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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dowling’s Wheel: A webapp I wrote to assist in the learning of Latin

Professor William C. Dowling has a great webpage called Latin by the Dowling Method which explains his unorthodox technique for learning Latin. In a nutshell:
  1. Learn a few simple concepts about Latin grammar, documented on his webpage (1 hour).
  2. Memorize six of the tables at the back of Wheelock’s Latin (6 months).
  3. Work through Lingua Latina, a wonderful workbook on Latin written in Latin (18 months).
Today I created a webapp to help with the second goal: memorizing the six Wheelock tables. Instead of writing out the tables by hand, you type them into the webapp. It highlights correct and incorrect words in green and red.

If you’ve ever felt the urge to learn to read Latin fluently, definitely check it out.



  • Hi, I've been using the Dowling method for some time now. I've added pronouns, irregular verbs and all the variations of the third declension,'s taking a while. I use a programme Memorizer+ for the Palm Vx to check my knowledge. I think in the UK / Ireland (Europe?) we use a different order of cases in nouns. Nom, Voc. Acc. Gen. Dat. Abl...whereas you have a different order... would be awkward for me to use...Seems like a good application though. Congratulations

    By Blogger Paul MacDonnell, at 12/31/2009 6:17 AM  

  • Hi Paul,

    It's great that you’re memorizing the other tables. I’ll check out Memorizer+ (I have a PocketPC rather than a Palm though).

    The order in my copy of Wheelock is N. G. D. A. Ab.


    By Blogger Jonathan, at 12/31/2009 10:55 AM  

  • Excellent! I want to give you a big fat kiss. I still plan to write them all out, but when I break from that tedious work I'll definitely be putting this neat little thing of yours to good use (since, you can be sure that I'll be on the web anyway).

    This is good stuff.


    By Blogger Alfonzo, at 12/31/2009 6:44 PM  

  • Thanks Alfonzo. I heard from another person who was also grateful for this, but prefers to write out the tables by hand.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 12/31/2009 8:12 PM  

  • Hm, I think it has something to do with the pain involved in writing out each table so many times, hah. Plus, I write much more slowly and sound each out as I write.
    I wrote the tables a bit differently than they are in the app(each individual ending separate). When I first came across the first declension series(porta, -ae), I had to do a little mental gymnastics to fit the ending to the word to create the correct form. In the process of, the word's grammatical function and its possible meaning in a sentence were easily within my grasp. Perhaps this is an early example of Dowling's method in action?

    By Blogger Alfonzo, at 12/31/2009 9:55 PM  

  • Could be!

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 12/31/2009 10:26 PM  

  • Jonathan, Actually, I originally typed them into tables on my laptop. But I'm a very fast typist and it didn't work. I then printed the tables as blank forms landscape on A4 paper - blew this up to A3 and bound them into two books - then started the whole thing using a fountain pen and ink. This is the only way. Writing by hand forces you to concentrate on what you are doing and this is what fixes it in your memory. Typing is just a motor skill like driving a car and you go into automatic pilot after a while. The object is NOT to get to the end 'efficiently' but to take the journey at a pace that allows you to take in all the detail on the way. One MUST write them by hand. I think your app. is what Dowling calls a 'checker' - keep it fixed in your memory after / during your exercises at writing them out.

    By Blogger Paul MacDonnell, at 1/01/2010 7:31 AM  

  • Possibly. I'm actually hoping that typing will cut down on the memorizing time for me (I'm a fast typist as well). We shall see.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 1/01/2010 2:48 PM  

  • Brilliant! I have bookmarked your page. I've been working on the 'Dowling method' for some number of months. Tackling the subjunctive right now.

    The only thing I might suggest is including a way to enter long marks. I sound the words out every time that I write them, and the long marks help burn the pronunciation into my brain.

    By Anonymous Harry, at 2/20/2010 3:45 PM  

  • Good point, Harry. I have fixed it to ignore punctuation, so feel free to add whatever dashes or punctuation you like.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 2/20/2010 7:08 PM  

  • Thank you!

    Alas! Laudo and Laudō are still treated as different words. I think it's probably a non-trivial coding issue, however.

    By Anonymous Harry, at 2/22/2010 1:13 PM  

  • Hey, Jonathan.

    Hope your memorization is going well.

    Still working on it myself. To that end, I was checking out flashcard apps. Stumbled across one that syncs across PCs, Macs, and mobile phones (android, iPhone, and others). In any case, I created a shared notecard deck for it called 'LatinConjugations'. If you like, give it a shot. I tried to tag everything so you can focus on a specific area (like Passive Subjunctive).

