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Latin/Learning Latin in High School


Hello Michael,
This is my third year learning the Latin language at my high school. However, I have a very big problem: I still cannot fully understand the Latin text that we're studying, De Bello Gallico by Caesar. My teacher uses this mark-up method that we've been using all these years. We have a symbol for every part of speech. It goes like this:
Subject is underlined,
Direct Object has a squiggle line,
Indirect object has a dotted line,
Verb has a double underline,
Relative clauses have square brackets,
Prepositional phrases have parentheses,
Indirect statements have curly brackets,
I use the provided book that gives the definitions of uncommonly used vocabulary words. At this point, however, the mark-up makes the text look even more complicated. I'm also completely lost on where the specific indirect statements start and end, which words agree with which, and where the nested clauses are. And after I give up and look online for the translation, I am off on about 60% of the content. That's not even close to an acceptable grade.

I am writing to you because I am unsure whether the method I'm using is being beneficial towards my comprehension at all. Could you please give some advice on my situation? Thanks in advance.

Caesar is a challenging author, particularly when he is your first after learning grammar.  His style is wonderful, but it takes a lot of getting used to, particularly at your stage.

From your own description, you are not getting a lot out of the method you are using, but you have to follow your teacher's methods.  On the other hand, reading a translation misses everything, and you are not learning the beauty of Latin, but fumbling with inferior English, which is nowhere near as beautiful a language.

For your situation, I might suggest a middle approach.  What you need is a supplement that will give you more help with the Latin, much more than an English translation would.  There are a number of supplements that are available at Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers (  Search on CAESAR.  You might also try searching for CAESAR LATIN in

I don't know what parts of De Bellow Gallico you are reading or what book you are using, so I can't recommend a specific supplement at this point, but after you have had a chance to look things over, write back, and I will respond.

You sound like a bright and dedicated student, for whom your Latin will serve you well your entire life.  I hope that at some point you can get beyond the mere grammar and begin to appreciate Caesar's wonderful style, which even Cicero himself admired for its Latinity (though Cicero didn't care much for the man!).  It is a good habit, after you have mastered the grammar and worked out the meaning, to reread the passage in Latin while thinking of the meaning that you have worked out.

Remember:  Latin should not be, in the end, merely a "translation exercise."  It is a beautiful, expressive language that has been used around the world more than any other language for 2000 years.  There is a reason for that, as will become more and more obvious to you as you work with it.  Hang in there!


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Ph.D. Cand. in Classical Languages. Conversant with all forms of the language: classical, mediaeval, and modern.


I have 50 years of teaching at all levels of Latin from high school through university postgraduate. I read, write, and speak Latin daily.

American Classical League, American Philological Association

A.B., M.A., Ph.D. Cand. in Classics.

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