Today I’m going to do something a little unusual for the Library of Antiquity. I’m going to review a Latin app called SPQR Latin Dictionary and Reader from romansgohome.com. The website has a lot of screenshots of the app in action plus a lot of information on the app’s different features, so I won’t cover everything the app can do today. Instead I’ll do a brief overview of the main features, and then share what I think are the best and most useful parts of the app.
Before I get started on the review, there are a few things that you need to know. The first is that a copy was generously provided to us for the purpose of this review. We heard about the app from students and requested the copy. Romans Go Home did not solicit the Library of Antiquity to write the review. As such, what follows is my unbiased opinion, very much in line with our normal posts about using other types of sources for the study of antiquity. Second, there are multiple versions of the app: one for Mac OS, one for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and another for Android. The website says that they aim for consistency but there are “varying features” in each app. I’m going to review the iPad version of the app which retails for $9.99 CAD/$6.99 USD. We did not try other versions and cannot comment on their features. Finally, although I discuss potential classroom uses for the app, I did not test it in the classroom.
Let’s get down to business. The SPQR app is a comprehensive Latin resource (dictionary, grammar, flashcards, and grammar quizzes). As a bonus, it contains some texts that you can read right in the app. You can also use the dictionary and the grammar on their own with any text you happen to be reading.
After I downloaded and opened the app, there was a detailed walkthrough of all its features. The app is very user-friendly, but I would recommend taking a few minutes to go through this intro because it does provide all the information you need to navigate. The home screen shows the statue of Augustus Imperator and a Latin quote that changes every time you load the home screen. The little share icon next to the translation lets you share the quote via social media. I would have liked, however, to see the source for the quote listed instead of just the Latin and translation (in case I wanted to see the context for it).
The app’s main navigation menu is at the very bottom of the page.
There are 6 main sections of the app (excluding the home screen and the “more apps” section): Authors, Dictionary, Grammar, Flashcards, Learn, and History. I’ll go through each one in order and talk about what I thought were the most useful features.
The Authors section of the app is a great tool for reading. I happen to be reading Cicero’s Brutus currently, which unfortunately wasn’t one of the texts in the app, so I decided instead to take a look at some Catullus (who happens to be my favorite Latin poet) and navigated to poem 5, which is arguably the most well-known (though not my favorite: that’s poem 12 about the napkin thief).
Once you’ve selected a text to read, you can click on the words to highlight them and look them up in the app’s dictionary. Make sure to use the second Look Up at the end of the menu. The first Look Up will give you the default iPad search.
The dictionary entry will pop up and the text will fade into the background. A basic meaning is given first, and below that the word is parsed. I particularly like that the parsed forms are given second, because it allows you to see the meaning of the word before it gives away all the answers. I do wish that there was a link right in the pop-up window to the larger dictionary entry, because switching back and forth between the reading pane and the dictionary section was a bit cumbersome, though not impossible because the app saves your place in the text.
Once you’re satisfied, you can click OK to close the window or you can click Flashcards to add the word to one of your flashcard stacks. You will need to set the Flashcards up before you can use this feature (see below).
Once your flashcards are ready to go, you can even make a deck of flashcards specific to the individual text by clicking the little flashcard icon at the top of the screen. For this short Catullus poem, it only created 45 flashcards; it will create up to 100 for longer texts. I really like this particular flashcard feature. Students taking Latin courses will find it particularly useful, I think, because they can study the vocabulary that is most relevant to the text they are reading (provided that the text is one of those available in the app).
The flashcards themselves are easy to read and easy to use. Once you guess the word, click the card to flip it over and see if you were right. The vocab cards are on the honor system, though you can click the red X or the green checkmark on the reverse side of the card to tell the app if you remembered the word or not. You can also choose to reverse them (English to Latin) if you’re up for a challenge.
The next section is the Dictionary, which is pretty straightforward. You can input Latin or English by switching the dictionary (in the bar under the search box), or you can select Parser, which will parse the word for you and provide the dictionary entry. The dictionary links to the Lewis and Short which is, of course, an excellent dictionary, and provides the full entry for each of the words. The parser is separate from the dictionary search but when you highlight an option in the results list, the app will link you to the Lewis and Short entry for that particular word.
The Grammar section is comprised of a grammar quiz that requires a new setup every time you use it. You can see that it gives you some options. Your quiz can be multiple choice (which gives you a list of four options to choose from), matrix select (which requires you to pick from several sets of information to get the right answer), form conversion (which makes you transform the given word into another form), or a mix of types. You then decide how long you want the quiz to be and click Start Test.
The quiz itself is pretty self-explanatory once you start taking it. As a word of caution, there is no confirming the answer after you’ve selected it. If you drop your iPad and hit the answer trying to catch it, you are stuck with your selection. It can be a little frustrating at times if you aren’t careful only to click on the answer you’d like to select, but it does make taking the quizzes faster.
As I said above, I really like the Flashcard features in this app. You do have to set them up first, and they were the only part of the app that I didn’t find entirely self-explanatory. When you click the Flashcard section for the first time, the setup screen will appear. You can choose to Add a set of flashcard decks to your app. Don’t worry if you want to start with Beginner and add the Advanced later; you can come back to this screen at any time!
To add a new deck, click Edit in the upper right-hand corner. Then click the stack of flashcard decks that will appear in the upper left-hand corner once you’re in editing mode.
For students in the UK, the GCSE and A-Level lists will be particularly useful. You can also add a custom deck if you want to store the items that you come across in the readings. I could see how it would be very useful to add a deck of flashcards for those exceptionally common words that still somehow we can’t ever remember (we all have them!), or for any group of vocabulary that we’d like to master.
The Learn section is where you can find both Allen and Greenough and Bennett’s New Latin Grammar. Simply select the text and the section from the menu on the left-hand side to see the full text of each section.
The indices to the grammars are not included, nor can you search the full text, which might make it more difficult to find what you are looking for if you aren’t quite sure what section your answers might lie in. But it does sure beat hefting those giant books around.
Also included in the Learn section are a collection of Greco-Roman myths in easy Latin for practice, Ritchie’s Fabulae Faciles, and the Comic Latin Grammar, which takes a more quippy approach to teaching Latin syntax.
The History section has a bunch of information on Roman history and culture. The text for each subtopic is very clearly written, but does not provide citations or any relevant bibliography. Also included is the complete text of Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (see above for the joys of not having to heft around heavy books all day), in case you’re up for reading the giant tome.
I really enjoyed the SPQR app, and I would highly recommend it to anyone in high school or university Latin courses. The dictionary lookup tools and text of the reference grammars alone make the app worth its price tag in my opinion. Why? Because not only would you not have to carry so many books to class, YOU CAN USE THE APP OFFLINE!!! Unlike Perseus’ Lewis and Short, the text of the dictionary is in-app and therefore you have access to it even when you don’t have an internet connection. While there are some features that I wish the app would develop in the future, I loved having immediate access to the dictionary and the grammars while I was reading.
The texts themselves, while limited in selection, are great for casual reading or even mid-level language courses, but they don’t have an apparatus criticus nor does the app reveal which text it’s using. I’m not sure that the texts themselves would be a suitable replacement for a more critical text in an upper- or graduate-level language course, but they do make the texts accessible to beginner readers and make great practice for anyone trying to improve their language skills on their own. There are also really great short introductions to each work and a brief bio of each ancient author.
I would like to thank Romans Go Home for providing the review copy of the app, and I hope that in the future they expand the features and selection of texts in the app. I found it to be a very useful reading tool and would love to see it grow into an even more amazing resource for reading Latin texts.