Study Guide to Intro Greek and Latin

So, you just signed up for an introductory ancient Greek or Latin course! These languages have a reputation for being difficult and exclusionary, especially to students who come from academically-marginalized groups. Have no fear! Whoever you are, whatever your academic background, whatever your preferred studying style, and whatever your reasons for starting to take Latin or Greek, welcome! We are stoked to have you joining us! Here are some tools and strategies to help you feel comfortable and confident in the classroom, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face.

What to expect:

Most of the notorious difficulties of taking ancient Greek or Latin stem from how it’s taught, which doesn’t appeal to everyone’s strengths equally. You can expect your instructor to teach the language by explaining grammar rules of the target language (Latin/Greek, whichever one you’re learning) and asking you to practice translating the target language into English (rather than producing new sentences in written or spoken form). There are some programs centered around teaching and practicing spoken Latin and Greek, but in the BiCo, the focus is on translating literature.

Your instructor will use a set of special terms (in English) to describe how grammar works in Greek or Latin. While some (like “subject” and “verb”) are relatively intuitive, others (like “parse,” “partitive genitive,” and “relative clause of characteristic”) can take some getting used to. Some students may have experience with these terms already, but you do not need to start class already knowing them in order to succeed. For some students, these terms are helpful ways to remember how to translate between the languages; for some students, these terms don’t feel so natural. Whether these terms turn out to be your favorite thing about Greek or Latin class, or the most irritating thing about it, here are some ways to approach learning them:

– Ask for definitions (and redefinitions) of grammar terms if they don’t mean anything to you. Your instructor should remind you when they use relatively new terms, but in case they forget that the term isn’t part of your casual everyday vocab, just ask! (e.g. “What does ____ refer to/mean?” “How is a ___ different from a ____?” “Can you use a ___ in English so I can hear an example?” )

– Ask whether your instructor will require you to use those terms on assignments and assessments. They may accept answers that don’t use grammar terms, but which allow you to show what you know by translating or describing the grammar instead!

– Use these terms in your notes consistently, so that you get comfortable seeing them, using them, thinking about them.

– Study these terms like a set of vocabulary if you’re really dedicated to using them, but don’t find them intuitive yet.

Ask classmates, too! If you’re studying together, it’s a good plan to combine (not compare) your probably very different strengths.

Study Skills

There are 2 principles that seem to work really well for learning ancient Greek and Latin:

  1. Organize information so that you can easily refer back to it. Remaking notes after class helps your brain process and retain information, and you should consider it part of the process of studying
  2. Find ways to repeat all the important stuff until you can recall it without any external prompting. For example, faced with a blank chart, you can fill it out without hesitation; with your flashcards, you can remember what’s on the other side without hesitation.

There’s no single best way to practice these! As always, do what works for you, and do your best not to stress if your strengths aren’t the same as your classmates’. Rote memorization of charts of endings or forms for different types of words is a huge part of first-year ancient Greek and Latin classes. When you’re asked to reproduce these charts on an assessment, you’re often not told how to go from having the chart in your book to having that information in your head.

How to tackle charts and memorizing:

Your textbook will often present information in a way that is already quite organized–but that doesn’t mean that it’s organized best for you. Here’s a webpage that discusses several traditional note-taking methods, which you can use as inspiration. Play to your own strengths (and don’t worry if you’re still learning what those are–this is a process that takes some trial and error). Other helpful ways to organize notes:

color coding : organize types of information with your favorite pens (or crayons, or font color, or highlighting, or flash card color, or whatever).

rewriting or reshaping charts, for example, regroup endings in a different way than your book does, slice words up into different kinds of pieces (this will make sense when you start to see lots of different forms), combine charts to compare forms or look for patterns that hold across different charts.

flash cards : vocab is the relatively traditional choice, but feel free to think outside the box! Anything where you need to connect 2 pieces of information can go into flash card form.

study sheets : similar to flash cards, you can make a fold down the center of a page and put corresponding info (or question/answer) in opposite columns.

use jokes, puns, chants, songs, etc. to help you remember : many instructors and students will offer (or invent) silly mnemonics (many of them puns), songs, chants, and rhymes, but you can also find some online, as long as you’re wary of the source!

quiz yourself, quiz your classmates! A peer can help spot check answers, repeat charts, or redefine something confusing. Don’t focus on whether you and your classmate learn the same things in the same way!