    Linky goodness:

    By Blogger Harry, at 3/28/2010 7:54 PM  

  • Thanks Harry. Actually I'm using one of Anki's competitors (Mnemosyne) to memorize scripture -

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 3/28/2010 10:26 PM  

  • Hi,
    Great app, fun to use, only one problem - the passive indicative future 3rd person plural for laudo (praise) is listed by your program as "laudabantur" which is in fact the passive indicative imperfect 3rd person plural. I believe the correct form of the verb would be "laudabuntur". I checked my answer on wiktionary and with my latin teacher and both backed me up. Here is the link:

    I understand that it could be problematic to go back into the program and fix this. That is fine - I just thought I should let you, and future users of this app, know that so that nobody fixes the wrong form in their head for eternity.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/05/2010 10:42 AM  

  • @Anonymous - Thanks - it has been fixed to now be laudabuntur.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 7/21/2011 8:19 PM  

  • I have a question about the Dowling method. Perhaps you might know the answer. I understand that one is to write the declension patterns out 200 times each.

    However, Dowling's page describing the method does not seem to indicate which nouns to write! Nor does he state how we should divide the 200 times per pattern among these words. Hypothetically, a student could simply write the same word 200 times for each pattern, so long as it matched up with that paradigm. Of course, he almost certainly DID NOT intend this, but he did fail to specify a vocabulary for the task of copying paradigms.

    Given that he has allowed this gap to exist, does anyone have advice as to which words one ought to use for copying the paradigms and how to divide the 200 times among these?

    Thank You

    By Anonymous Latin Learner, at 10/15/2011 10:25 AM  

  • LatinLearner - I believe he intends the following page of nouns to be written out 200 times:

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 10/15/2011 8:14 PM  

  • Thanks a bunch for this. 17 days since I started and all six tables are memorized, without ever once touching pen to paper!

    Rather than spend a few weeks on nouns, then a few weeks on adjectives, etc., I decided to start on adjectives as soon as I was able to wake first thing in the morning and do nouns flawlessly, then move on to Indicative Active as soon as I could do nouns and adjectives flawlessly, etc. At this point, I'm just doing each table once a day. To help avoid the problem Paul mentioned where it just becomes a motor skill, I'm using both a QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard to type them out (it helps if you're already a good typist in both).

    I'm probably not going to continue to type them all out 200 times (at once a day each, that's months from now - I want to start reading!). What I will do, however, is continue to quiz myself. I used the TXT file of the data on your site and wrote a small VBScript quiz program. It will ask me, for instance, "Remind (Indicative Passive Pluperfect)" and I must respond correctly. That's a bit more interactive and makes me think more than just writing out the whole table.

    So, I suppose I'm not exactly using the Dowling method, but hopefully I'll end up in the same spot. It's not like I'm skipping the memorization or failing to read LL carefully. Those seem to be the most important parts of the method.

    So Jon, it's been a couple years since you started - how'd you come along on your Latin?

    By Anonymous Aaron S., at 12/09/2011 9:38 AM  

  • Wow, Aaron - you are amazing! I spent a year and a half on it (on and off) and just got through the first four tables. And then I sort of gave up. I'm really impressed by the progress you made and the tech tools you use to maintain it.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 12/09/2011 10:19 PM  

  • Thanks! I've always been good at memorization (pi to 100 places, etc.) so the Dowling method seemed right up my alley. For you, I'm sure the "on and off" was the problem. I didn't skip any days; as Dowling instructed, I made sure to do it first thing in the morning before life could interfere. But based on my experience, you made it through the hard part - if you know the indicative, the subjunctive (the last two tables) is really a piece of cake. Of my 17 days, the last two tables only took one day each. Not only are they shorter tables, but they're really just variants of what you already learned. My recommendation to you would be to do Chapter 1 of Lingua Latina now. You will easily understand every word of it, and maybe it will give you the motivation to continue to memorize the tables.

    By Anonymous Aaron S., at 12/10/2011 4:25 AM  

  • I've been using Lingua Latina for a little over two months now after having memorized the tables on this site, and I just wanted to let people know what I've found about it, the Dowling Method, and this site.

    I'm currently on Chapter 14, a third of the way through Familia Romana. So, I've read ~100 pages of actual Latin. The one huge piece of advice I can give anyone attempting the Dowling Method is this: If you've memorized the nouns and adjectives and are getting bogged down in the verbs, STOP THE DOWLING METHOD. I think Dowling is a great idea, but strict adherence to it is not as important as actually reading Latin is. Having the noun and adjective charts memorized did make these 14 chapters a breeze. But having the verb charts memorized has been completely useless to me so far, and won't become useful until chapter 15 (I looked ahead).

