I would be interested in people's considered opinions of the utility of interlinear texts* in learning to read Latin (or any other language)? Do they help or hinder? Are they a pedagogical resource or are they merely a crutch?

My question was prompted, in part, by this article: "The New Old Way of Learning Languages"

*such as this one:

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  • 1
    Are you also interested in parallel texts, e.g. Loeb editions? It would actually be quite interesting to see if any good research has been done on this. It's well known (and obvious) that we don't retain vocabulary as well if we don't spend time looking it up, but I wonder if that is offset by the enormous benefit of getting through much more text.
    – brianpck
    Jul 20, 2019 at 14:32
  • @brianpck I had to give that some thought but in the end I think I'm only interested in interlinear texts. This is because they claim the word-for-word translation is an aid to gaining fluency in reading Latin. Conversely, I understand parallel texts, with their more polished interpretation of the Latin, have accessibility to a non-Latin reading audience as a chief aim.
    – Penelope
    Jul 21, 2019 at 1:02
  • @brianpck Although, on reflection, an interesting question might be to contrast the pedagogical usefulness of literal translations with more polished translations. Do literal translations, for instance, turn reading into more of a code-cracking exercise? Perhaps I should try to formulate another formal question about this to post?
    – Penelope
    Jul 21, 2019 at 2:32
  • 1
    When I was relearning Latin a few years ago, I found Loeb editions very useful. I would have hated an interlinear text....too much help. With facing text, it was easy not to look at the English unless I was really stuck.
    – C Monsour
    Jul 21, 2019 at 2:35
  • It's subjective, but I find this format hideously distracting. I would rather have a clean text, and then a translation or notes elsewhere. I want to have at least one run through a completely clean text to form my own ideas before looking at anything else. The mental effort it takes for me to not look at the helps keeps me from reading. Jul 23, 2019 at 1:20

2 Answers 2


Depends on your purposes I suppose. Instead of interlinear, I'd much prefer reading a text in Latin you've already read in your first language. For example, I have a facing text of Caesar's works. I will read through a section in English first, typically a long one of multiple paragraphs, not a sentence or two, then read the text in Latin.

What this does is help me identify what's going on and contextualizes things. So I don't have to stop every so often to look up whether an unfamiliar word is a place, person, etc. Also, it helps me wire connections between various words. If I know what's going to happen, subconsciously I'm already looking for cognates or stems that are tied to what's going on in the text.

If you're trying to just read the text and enjoy it, without needing a dictionary, being able to cheat with an interlinear text would be fine. If you're trying to improve your Latin specifically then I'd say it would be more of a hindrance long term.

That said, the most important thing to improving one's Latin is to read Latin. It doesn't matter what it is.


I find that a combination of methods is useful, and at times, it is a personal preference. I have a Farr's edition of the Aeneid (by far my favorite), and I find that the copious notes are of great help in both understanding the text and vocabulary. However, I find that the interlinear approach is very useful in learning vocabulary. Yes, I agree that it can interrupt and be distracting for the flow of the reading. However, in terms of learning the vocabulary, I find that the interlinear approach is truly the superior method. It offers vocabulary learning, structure of the syntax and a sense of accomplishment; and it certainly is far superior to reading a Latin text, looking up each word and then rote memorization. Finally, I think that the interlinear approach works well for those who have had at least two years of Latin, especially in reading Cicero. What works best for you to learn the vocabulary and the syntax is up to the individual to decide. Experiment with a plethora of approaches. Dr.T. Professor Emeritus of Italian and Latin

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