This Latin mastery thing–it sure isn’t easy. And I myself am certainly not there yet! But we each have the necessary ingredients available to us, if we are willing to work and make it happen. We need to exercise diligence, that is, constant and consistent work, and patience, waiting with hopeful expectation and enjoying the successes throughout the learning process.
Latin study has the sad reputation of being mind-numbing form-drills plodding on and on and on…for years: “First it killed the Romans…” etc., etc. This is why many people never begin, and it’s the reason why the rest never follow through or “finish.”
Yes, studying a language takes consistent practice. Yes, there will be regular memory work and lots of word forms in Latin. But study doesn’t have to be horrible, and when you are connected to the motivating reason for your studies, it will keep you at your daily study task throughout the year.
Which brings me to ask: why are you studying Church Latin?
- To become fluent in the language of the Traditional Catholic Liturgy, both the Mass and Divine Office?
- To read medieval philosophy or theology in the original language?
- To read original historical documents from 2000 years of European history?
- To be able to use the Latin ATM in Vatican City? (Just kidding, but I had heard there is one there!)
Keep your reason for studying and achieving mastery before you at all times. It is this that will motivate you to persist with your study plan when you really don’t want to.
Patience while persisting in the pursuit of Latin mastery will come from a good fit with your study routine (see above) and observing regular, energizing progress. You will want to achieve goals regularly that harmonize with your reasons for mastering Latin. Sure, it takes awhile to achieve language fluency, but you will be reading a lot after even a year with a good program.
If you are trying to learn the Latin of the Breviary, you will want to choose a textbook and note your weekly progress by chapter AND by what the exercises have taught you to do. For example, after finishing Chapter XL in the Mantrina, you can say to yourself, “I have now finished 2/3 of the book and can read and translate the Nicene Creed and the Confiteor!” Recognize your learning achievements, and mentally leverage them to cheerfully keep going.
Constantly remind yourself that “the good stuff takes time.” In this spirit, I will say that the earlier a person begins learning Latin, the better–if you didn’t have Latin when you were younger, the second-best time to start is now.
Of course, there’s truly no better time to start than childhood. Considering these two virtues in the light of teaching children Latin, I want to suggest that teachers constantly build in interesting items into daily lessons, and teach the curriculum enthusiastically , using every tool at their disposal to make the lessons and homework as engaging as possible. That will help the children enjoy their work, and they already have a patient trust in the learning process as it carries them through their young lives. They know they’ll get there, to mastery, one day, after many days of working with their teacher. Hopefully it will be fun as they are working.
I have kept up my work through the years, motivated by my deepening understanding of history. When multiple continents had tens or hundreds of thousands of people that could worship, study, and communicate in a shared sacred language, the world was absolutely full of beauty, scholarship, piety and reverence, hope and faith. A huge reason for all those gifts was the privilege of this special language, Latin. So I believe that thousands of us knowing Latin can save the world, and build a glorious culture in our times. Let’s do this, folks!