    So, do this: Memorize the noun and adjective charts, and then start reading Familia Romana. When you get through chapter 14, you can go back and learn the verb charts. But you'll have read a ton of Latin by that point, and won't be lacking the motivation.

    As for Lingua Latina, all I can say is "wow." It's simply amazing that you can actually just sit down and read a completely different language without a dictionary or anything else. I have no complaints, other than I don't have more time in the day to devote to it! I probably read each chapter three or four times before moving on, and when I'm done, I can read the accompanying story in Colloquia Personarum pretty much as easily as I can read English. No exaggeration. Oh, and definitely get that book. The stories are great - sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

    As for this site, I have only two minor issues. One, Orberg uses NOM-ACC-GEN-DAT-ABL in Lingua Latina. I haven't found it too distracting to have memorized them in a different order, but if you haven't started memorizing them yet, I'd suggest using that order, if only to make it slightly easier when you're going through LL. So, maybe give an option on the site to use either order?

    Two, the noun and adjective charts cover all the rote memorizing you'd have to do through Chapter 14, with the exception of Chapter 8. In that chapter, you have to memorize the pronouns (is/ea/id, ille/illa/illud, hic/haec/hoc, and quis/quae/quid). I wish there had been a seventh (though I'd place it third) chart on this site to memorize these beforehand so I wouldn't have had to spend so much time on Chapter 8 when I got there.

    tl;dr version: This site is great. Use it to memorize the noun and adjective charts. Don't bother with 200 times each, just do them enough that you know them. Then start reading Familia Romana. When you get to Chapter 15, make a decision about how you want to proceed with learning the verbs.

    By Anonymous Aaron S., at 2/16/2012 8:19 AM  

  • Thanks for the tips, Aaron!

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 2/16/2012 7:27 PM  

  • Thank you all for your advice and comments.
    What would you recommend reading after Lingua Latina?
    Ancient classics? Catholic texts? Finding a pen pal?

    By Blogger Nano, at 7/31/2012 6:31 PM  

  • There are additional readers designed to go along with the LL series and are written in the same style (with the all-Latin notes in the margin to help you infer meaning).

    Different ones are intended for different points in the series. Here's what you need to know to pick one (or more) out:

    Colloquia Personarum is for use while reading (or after) chapters 1-24 of LL.

    Fabulae Syrae is for use while reading (or after) chapters 26-34 of LL.

    After finishing the first LL book (the 35 chapters in Familia Romana), you can read four of them: De bello Gallico, Epitome Historiae Sacrae, Amphitryo Comoedia and Sermones Romani.

    After five chapters of the second LL book (Roma Aeterna, which starts counting at chapter 36, so after chapter 40), you can read two more: Ars Amatoria and Aeneis.

    After chapter 46, you're ready for Cena Trimalchionis.

    Then after the completion of Roma Aeterna, you can read Catilina.

    I can't give any advice for what to do after that, but if you like the Orberg method, those should keep you busy for a while.

    I'm personally on chapter 31, and I have slowed down a lot since adding Fabulae Syrae to my studies. Not that that's a bad thing - the feeling of accomplishment from reading very slightly adapted Ovid is bigger than that from reading Orberg's intentionally simplified writing in Familia Romana. But it is quite a bit more difficult (despite introducing basically no new vocabulary), so be warned. It will take longer to read the five short fables in the accompanying Fabulae Syrae chapter than it will to read the Familia Romana chapter a few times, learn all the new vocabulary and grammar, and do all the work in the Exercitia Latina book. So, it more than doubles your workload if you're just trying to get through Orberg's book. I'm considering putting it off till the end, because I really want to just get through Familia Romana.

    By Anonymous Aaron S., at 10/08/2012 12:29 PM  

  • Hi Jon Aquino-I have a question about the method. Is the learner only supposed to practice the paradigms *without* studying any other vocabulary until embarking upon the study of Lingua Latina?

    By Anonymous Tom, at 8/11/2013 9:27 PM  

  • Hi Tom,

    I'm actually not sure. I suppose it would be fastest if you got through the paradigms first, although if you're bored, there's probably nothing wrong with learning other vocabulary.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 8/12/2013 1:56 PM  

  • Fellow Lovers of Latin,

    I have a question on memorizing the noun declension tables:

    Should I memorize the whole table i.e.,

    First Declension
    Gate (Feminine): porta portae etc.

    or just the declensions themselves i.e.,

    porta portae etc.



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/27/2013 11:11 AM  

  • Hi Tom - Whichever is easier. Perhaps the latter, if that is easier.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 11/27/2013 6:57 PM  

  • How are you getting on Jonathan ?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/29/2014 6:36 AM  

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