Luke Ranieri’s Newsletter
How do I become a fluent READER of Latin & Greek? 📚
🏛 Χαῖρέ τε καὶ salvē! 🏺
As I began teaching Latin and Ancient Greek this semester, I let my students know a great technique for developing reading fluency.
That is, after all, our primary goal in learning Ancient Greek and Latin, right? We want to pick up Plato or Vergil or the Bible and read it like we’d read our native language.
If you have struggled with this before, I have great news for you: it is possible, and you can achieve your goals!
Latin and Greek have long suffered the reputation of being “difficult” languages, but this is mostly to do with how they were taught traditionally in most classrooms for the past couple centuries, and not so much to do with the languages themselves. While the verb conjugations and case systems of the two Classical languages of Europe are indeed elaborate (and my audiobooks Latin by the Ranieri-Dowling Method and Ancient Greek by the Ranieri-Dowling Method are meant to ease us into those forms), they pale in comparison to many Slavic languages that millions of people speak natively and study as a second language to fluency every day.
Fluency, whether in speaking or reading, is a matter of familiarity. One way to achieve fluid understanding is to use Latin and Ancient Greek communicatively, as I do in my online classrooms at the Ancient Language Institute, speaking it often or exclusively during a lesson, even on day 1 of classes.
But I didn’t have the benefit of such an experience when I was learning Latin. So how did I manage to become a fluent speaker and reader?
There is so much you can do on your own! Let me tell you how.
In order to become really familiar with reading your target language, you have to read it a lot. I know that sounds boring. Here, this will sound even more boring: re-read the same text, again and again!
Here is how to make this challenging, useful, and even fun. Combine the reading experience with audio, in a specific sequence that I will outline below.
First you will need a text with audio. In addition to my audiobooks store and YouTube channel ScorpioMartianus, I have many other audio recordings gathered onto this convenient page: lukeranieri.com/audio. (These are the audio series I give as a thank you to my Patreon supporters, so you may already have access to many of these, and those completely free to the public are marked with a shamrock: 🍀)
Once you choose your book, it may be the first time you’ve seen the text. Or indeed, you might only just be starting to learn Latin with Familia Romana or Ancient Greek with Athenaze. But so much the better: the technique I will show you is especially important to follow with beginner books. Once you have your chosen text, follow these steps:
STEP 1: Read at the Speed of Speech
For a particular chapter, listen to the audio while your eyes follow the words. Don’t pause the recording. Your only job is to keep up with the pace of my voice. If you are not used to reading the language, this will not be easy the first time! Or second or third. You may understand almost zero in the beginning. This is okay! This is expected. You are training the visual center of the brain to react to Greek or Latin text automatically as it would to English text: sweeping it up in chunks at the speed of speech.
STEP 2: Analyse
Understand all the elements of the text, including new vocabulary and grammar, to the best of your ability.
STEP 3: Repeat Aloud After Each Phrase
Play the audio, and pause to repeat back each phrase aloud. Try to understand and picture each part of what is being told as you go.
STEP 4: Recite Aloud with Vivid Imagination
Without using the audio, recite the text to yourself aloud, looking away (or closing your eyes) to imagine what each phrase is depicting: a farmer in the fields, a captain on a ship, etc. (This is why memorization of vocabulary is unnecessary in this technique: your time is better spent re-reading in this highly structured way!)
STEP 5: Tell the Story to a Child
Now recite the text aloud as if you are telling the story to a child. If you have willing children, pets, or even stuffed animals, place them in front of you and make them feel what you’re talking about! Now that you understand everything in the text, put as much emotion, as much feeling as you can into every phrase, and in so doing you will anchor the language in your psyche forever.
STEP 6: Re-Read at the Speed of Speech
Listen to the audio recording again while reading along silently, without pausing the recording. You should understand a lot more, even at this relatively fast spoken pace. It’ll be amazing! You’ll already be comprehending with near fluency!
STEP 7: Re-Read at the Speed of Speech Silently
Now read to yourself, silently. You’ll hear your own voice in your head as you fluently read and understand every word. Repeat any of the above steps as needed until you’re comfortable, and move on to the next chapter. When these steps are practiced every day, you’ll be a truly fluent reader in no time.
Why does this work?
Traditional teaching of even modern languages until a few decades ago concentrated heavily on grammar/translation (G/T) exercises, and Ancient Greek and Latin still languish in this condition in many classrooms around the world. G/T does an incredible number of disservices to the learner, and one of the most profound is training the student to parse a sentence’s elements grammatically. This over-analysis creates the very bad habit not only of translating the words of the text into your native language, but also of instinctively approaching the language as a puzzle to be solved, rather than a book to be read and enjoyed. Unless you have aspirations to be a translator, you should never entertain the idea of cultivating G/T habits.
Learning a language is a skill like any other. And skills are a coherent collection of habits, mostly executed automatically or subconsciously. Think of learning to throw a ball as a child, or in my case, learning to fly a helicopter. Hand-eye coordination skills are essential here, and if you practice them wrong in the beginning, it’ll be hard to unlearn.
It is possible to unlearn, however! So if you’ve dealt with Latin and Ancient Greek through G/T up till now, worry not! Once you work with any text with the technique I outlined above, you will create a new habit, a new skill that sets your mind to automatically sweep up sentences in the language as your default.
This is why Step 1 is so, so essential! Step 7 is the goal, and to get there you might have to repeat some of the steps, especially Step 1. Re-reading the same text again and again at the fastest pace you can manage, willingly passing over words or phrases that don’t make sense, is an incredibly important skill to train yourself to do. This is embracing a temporary sense of ambiguity or imperfect clarity as your new friend — which we will discuss in the future.
Here are some audiobooks I’ve made that you can use with the above steps:
On my ScorpioMartianus YouTube channel:
On my Audiobooks Store:
For my Patreon supporters:
🏺 ANCIENT GREEK
On my ScorpioMartianus YouTube channel:
On my Audiobooks Store:
For my Patreon Supporters:
Next time I’ll tell you about the phonological loop and why reading at the speed of speech — and no slower! — is utterly necessarily for comprehension.
Till then, valē atque ἔῤῥωσο!
Luke · Lūcius · Λούκιος 🦂