourself? We don’t think so.
Having to translate a text sentence by sentence makes it impossible to truly enjoy authors such as Cicero, Virgil or Petrarca. Many of us were tortured with Latin conjugation and declination tables in school or university. Speaking Latin allows us to rediscover the joy of reading the great classical Latin works that we already know, connecting with them on a deeper level.
Another reason for learning to speak Latin is that you will get to know people from all over the world. In Latin classrooms – real and virtual – you will meet Latin students from Europe, the United States, South America, Africa and Asia. Speaking Latin is becoming popular in China! Many find it more interesting to socialize in Latin rather than English, as Latin speakers share a common interest in the culture and history behind the language.
There is a recent trend towards “living Latin” in popular culture. For example, the first two books of the Harry Potter series have been translated to Latin and there are movies and TV series such as Barbarians on Netflix in which Latin is heard. Unfortunately, these works are often fraught with grammatical and stylistic errors, as there are few people who have a sound knowledge of spoken Latin. In our online classes, we teach authentic Latin devoid of “barbarisms” and wrong pronunciations, thus bringing more authenticity to the recent trend of speaking Latin as a living language.
The video shows one of the world's most fluent Latin speakers, Luigi Miraglia
What is the correct pronunciation for speaking Latin?
Some people are obsessed with pronouncing Latin words exactly as the Romans did. However, we do not know exactly how the Romans pronounced Latin. There are only theories, albeit scientifically sound ones. We do not see the benefit of chasing an ideal that does not improve our actual use of Latin. We find cultivating a good style of expression much more important.
That said, there are two main ways of pronouncing Latin, the so-called classical pronunciation and the eccesiastical pronunciation. Here is a summary of the main differences:
Classical Latin pronunciation
- The vowel combination ae is pronounced as two separate vowels, resembling the sound of uy in the Enlish word buy.
- The consonants c and g are pronounced hard, e.g. Cicero is pronounced like “keekero”.
- The consonant v is pronounced like wh in the English word what.
Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation
- The vowel combination ae is pronounced as one long vowel, similar to the sound of a in the English word land.
- The consonants c and g are often pronounced soft, e.g. Cicero is pronounced like “cheechero”.
- The consonant v is pronounced like v in the English word vinegar.
Many of us mix the two pronunciation systems, and that’s fine. There is no single truth of how Latin should be pronounced. After all, the pronunciation of the language has changed throughout the ages. Choose the pronunciation that you are comfortable with and focus on improving your style and vocabulary rather than obsessing about pronunciation.
There is one important point that is not up to personal preference: the accent. You should take great care to place the accent where it belongs. For example, cónditum means “founded”, while condítum means “seasoned”! As you see, the position of the accent is crucial for distinguishing between similar words. If your goal is to speak Latin well, focus on the accent rather than the two systems of pronunciation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many Latin speaking countries are there?
The only nation where Latin is an official language and spoken actively is the headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Vatican. As a consequence, there are no native Latin speakers. That said, you can find clubs and communities of people talking in Latin everywhere around the world. One example is our group based in Berlin, the Circulus Latinus Berolinensis, home to many fluent Latin speakers. In our spoken Latin classes, seminars and workshops, you can meet people from all over the world who enjoy having conversations in Latin.
How many people around the world speak Latin?
There are no official estimates of how many people speaking Latin there are. The Latin speaking community is small, but growing. According to our own estimates, there are around 2,000 people around the globe who can speak fluently, and many thousands more who are learning to do so. In recent years we have been observing a new trend towards spoken Latin. Social media like Facebook or Reddit make it easier for Latin speakers to form communities and cultivate the active use of the language.
Speaking Latin in school – is it possible?
Speaking Latin in school is not only possible, it is the best way to learn the language. In our experience, Latin students immersed in the language by speaking and listening learn faster and retain more of what they learned in memory. As a matter of fact, Latin can be taught in exactly the same way as a foreign language such as French or German. The acclaimed textbook Lingua Latina per se illustrata - Familia Romana follows this approach.
How many languages derived from Latin are there?
The Romance languages, e.g. French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, have developed from vulgar Latin. There are 44 Romance languages in total. Italian, and Sardinian in particular, is perceived by many to be the closest language to Latin. Non-Romance languages such as English or German have been strongly influenced by Latin as well. We rarely think of it, but all the aforementioned languages are united by their use of the Latin alphabet.