TL;DR? Click here to jump straight to the table without any preamble.
In the last decade, even before the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in the number of adult learning programs which teach Latin via natural methods through online classes. Shall we say, there’s been a boom of Latin taught on Zoom. These programs are generally not affiliated with any university, but are provided by indepedent teachers or groups of teachers who specialise in ancient languages and are free to use SLA-informed pedagogy to shape their curricula.
I’ve put together a table which compares all the introductory Latin courses offered in 2023, so that you can make a more informed decision about who to study with if you’re interested in learning Latin online via natural methods and want the structure and accountability of a formal course.
I have not been sponsored by any of these institutions to give them positive reviews, nor have I taught at or partnered with them financially. I have also not “ranked” them on an absolute scale, for reasons which I will explain in the later sections.
Here, “introductory Latin” means any course or series of units which take complete beginners from zero to the language level expected at the end of an introductory textbook such as Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Familia Romana (hereafter referred to as Familia Romana or FR).
Introductory courses “cover all the grammar”, but be aware that “knowing all the grammar” doesn’t mean knowing everything in the language. Realistically, introductory courses take students up to the intermediate level where a language learning “plateau” is observed. This plateau level is where students feel like textbooks are too easy, but classical texts are still a bit too hard, and the rate of language learning slows down as the task of learning more specialised vocabulary becomes quite large. The way to get out of the “intermediate plateau” is to do large amounts of extensive reading (such as with my upcoming tiered reader, The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4), gradually exposing yourself to more and more authentic material written by Latin authors, which the introductory courses have (hopefully) prepared you to be able to do.
This chart focuses on live group classes and formal courses advertised as the equivalent of Latin 101’s – I have excluded private tutors who say “email me and we’ll arrange a schedule to go through Familia Romana 1-on-1 together”, because it is difficult to compare custom-tutoring to formal group classes, and honestly if I included one private tutor I’d have to include all of them.
I have also excluded self-paced asynchronous courses from this table such as Satura Lanx’s Gustatio Linguage Latinae, Storylearning’s Latin Uncovered, Daniel Pettersson’s Legentibus app, and Molendinarius’ Latinum subscription. These are instead discussed in my post about self-paced courses.
But first, why might you take a Latin course from a specialist ancient language institution rather than a university?
Why take a Latin course outside of university?
Depending on where you live, online Latin courses could offer you more pedagogically effective, cheaper, and more flexible options for learning Latin than your local universities.
Pedagogy. Independent ancient language specialists often found their institutions on the conviction that Latin teaching should be informed by developments in Second Language Acquisition research and evidence-based teaching methods. By contrast, most universities teach undergraduate language programs with heritage curricula that continue with Grammar-Translation as the default method, “the way it’s always been done”. It’s not even the teacher’s fault a lot of the time – the higher ed system doesn’t reward the development of good pedagogy among teaching staff, but instead pushes them towards publishing papers in journals as the one metric of success and ignoring teaching quality. There are exceptions, though – a small number of universities (such as the University of Kentucky and Princeton) do offer innovative Latin language courses with SLA-informed pedagogy, with key phrases like “active Latin”, “comprehensible input”, or “immersion” in their course descriptions. But these are very rare, globally speaking. If you couldn’t enroll in those few universities, online providers can give you access high quality language pedagogy wherever you are. If you’re interested in learning the language through input, if you want to hear Latin spoken aloud actively, if you want to be guided in the use of learning methods which have been shown to be reliably more effective across human languages, independent specialists can provide that for you.
Cost. University tuition fees vary by country, so I’ll just give you some examples from my local area to put these prices in context. In my country (Australia), the government subsidises the first 7 years of full time uni fees, giving its citizens Commonwealth-supported places up to that time. In total, the cost of the introductory Latin sequence (Latin 1 & Latin 2) in the University of Melbourne is $1,030 AUD (=$720 USD) for domestic Commonwealth-supported students, but $7,536 AUD (=$5,267 USD) for domestic full-fee paying students, and $9,152 (=$6,396 USD) for international full-fee paying students. So, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for government-subsidised higher education, you could be paying comparable or cheaper fees than most of the options on this table; but if you’re not receiving government subsidies, university tuition fees for introductory Latin could be many times higher than the cost of doing online Latin courses. With the chart data here you can transparently compare the costs between your local university’s offerings and these online courses.