Whatever strategies you choose, realize that you don’t have to stick to a method that isn’t working well for you. If you thought that songs would be the perfect way for you to remember endings, but have trouble remembering the same ending every time you sing the song, then try another strategy!


Once again, welcome to your first ancient Greek or Latin class! We hope this advice can help you feel comfortable bringing your strengths, skills, and background into the classroom! We also want to offer our support, so please feel free to reach out to us at SPEAC for whatever reason–even just to chat! You can email us at, or contact our graduate student FGLI mentor, Olivia Hopewell at

       by Allison Eckert ’22 and Mary Somerville, PhD candidate

originally posted September 19, 2020

Anti-Racism Student Questionnaire

The school year has just begun and it is a good time to challenge our relationship to (and place within) our academic fields. SPEAC has created a self-questionnaire for students of the Ancient Mediterranean World (Classics, Archaeology, etc.) to work through our experiences, expectations, and assumptions within the discipline, and to explore readings and resources about equity and justice in AMW-related studies. Work through it at your own pace, alone or with a friend. Email us with any questions or comments!

Access the questionnaire here.

originally posted September 7, 2020

Summer 2020 Update

SPEAC: Students Promoting Equity in Archaeology & Classics was formed by a group of Bryn Mawr undergraduate and graduate students from the departments of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies and Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology in late June. This summer we’ve completed a number of projects, and we’re excited to continue working this fall! Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Recruitment and the First-Year Experience
  • We updated the Classics department’s recruitment strategy. Previously, flyers distributed at the Academic Fairs and Majors’ Teas assumed that the reader already knew they wanted to major in Classics, making them useless and intimidating to students new to Classics. We fixed this problem by creating a new “What is Classics?” pamphlet aimed directly at students without backgrounds in Latin or Classics from high school. This pamphlet contained:
      • Answers from current students to questions new students frequently ask, such as “Why do you study classics?” “What is the department community like?”and “What can I do after studying classics at Bryn Mawr?”
      • Approachable course descriptions for all classical culture courses written for the curious student, not the registrar.
      • Which distribution requirements each classical culture course can fill.
      • Introductions from the Elementary Greek and Latin TA’s, who provide essential support and guidance for students encountering a language for the first time.
      • Introductions from and contact info for all the Major Representatives
      • An introduction from and contact info for the FGLI Classicists Mentor
  • We created the new position of “FGLI Classicists Mentor,” currently held by Olivia Hopewell, to be an additional source of support for all First Generation/Low Income students, both new and returning.


Diversifying Classics Colloquium
  • We delivered a list of scholars of color to invite as colloquium speakers to the Chair of the Classics Department. This semester’s digital format eliminates the need to consider transportation costs, enabling us to invite a group of diverse scholars from all over the globe.
  • We are working with the Classics Department to develop a permanent “Speaker Selection Panel” made up of undergraduates and graduate students from the Classics and Archaeology departments to ensure that student input remains an important part of future colloquia. SPEAC will also write guidelines for considering speakers to make sure that the push for diverse speakers does not end when we graduate.
  • We developed a list of practices to implement in both digital colloquia and future in-person colloquia, including:
      • Reminding speakers to prepare their talks for an audience comprised of first-years, undergraduate majors, graduate students, and faculty, rather than just the one or two specialists in the room.
      • Shortening presentation time and lengthening discussion time to better adjust to the new digital format.
      • Encouraging speakers to share abstracts of their talks a week before their presentations to allow attendees time to look up any unfamiliar concepts and be prepared for an active discussion period.
      • Encouraging speakers to use clear handouts or powerpoints.
      • Requiring that all non-English text on handouts or powerpoints be accompanied by a translation.


This fall we hope to continue updating our website, organize a digital conference for the spring, host some fun community gatherings for Bryn Mawr students, and welcome new members to our group!

For more information contact us at

By Emily Aguilar ’22 (she/her)

originally posted July 31, 2020