How to memorize Dowlings Wheel (Latin Table of Declensions and Conjugations) and become fluent in Latin fast

Hello mnemonists,

I’m trying to learn Latin through this method: Dowling method

You can read the whole thing for an in-depth analysis but I will summarize the salient points here. The method consists of three steps:

  1. Learn some basic grammatical principles (things like the case of a noun, or conjugation)
  2. Learn all the declensions and conjugations from a table in the back of “Wheelocks” Latin textbook (freely available on this site: Dowling Wheel)
  3. Work through the direct-reader book: “Lingva Latina”, making sure to understand every case and conjugation of every word in every sentence.

After having done this, the user should be able to read any Latin text with the same ease and speed as his native language (the direct-reader book alone contains unaltered passages from Livy).

The question is how can you use mnemonics to considerably shorten step 2 (the author of the article suggests rote memorization, but as well all know, mnemonics are simply superior to such antiquated methods)? There are six tables to memorize each with a variable number of columns and about 5 data points (words) per column. All in all I’d say about 200 pieces of data. How would one go about memorizing this for fast recall (less than 1 sec)?

Any help would be appreciated.

Here are some tips.

First; make it a habit of learning all nouns in the nominative singular. If you do this, you will also know the declension in most cases.

Second. When you encounter a word like ‘cartarum’, split it into ‘carta’ and ‘-arum’. The first part, ‘carta’ is the noun you learned. This will give you the meaning. The second part, ‘-arum’ will give you its grammatical function.

Third; together with memorizing the meaning of a word, recognize it’s declension (word group).
Why? All nouns in the same group are inflected the same way, that’s why.
Usually this is easy. A word that ends in -us, like for example dominus, is always the second declension.
Words in the same declension get inflected the same way.

Learn the endings that tell you the case immediately.
-arum, -erum, orum, -uum is always genitive plural.
-ibus, -ebus is always either dative or ablative plural.
-ui is always dative singular.
-os is always accusative plural.

If the word ends in an ‘m’, it is either accusative singular or genitive plural.

In the first and second declension singular, the dative and ablative have the same endings.
In all declensions plural, the dative and ablative have the same endings.

When reading Latin, remember whether the context is singular or plural.
‘Domini’ is genitive in singular context and nominative in plural. If you know the context it is difficult to mix them up.
If you just learn the big table, then it might look confusing since there are a lot of multiples in it.

With one exception the nominative and vocative use the same inflection. So learn this exception and the 6 cases turn into 5.

See also;

Another piece that may help to speed things up is memorizing the “right” words in a specific order. Researchers at Dickinson in concert with others have compiled and documented a list of the most common core vocabulary words in Latin (and in Greek) based on their frequency of appearance in extant works. This very specific data becomes a tremendously handy tool when attempting to learn and master a language. It is a truly impressive fact that, simply by knowing that if one can memorize and master the 250 most frequent words in Latin, it will allow them to read and understand 50% of most written Latin. Further, knowledge of 1,500 of the most frequent Latin words will put one at the 80% level of vocabulary mastery for most texts. Mastering even a very small list of vocabulary allows one to read a large variety of texts very comfortably. Continuing on to memorize more and more provides one with even more facility–though with obvious diminishing returns.

I’ve written a bit more on the topic here:
Additionally, I’ve created an Anki deck of flash cards that is downloadable with the ability to modify the root database, so that one can cross-link it with one’s own mnemonic system/images/other to speed up the creation of image relations and memorization/drilling.