Yes, I am recommending that you start memorizing actual paragraphs of Latin texts! It’s absolutely “Miracle Grow” for your foreign-language abilities to commit texts in other languages to memory. For the autodidact, there is no better way I know to feel like Latin is a spoken language than having a repertoire of pieces in your mind that you can hear with your “mind’s ear”. (Any of you who will be my Latin 1 students can expect to see some of these assigned in future!)
Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Pick a text. After 3,000 years of use, the Latin language has quite a few texts for you to choose from. (Catholics are certainly in their element here!)
To begin with, I especially recommend these 3 Easy Pieces:
- Psalm 133 with the Gloria Patri,
- the Anima Christi prayer,
- and the Magnificat canticle
—here are printable memory cards for them.
These are next:
- Ave Maria (prayer–the Hail Mary)
- Pater Noster (prayer–the Our Father)
- Jesu Dulcis Memoria (chant hymn)
- Salve Regina (prayer/chant antiphon: text at page bottom)
(Less easy but absolutely essential are:)
- Gloria in Excelsis Deo (part of the Mass)
- Last Gospel (St. John 1: 1-14, part of the Traditional Mass)
- Apostles’ Creed (prayer)
Step 2: Convert your selection to index cards. Cleverly sort the pieces into memorable chunks: put phrases, lines, and sentences on their own cards that are each important ideas. (That’s what I tried to do with the memory card printables linked above!)
Step 3: Work on reciting card one until you can recite it flawlessly without looking at it.
Step 4: Add card two, doing the same, still starting, however, with card one. (Always recite the piece from card #1 on down until you reach your current card!)
Step 5: Add the next card, and the next card. When you have recited the whole thing from memory without looking at the cards, it’s now time to add it to the review pile.
Step 6: Review. Each week (or twice a week, if you want to be very sure it sticks with you!) begin practicing your new memory piece by first running through this previous one.
Going sentence by sentence in this way, it will not seem either overwhelming or tedious. Also, such a small, consistent pace will get the Latin in your mind so deeply it will really stick.
My favorite part is what happens afterward! Watch what happens when you are working with other Latin texts after you have these in your memory. Phrases will pop into relief coherently, flow together seamlessly, and make sense at a subconscious level. You will relate to Latin words and sentences more like they are parts of a familiar language, rather than feeling like they are sterile parts of an artificial exercise.
And of course–the feeling of accomplishment at having stocked your mind with these texts is absolutely grand too!