Availability. Not all universities offer quality distance education courses in Latin, and not everyone is fortunate enough to live near or be able to relocate near a university that offers Latin. These online classes are available wherever you are in the world, and come with different options for scheduling the live classes around timeslots that work for you – some of them have a range of set times, others use a Google Forms questionnaire to work out a time that suits all the students best.
Is it better to learn Latin faster or slower?
Institutions vary in the amount of calendar time they take to complete the introductory Latin content, from a maximum of 4 years to as little as 10 weeks.
A course is not “better” if it crams the same amount of content into a smaller space. It is also not necessarily “worse”. You have to weigh up the pros and cons for your language learning situation when deciding whether to do Latin more intensively or more extensively.
Here are my tips on the pros and cons of intensive courses:
- Short-term memory retention. When learning a language intensively and constantly having class after class in quick succession, there is less time to forget what had been learned recently, and frequent reinforcement. A student working continuously hard every day for weeks may forget fewer things and make faster progress than someone who spends the same total number of hours across a longer span of calendar time, with bigger gaps of downtime in which they forget recent things.
- Get out of the beginner stage faster. If you don’t enjoy staying in the beginner-learner-zone for a long time, and want to break out of learner-focused textbooks and heavily sheltered readers to be able to read independently as soon as possible, an intensive course would give you the best shot of powering through the beginner stage and reaching more interesting intermediate texts sooner.
- Focus on one thing. If you take an intensive course during a summer break, and you have no other subjects to think about, you can focus on learning one thing and put all your energy into it. By contrast, if you do an extensive course while concurrently studying or working on other things, it can be harder to juggle your time and attention.
- Scheduling. Sometimes it fits better into a person’s schedule to do an intensive introductory Latin course. Some learners may have time off over summer, for example, but are busy the rest of the year. Also, if someone is about to enroll in a subject at university in which Latin is a pre-requisite or a nice-to-have, and there’s a deadline before that course starts, a timely intensive might be the only way it can fit.
- Higher risk of getting overwhelmed. Even “covering all the grammar” in just one year is a pretty fast pace for most people, but cramming the entire language into a matter of weeks is even more intense. Enrolling in an intensive summer course or even a half-year complete introductory course runs the risk of you committing to something which you might not be able to keep up with. You could get left behind by the pace of the course and struggle to comprehend later parts, reducing the overall effectiveness of the course and causing stress (and stress unfortunately makes it harder to learn a language).
- You are at the highest risk of getting overwhelmed if: you are monolingual (especially a monolingual English speaker), you haven’t yet had success at learning an additional language, and/or you don’t know any Romance language.
- Your risk of getting overwhelmed by an intensive course is reduced if: you know a Romance language, you have successfully learned one or more other languages, or you have done an introductory course on Ancient Greek before (giving you an advantage on learning concepts to do with the case system and verbal system, participles, subjunctives, etc.).
- Your risk is also reduced if you are taking this intensive beginner course as a refresher, because you are actually “false beginner” who did an introductory Latin course at some point previously.
- Potential issues with long-term memory retention. While intensives give you less time to forget what you recently learned, they also give you fewer of the natural cycles of remembering and forgetting that would gradually put things in your long-term memory. The result is you will leave the intensive with a level of competency that will quickly rust if you don’t follow up immediately with long-term strategies to retain the language. Plan for this before you start the intensive and during the intensive. What will you continue to read after the summer is over? What disciplines or daily practices will you do to keep it up? The risk of losing what you learned in an intensive course is higher than in longer courses because intensives are more out of the ordinary from your normal patterns. Within the course itself, you don’t have as much opportunity to establish daily maintenance habits that are sustainable in the long-term, so you need to think about starting these habits right away after the course ends to get the most lasting benefit from the course.
Depending on your experience and goals, more intensive courses could be higher-risk but also higher-reward compared to longer courses. Make sure you check with the provider beforehand about cut-off dates when you can leave the course if you find out it’s not for you (which I also recommend when enrolling in longer courses).
Also, there isn’t a very sharp cut-off between what is “intensive” and what is not – for instance, a 10-week course is definitely more intensive than 1-year course, but a 1-year course is a lot more intensive than a 4-year high school course in Latin, and that’s also comparatively more intensive than a 6-year middle-school to high-school course. The principles just apply in a more broad way – the more intensive a course is, the more it aligns with the pros and cons of an intensive course (as described above) when it is compared to a less intensive option.
If you find yourself needing a much slower pace than any of the offerings from live classes, you might need to consider private tutoring, self-paced courses, independent autodidactic study, or a combination of them all. In future blog posts I’ll cover the options for self-paced courses and shoestring-budget autodidact strategies.
