How can I learn Latin? Cambridge Latin Course Series

A complete, easy series

If you are asking yourself how you can learn latin, the Cambridge Latin course is a very good place to start.  This Latin book series was developed for schools, and while that may put off some adult beginners, I think that a simple book is a good kicking-off point.  Why not work through what you could be learning at school?  You can always supplement with other items.  The series does have a “Dick and Jane” feel, with text such as “Caecilius is in the atrium.  Caecilius greets his friend” next to simple pictures, but I think that’s part of the appeal.  Mostly, the series has a clarity to it which will be noticeable to a beginner.

Book 1

Book one is two hundred pages long; a slim, glossy book, packed with illustrations and colour photographs.  I like the format.  It’s pleasing to the eye, which helps make learning easy.  It looks more plush than, say, Ecce Romani, from which I learned Latin, at school.  The stories have line drawings which look slightly drab at first compared to the colour photographs.  The point of the drawings is their authenticity.  We see Ancient Romans in their own period, not cruising the supermarket, (which can be fun, though), and the pictures have an particularly authentic look, i.e. a dog looks like a Roman picture of a dog.

There are about twelve chapters, (“stages”), per book.  They’re nice and short, and so, do-able.  You get chunks of vocabulary and grammar to learn, exercises, (no answers at the back), an informational section, (e.g. “daily life“), which is based on up-to-date research.  There’s a large language information section at the back which should give you confidence with any vocabulary or grammar issues.

Five book series

Pack your bags: the five books of the series take you from Pompeii to Imperial Rome, via Roman Britain and Egypt.  They get progressively challenging as you learn.

Strengths of the series

A strength of the course, from a beginner’s point of view, is its comprehensiveness.  I think the series is often used by tutors and led study-groups,  and the website offers distance teaching and private tuition, but I’m certain you could teach yourself beginner’s Latin well with this book.   This is clearly the intent.  The website linked to the book identifies the student study book which accompanies each textbook as an independent learning manual.  It is about fifty pages of exercises and explanation, again in appealing format, (though no pictures this time).  An omnibus study book is part of the North American edition of the series.  (I believe the European and North American editions of the book differ, so the omnibus may not be useful if you are using the European series).

You’ll probably need the Student Study Book: answer key for each study book that you have.  I find questions and, more importantly, answers crucial to push anything I’ve learned into long-term memory.  You may find forking out more money for another separate, glossy book annoying.  I suspect that the Cambridge Schools Latin Project, of which the course is a part, wants to ensure that the series can be used as a school textbook, (it prevents cheating on graded work).

There’s a separate grammar book for when you feel that the back of the chapters and your unit book is not enough.

If you’re teaching yourself, you might find the teacher’s manual useful.  The organisation will send test papers to schools only, but I see no reference on its website to this being the case for the manual.  If you’re taking a taught class, you could get the manual and mesmerize your teacher with advanced information.  The book includes a discussion of the cultural background of each textbook, and, particularly useful for eager nerds like me, a bibliography of relevant books and audio-visual resources.

E-learning resource

The e-learning resource for each book, (review coming soon), comes in the form of two DVDs with video documentaries, dramatisations, audio, interactive activities and “an on-screen Latin teacher to help with the language“.

Audio CDs

The Latin audio CDs have readings of the model sentences and stories.  Before you snort at the need for them, consider that someone teaching themselves from scratch may be aware that they don’t know how the words that they are learning should sound.  Are you confident in your use of a word without knowing how it should sound, even in your head?  You may find good recorded sources on the web, but these CDs could be convenient.


For £14.95 you can download the Oxford pocket Latin dictionary, (invaluable), but, unbelievably, it’s only available to PC, not Mac users.  Humph.

Distance learning

Did you know?  For £175  you get the following:

  • up to 40 weeks Latin e-tutoring,
  • a Book I Independent Learning Manual
  • a Book I Independent Learning Manual Answer Book
  • a Book I Independent Study Guide
  • support from the Cambridge School Classics Project office

Oof!  That’s quite an investment up front!  But then, you are getting good quality materials…

You’ll be given assignments and you can choose to do assessments, both of which will be marked and returned by your tutor.

The books are generally cheaper from Amazon than from the Cambridge University press.  Check whether it’s the European or North American edition that you are buying.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Internet-linked books, Nifty websites

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