Yes, habits really do matter…

Below are some thoughts about how to encourage life-long reading habits in Latin and Greek beyond the university classroom that I have posted under the page “Habits Matter.”. If you would like to suggest changes or simply add to the discussion, please post a comment below, which will be made public to all, or send me an email for private correspondence.

  1. 5 lines per day habit
  2. Celebrate your successes daily 
  3. Make reading part of a larger routine
  4. Read with a group
  5. Reread a work you have previously read


5 lines per day habit — you need routine

If you wish to become a life-long reader of Latin or Greek outside of the university environment:

  • Set up a very easy-to-reach goal that you can meet daily, e.g.  5 lines of Greek/Latin per day.
  • Place the text in a very visible location within an arm’s reach.
  • Develop the habit of reading immediately after another well-established habit, e.g. after you sit down on a bus, after you grab a cup of coffee, after you pour some tea at night, etc.

Even if you are a student with regular assignments, follow this regimen on holidays and breaks. You can always read more than five lines, but maintain the five lines of prose or poetry as a minimum goal for each day. The minimum goal is intended to encourage you to maintain the habit even on those days when you are exhausted or overly busy. If the goal is too high, you are likely to skip a day and break the habit. It is the development of the habit–not the quantity of lines–that matters. Once you develop a daily routine, the number of lines that you read will increase accordingly.

Celebrate your successes daily — you need positive reinforcement

Find some way to celebrate your daily progress and make it known to others:

  • Announce to family and friends that you are reading a particular Greek or Latin work.
  • Write out your translations so that you have physical proof of your daily progress.
  • When you meet intermediate goals, give yourself a reward.
  • When you finish a work, reward yourself, brag about your accomplishment, and create a trophy to commemorate your success.

To develop a habit, you need not only routine but also positive reinforcement. In a school environment, this reinforcement comes readily in the form of feedback from teachers, regular quizzes and exams, and eventually your degree. Outside of school, however, you have to be proactive and create your own opportunities for positive reinforcement.

First, announce to everyone that you are in fact reading a particular Greek or Latin work. You can do this verbally, but it is also good to note your goal online: for example, on Facebook. If the people you encounter daily are aware of what you are doing, they will more likely ask about your progress and give you that extra encouragement that you need.

Second, write out your translation. As you meet your daily reading goal, you need something physical to show how much progress you have made. Fitness bands and apps are popular among athletes for the same reason. These bands monitor an athlete’s daily progress and provide a physical reminder of just how many steps, repetitions, miles, etc. one has completed. We need similar reminders as we read Latin and Greek. That internal ‘wow’ that you express to yourself as you look over your written translation may be all the reinforcement that you need to sustain your habit.

Third, set intermediate goals every week or every two weeks and reward yourself when you meet those goals. If, for example, you are reading at a rate of 10 lines per day (again, keep the minimum at 5-per-day), reward yourself after every 100 lines. Splurge on coffee. Treat yourself to a movie. In short, give yourself something to look forward to as you strive to meet each intermediate goal. Again, the aim is positive reinforcement.

Finally, when you meet your overall goal, celebrate and create a trophy to remind yourself of your accomplishment. Do not separate your inner life of the mind from your social life. Tell everybody about your achievement and take a victory lap. If you want Latin and Greek to be part of who you are, make your reading  known to others. Moreover, treat yourself to something truly special, perhaps a night at your favorite restaurant, and make sure that everyone knows why you are celebrating. The anticipation alone will keep you motivated as you work towards your goal.

Make reading part of a larger routine — you need a larger routine

The point is to make your reading of Latin or Greek part of a larger routine. We successfully maintain  the habit of brushing our teeth because we make this habit part of another, larger routine: taking a shower, preparing for work, or eating a meal. If we fail to remember to brush our teeth, it is often because there is a disruption in these larger routines. And so, if you want to read Latin and Greek regularly, make it part of  another well-established habit, e.g. after you finish dinner, after you grab a cup of coffee or tea, etc. You want the decision to pick up a book to be automatic and natural.

Read with a group — you need a community to support you

You do not have to read alone. Consider forming a reading group. Reading with others will help you maintain your minimum daily reading habit and more importantly offer the sort of friendly conversation and intellectual engagement that so many of us crave.

Reading in a group will not limit your ability to read at the pace that you wish. If you meet once a week, for example, you can always set a weekly target (2 pages, for example) and then be very selective about which passages you wish to reread and discuss as a group. Such an arrangement will allow experienced readers to read the entire weekly target at a comfortable pace and less experienced readers to read the selected lines in Latin or Greek and the rest of the weekly target in translation.

Reread a work you have previously read — favorite books should always be reread

How is it that so many people claim to have a favorite book but will also admit to have read that book only once? If a work in Latin or Greek has brought you joy or changed your outlook in life, it is  worth reading again. If you struggle to maintain the reading habit or just cannot find a new author that you enjoy, reread a previous work.


Drop in U.S. Enrollments in Latin and Greek between 2006 and 2016

According to the MLA (Modern Language Association), Latin enrollments at the university level in the U.S. dropped 23% between 2006 and 2016 (32,164 to 24,866) and ancient Greek enrollments, Classical and Koine Greek combined, dropped 39% (22,842 to 13,936). By comparison, all language enrollments dropped 10% during the same period.

For a fuller discussion regarding the drop in Latin and Greek enrollments,  read this earlier article from May 2015 by Dr. Gregory Crane, editor-in-chief  of The Perseus Digital Library.

Update: At the secondary level in the U.S., AP Latin exam participation has been steady over the past 7 years (~6650) and NLE participation in the same period has not declined significantly (~150,000).

How teachers can use the pdf to enhance instruction

Teachers have contacted me and offered a number of ways that they use the pdf to enhance instruction. Below are a few worth passing along:

(1) Enlarge the pdf on the screen and connect the computer to a projector to create a quick and easy presentation.

(2) Enlarge the pdf on the screen and take screenshot images of the selected text (Mac: shift-command-4, Windows: Snipping tool) to insert in presentations, quizzes, and tests. (Enlarging the pdf improves the image resolution.) This is a very easy way to maintain formatting between the book, presentations, and tests.

(3) Copy and paste the Greek or Latin text to insert in translation quizzes and tests.

(4) Use the search function in the pdf to find relevant grammar constructions throughout the commentary: e.g. search “subj” to find all labeled subjunctive constructions and “dat” to find labeled dative constructions.

(5) If the students have mastered the core vocabulary, copy and paste selected dictionary entries from the corresponding vocabulary sections as you read to create vocabulary lists for students to review and memorize.

(6) In a secondary school setting, post the pdf (or a link to the pdf) on your class website and ask that students use the paperback in class and pdf at home or vice versa and not carry the book in their book bags. This is an easy way to discourage daily wear-and-tear on your books and yet ensure that students always have access to the commentary.

(7) If you wish to add selected vocabulary to Quizlet or Anki to make flashcards, most programs allow you to copy and paste lists of vocabulary and then ask what punctuation you wish to use to divide up the word from the definition. Choose “:” and within seconds you will convert the vocabulary list copied from the pdf into a functional set of flashcards. Then, simply copy the link to the flashcard set and send it to your students.

If you have any other suggestions to add to this list, please let me know.