Comparison chart of all Online Latin Course offerings
Update 22 Jan: Added SLEU, Oxford Latinitas, and AthenaNova, added details for Speaking Latin, removed CSCP.
Update 28 Jan: Added Veterum Sapientia Institute, updated details about Polis’s progression and introductory course length, updated details about Paideia’s spring semester offering.
There are some unknowns in this table which will be updated once I get responses from the institutions. If you are from one of these institutions and you notice an inaccuracy on the table, please contact me and I’ll update it as soon as I can.
This is a big chart that’s unlikely to display correctly on all devices if I put it straight into html, so I’ve made it as an image file and as a pdf download below:
The pdf has clickable links to the course offerings pages of each of these institutions:
Note that while I have tried to include all the courses that are likely to be offered in 2023, not all courses will be available at all times in the year. They all have different start dates. Some have maximum class sizes or limited enrollments. Some courses may not be running at all, depending on student interest and teacher availability. Check with the institutions themselves for the most up-to-date information about what courses are currently or still available, and for upcoming enrollment dates.
All prices are expressed in USD here for comparison purposes, but some prices had to be converted from other currencies. I did the conversion using the exchange rates for January 2023.
Most of the above providers use Familia Romana as a base text. The exceptions are: Polis, who use their own original content, (Tele)paideia, who use various textbooks according to the preference of the instructor (eg. the last one used Latin Via Ovid), and and Schola Latína Európæa & Úniversális, who use the Assimil Latin course Lingua Latina sine molestia by Desessard (1966) adapted by Guglielmi (2015).
The cost of the textbook has NOT been included in the total cost of the language course in this comparison table. Textbook prices are around $60 for Familia Romana, and also about $60 for the box set CD + text of the Dessessard Latin Assimil course.
I also have some specific notes on the following institutions:
- Ancient Language Institute: It’s hard to tell from their website if the teaching sessions are arranged as 1-on-1 tutorials or group classes. I’ve messaged them about class sizes and am awaiting a response.
- SeumasU: Seumas observes that cohorts take 3-4 units to complete Familia Romana. Each cohort moves at a slightly different speed, but they complete FR within one year either way. The variability in total pricing comes from whether it takes the cohort 3 or 4 units to reach the end of FR.
- Latinitas Animi Causa: LAC hasn’t yet offered the course for the second half of FR, but plan to do so.
- Polis: Polis uses their original textbook, ‘Forum’ (based on TPR elements and spoken interaction) for Latin I and II. This builds speaking skills and introduces a lot of the grammar of the language. In Latin III and IV students work through FR, but the group can move through the first 8-10 chapters quite quickly because they have already encountered many of the language features in past year (and I suspect they will continue re-encountering language features as they move through the later chapters of FR). The overall strategy is to start with the active TPR of Forum and progress to learning and internalising vocabulary through the stories of FR while strengthening those speaking skills.
- Vivarium Novum: The 75 hours of instruction are made up of 50 hours of live classes and 25 hours of 1-on-1 tutoring time. Also you might notice the variability in total time taken to complete the course: this is because if you did one intensive and one semester-long course, you could complete it in half a year; otherwise it would take about a year to complete the introductory course.
- GrecoLatinoVivo: 1) Each course comes with exam certification. 2) I’m not sure at what stage they complete FR – I’ve emailed them and am waiting on a response.
- Speaking Latin: The provider said that it will take about 48 sessions to complete Familia Romana, or about 1 year of calendar time.
- Paideia (Telepaideia): Paideia’s offerings have just be posted as of Jan 26. This is data for the Spring offerings. The teacher Mr. Ziomkowsky uses ‘Latin via Ovid’ as his base text, a pretty rare choice.
- Schola Latína Európæa & Úniversális: This course is offered completely for free, with the only cost being the textbook and audio used in the course (the Assimil Latin materials). The teachers provide written support on their Moodle learning management system, correct homework assignments, and answer questions. There are no live classes. Normally the Assimil Latin material is only accessible to learners who know French, Italian, or German, but the SLEU provides English materials for learners who don’t have prior knowledge of French, Italian, or German.
- Oxford Latinitas have a discounted rate if you buy three trimesters at once. The introductory Latin sequence takes a total of four trimesters.
- AthenaNova: The $237 price is discounted to $226 for early bird bookings, making it a total of $1356 with all early-bird discounts. From their website I couldn’t work out whether the courses are offered on a trimester or semester basis – this would affect how long in calendar years it would take to complete Familia Romana.
