Translating Greek<>Latin

I’ve written plenty about how I don’t think translation is a very useful task for language learners. However, lately I’ve been having great fun in the sport of translation Greek to Latin and Latin to Greek. I thought I’d write a little bit about it, since my ephemeral twitter comments on it will inevitably disappear in due course.

One impetus was that there just isn’t really enough learner accessibly material for students of Latin or Greek. What if there were more? What if we took super easy stuff from textbooks and switched languages?

Another is that it’s actually a really fun challenge. Translating into English is boring, and not actually useful for my own Greek and Latin skills. Translating between the two forces me to relate those two languages, to figure out where the lacunae in my cross-linguistic abilities are. I would say that, broadly speaking, my Greek and Latin are roughly equal, but they are not at all equivalent. My ability to do various things, and domains of vocabulary, and so on and so forth, do not align across the two. I can talk much better Latin, I can compose much better Greek, for just one example.

Thirdly, writing (typing in my case) beginner level Greek and Latin with proper accentuation and vowel lengths is a powerful tool for learning to write and spell properly. It’s very easy to neglect these things if you are primarily oriented to reading. But if you want to write, you need to learn to spell to a standard, and writing and constantly checking is how you develop that skill. That goes against a lot of what’s valuable for language acquisition, precisely because learning to spell doesn’t have much to do with acquisition (I’ll talk about writing and spelling more in another upcoming post).

So, what have I been writing? Well, I’ve taken the Oxford Latin Course and been putting it into ancient Greek. This is great fun for some of the following reasons: telling a tale of Horace and the death of the Roman republic, but in Greek; all those easy ‘adjectives’ in the early chapters end up being verbs in Greek, often perfect-stem verbs; duouiri in chapter 4 forced my to break out dual-verb forms. And, notably, I’ve realised that I’m much better at turning Latin into Greek than vice versa. For L>G I’ve been translating Italian Athenaze, and it’s much harder. I have to constantly check vowel lengths. I struggle to find Latin verbs for Greek, even for words I know. And then there are all the Greek particles. And we haven’t even gotten to the participle system yet.

Copyright, of course, means these will never be publicly available or published. Alas.

I’ve also been writing some original Latin prose, which will turn into short cyberpunk fiction. But you’ll have to stay tuned for more of that.


Would I recommend this kind of exercise to people? Not to most. But if you have quite good Latin and Greek, and want to flex some output-oriented skills, this is a nice way to do it. Working with a textbook series also helps graduate the difficulty curve, so that you’re not starting, e.g. trying to turn Demosthenes into Ciceronian prose. Maybe, one day.

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