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How to Study Latin Vocabulary and Why It Is Important

Posted by Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a M.
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on Monday, 07 May 2012
in Articles


Thoroughly studying your Latin vocabulary is the single most important thing you and your student can do to make sure you receive the greatest benefit from your Latin studies. Since 52.6% of English words—and 90% of words that contain two or more syllables—come from Latin, knowing your Latin vocabulary immediately ameliorates your English vocabulary (ameliorate comes from the Latin word melior which means “better”).


Latin helps your students to learn the vocabulary of various disciplines, as well. I thank God that I had a thorough grounding in Latin before I started tutoring Challenge II and III. Honestly, it saved time and gave me the leg up I needed in subjects such as logic, biology and chemistry. I encourage you to take your children’s aptitudes into account and not only have them learn the vocabulary in Henle or Latin’s Not So Tough, but also Latin vocabulary that is specific to the things they like. If they like zoology, make a list of animal names in Latin. If they like government, have them memorize a list of legal terms. If they like anatomy, have them memorize body parts in Latin. This will help them delineate patterns and it will help them later on—in Latin and in life.




Now, on to the harder question—that is “How should I study?” One point that I would like to impress upon you is that your students should study Latin in a manner that ensures that they will know it for their entire Latin career. Hopefully, this includes their high school career, maybe college, and also teaching Latin to their own children. I have had students in advanced Latin looking up basic words from Latin I—that should not happen. Over study, over study, over study!


First, I will tell you how I studied when I embarked on my Latin journey twenty-three years ago. J I would write the vocabulary five to ten times each while saying all the important information. For nouns, a student should memorize the nominative, genitive, gender, and meanings. For verbs, the principal parts and meanings should be memorized. For adjectives, all the nominatives and meanings should be memorized. Every meaning given should be memorized. For example, peto means “I seek, beg, ask, attack, aim at.” If a student does not memorize all meanings, he or she is not getting all the nuances of the word. After I wrote the vocabulary, I made flashcards that I studied on the bus or in my downtime. Finally, I gave myself a quiz on the vocabulary and its important information. After that, I kept adding to my pile of flashcards and I reviewed all the flashcards at least once a week.


Of course, not everyone learns in the same way I learn. I over study—I think this is important, although I have not had as much time to over study since I have had children. Some other ideas are to draw pictures of the vocabulary or to act out the vocabulary to gain mastery of it. Another method that is helpful is to have students participate in a derivative hunt for derivatives of the vocabulary in a dictionary—a real dictionary with pages rather than online. When they learn the derivatives, they should remember the vocabulary better!


The study of Latin is a tool and a gift we give our students to help them in all facets of their lives. May God bless you in your pursuits! Ad astra per aspera! (Translation: to the stars through difficulties.)


Please let me know if you have other study ideas to add to my list and also if you have a topic you would like for me to discuss (magistrasheppard@gmail.com).

Kathy Sheppard has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a M.Ed. from George Mason University as a reading specialist.

She taught Latin at Spotsylvania High School in Virginia for nine years and has taught home-schooled students since 2004. She also has taught online for three years and has been a director for Classical Conversations Challenge Program in Fredericksburg since 2006.

She studied in Rome in 2003 as part of the American Academy of Rome's Classical summer school.

She lives in Virginia with her husband, Dave and her two daughters, Annie and Elizabeth. Visit her website www.latinandclassics.com .


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