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Learn To Speak Latin

Blog > Academia > Latin > How To Speak Latin?

It is not because Latin has been an extinct language for a few centuries now that it is impossible to find other Latin speakers in the world.

There is a strong community of Latin learners and speakers across the globe and there is even some network that broadcast international new in lingua latina.

If you wish to learn the Latin language, you might as well learn how to pronounce it well straight away. For that, you will need to learn the rules of accentuation.

Follow our advice et you will be fluent in Latin in no time.

Learning Latin is no more crazy that learning made up languages such as Klingon or Dothraki.

Pope Francis in England. The Pope Francis during a visit in England probably did not speak Latin but the Roman language is still the official Vatican language ( by Catholic Church).

Learn to Speak Latin Fluently by Studying the Alphabet

As English speakers, we often think that we won’t have to study the Latin alphabet as it is the same as we use today.

This is not entirely true. The Latin alphabet we use in English has evolved since the time of the Roman Empire. Cicero only used a 21 letters alphabet (the J, U, W, Y, and Z did not exist).

During the 1st century AD, the letters Y and Z were added to help with the transcription of foreign words (mostly Greek words).

The case of I and V

The I and the V were vowels and consonants at the same time. It just depended on the Latin word they were used to write. Sometimes they were written twice in a row in the same word, the first occurrence was a consonant and the second was a vowel.

  • Servvs : servus,
  • Ivvenis : juvenis.

It was not until the 16th century that the letters J and U appeared and simplified the way such words were written.

  • I became a vowel and J became a consonant.
  • The V remained a consonant in all cases while the U became a vowel.

Unlike many romance languages such as French or Spanish, Latin did not have any accent on letters.

Roman aqueduc in Segovia Roman left many buildings behind them across Europe, like this aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

Learn How To Speak Latin By Learning The Pronunciation

Only a few public schools and some universities still offer Latin classes in the UK.

So it is most likely that you won’t be able to take a Latin exam on your A-levels. If you fancy learning this language, that is the origin of 30% of all the nouns, verbs and adjectives you use, you will probably have to do it on your own.

Through the centuries, Latin pronunciation changed and was adopted by the local speaker.

It is rare today to find any school where Latin is taught using the Roman pronunciation. Even in the Vatican, where Latin remains the official language, the lingua used during masses will use an Italian pronunciation.

So even if the Pope does not pronounce Latin the right way, what does Latin should sound like?

Two rules should be strictly followed:

  • The only silent letter is the H,
  • One letter has only one pronunciation.

To better understand the Latin phonetic it is easier to draw a correlation between Latin and other Latin-derived languages such as French, Spanish or Italian.

  • The R is rolled like in Spanish or Italien,
  • The C is always pronounced [c] as in “continent”,
  • The G is always pronounced [g] as in “goal”,
  • The J is always pronounced [j] as in “yack”,
  • QU is always pronounced [kw] as in “quest”,
  • The S is always a voiceless [s] as in “snake”,
  • The U is always pronounced [oo] as in “foot”,
  • The V is always pronounced like a U,
  • Le Y is always pronounced as “I” as in “antique”

Knowing the International Phonetic Alphabet when you’re trying to learn any language will prove itself useful.

What about diphthongs?

Also known as gliding vowels, diphthongs are two vowels that are next to each other. The pronunciation of the combined vowels will be different from the one of each letter read separately:

  • -ae- [aï] as in aequus (equal, just) pronounced “I” in English,
  • -au- [aw] as in audire (to listen) pronounced “haus” in German,
  • -eu- [eou] as in neuter (neither) pronounced “Europe” English,
  • -oe- [oï] as in poena (punishment) pronounced “boy” in English.

Hadrian wall built by Roman. The Roman wall in the middle of England marks the northern limit of the Roman Empire. Still standing today, it is a popular hiking trail ( by bestfor-richard).

Where Is the Accent?

Latin might be a “dead” language, you will have to learn it like you would any modern language.

To reach a fluency level of Latin you will need to know where to put the accent. 

The accent is the part of the word that you should emphasize to pronounce it correctly.

Many languages that come from Latin, like French, do not use a tonic accent when speaking. But lucky for English native speakers, we do.

In Latin, the accent will depend on the length of the word. In dictionaries such as the Cambridge Latin dictionary, the accent is indicated by an apostrophe before the syllable to emphasis:

  • For two-syllable words, the emphasis will be on the first one: ‘rosa, ‘cogo, ‘Roma.
  • For words with more than two syllable, the emphasis will be on the penultimate (the one before the last) syllable for a long syllable (co’rona) or the antepenultimate (the one before the one before the last) for a short syllable (ho’minibus).

A syllable is long if the vowel is followed by 2 consonants or an X or if it is a diphthong (ae, oe, ay, ui or ei). In dictionaries you will see them written as āēīōū;

  • ‘Pax,
  • ‘Pactum,
  • ‘Poena,
  • ‘Pauper.

A syllable is short if the vowel is followed by another vowel or by an H. In dictionaries you will see them written ăĕĭŏŭ;

  • ‘Puer,
  • ‘Puella,
  • ‘Veho.

It might sound complicated but practice will make it easy and pronunciation will become natural.

If you took Spanish lesson it will probably be easier for you to pick up the right place of the accent naturally.

Learn To Speak Latin by Reading Books Out Loud

When one wants to improve a second language one usually goes on a linguistic journey abroad, in a country where the target language is spoken.

Obviously, that is not possible for Latin, as there is not a single Latin native speaker. And unless you become a bishop and work in the Vatican it will be hard to find Latin linguistic holidays.

How to progress then?

To improve your Latin conversational skills it is possible to listen to Latin podcasts on Latinitium.com.

This is the best way to immerse yourself in this new language and start memorizing new words and how to pronounce them from the very beginning.

No doubt that you will impress your teacher if you use this method.

Sounds will become more natural and your understanding of the speech will become easier and easier. It is also a great way to discover some classical Latin text without having to read. Your progress will be boosted if you dedicate some time to it every day.

Once you will have picked up some vocabulary and to improve your own pronunciation and master the tonic accents you should try to read out loud.

It will be better for your at first if you are helped by a fluent Latin speaker or a Latin instructor.

Once you will be comfortable, classical texts of Virgil, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, Marcus Aurelius or even the famous De Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar, will be easy for you to read in their original language.

Roman Forum in Italy. Roman left thousands of building and ruins across Europe that can still be admired today (by AdeRussell).

Many Latin lesson textbooks will include Latin texts and their English translations side by side to help you progress.

The further you practice, the better a Latin speaker you will be. The best way to improve quickly is to not always use a dictionary when you are stuck on a word, but instead, try to deduce its meaning using the context of the sentence.

Learning grammar rules will obviously help too.

If you hire a private tutor to learn Latin, you might want to ask him to teach you using the Orberg method.  This method that focuses on speaking and listening Latin will allow you to be fluent in no time.

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