- Veterum Sapientia Institute: This is a Catholic founded institution – an advantage if the Ecclesiastical pronunciation is your preferred mode, as the teachers will probably be using it as the standard. The cost total calculated here includes two yearly VSI registration fees of $150 and an application fee of $25. But the total cost assumes the student only enrolls in the three semesters covering Familia Romana and does not complete the full Diploma in Ecclesiastical Latin degree nor take any exams. (The full DLE degree would take 9 semesters over 4 years and cost $19,805.)
I had removed the CSCP Distance Learning course from the list because of the course’s reliance on teaching concepts through English as the main language of instruction, which is not the focus of this list.
How do we know which one is the ‘best’?
A lot of the learning quality will depend on teacher instruction quality, which is difficult (or likely impossible) to measure in a table. Teachers might also change year on year, course by course. For this reason, I don’t think it is possible to arrive at a definitive quality-ranking of institutions, and I have not attempted to order them.
However, we can weigh up some structural features that are likely to be relevant to the learning experience.
If you’re taking an online Latin course for the purpose of getting more spoken input from your teacher, you would want there to be plenty of live instruction time.
If you’re wanting to have more speaking practice in class, you would prefer small class sizes. (This isn’t likely to be a deciding factor, though, because almost all of these have small class sizes in practice. It is likely that even the ones that don’t have a publicly advertised class limit will typically not have many more than 10 students per class – but you can contact them specifically about it if that information is important to you.)
If you’re budget-conscious, you might prioritise either a course that has a small total cost, or you might be looking for one with a lower cost per hour of live instruction provided.
Conversely, a higher cost per hour of instruction may signal greater confidence in the value of the teacher’s live instruction time. Some may interpret higher cost per hour of instruction as an indirect sign of greater teaching quality.
Choice of textbook could also be a factor. If you’re keen on learning Latin through speaking, the Forum textbook by Polis is specifically geared towards that strategy (whereas FR is not structured around speaking skills – it has to be adapted). The Polis curriculum, which starts with Forum and then moves through Famailia Romana, is the only one which uses another introductory text before FR as a way to build communicative skills beforehand and to smooth out the learning curve of FR.
And if it turns out you really don’t gel with the characters and plotline of Familia Romana, you have options to circumvent that textbook entirely by following the Assimil course with SLEU, or enrolling in an intensive course of Latin via Ovid with Paideia.
You may also simply find that your timezone makes it easier to book classes with certain providers over others.
One thing to keep in mind is that once you start a beginner course, it will be advantageous to complete the whole beginner sequence with the same provider, particularly if the course is spread over multiple units. If you switch half-way through a beginner course, another provider might not start their next unit at the same chapter of FR as where you left off, or in some cases they may not be using the same textbook. Also, if you keep the same teacher throughout your course, they can get to know your learning needs better.
So in conclusion, ‘best for you’ might not be best for everyone. But also, you can learn a lot from course that is good enough, even if it is not theoretically ideal. You might have to compromise some factors just to find a class that fits in your practical schedule, but you could still find the class more valuable than learning on your own.
Reviews of online Latin live classes
If you have written a review of an online Latin course (either a live class or a self-paced course), please let me know by commenting below or contacting me here. If your review is short, you can paste it here in the comment box below the blog post. Otherwise, you can post it anywhere (eg. reddit, or a personal blog), send me the link to your review, and I’ll link to it here.
(Currently I have no links to customer reviews of these courses.)
Live classes are not the only way to learn Latin. However, they provide unique opportunities for speaking and listening to live conversations in the language from anywhere in the world. The pacing set by the group may be beneficial – encouraging the learner to stick to a schedule – or it may be a bit fast or overwhelming for some learners. It all depends on what works for your learning circumstances and practical time commitments.
Other ways of learning beginner Latin as an adult include asynchronous self-paced courses, and the autodidact route. I’ll be talking about those in more detail in future blog posts.
And what if you’ve already completed an introductory course and you’re finding yourself in the doldrums of the intermediate plateau? Textbooks are too easy for you but the really fascinating authentic works like Vergil’s Aeneid are too hard? I’m going to be publishing a 30,000 word tiered reader that will offer lots of extensive reading practice and increased exposure to authentic Latin for learners in the intermediate plateau. Check out The Lover’s Curse: a Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4 and subscribe to my email list to receive a free ebook version of the text once it is published. I look forward to reading Vergil with you through this book!