The cry of gladiators, the triumphs of victorious generals, the blood of a political system more violent and saucier than our own–all excite us and arouse our curiosity about Ancient Rome. While our appetites are fed by HBO’s television series Rome and video games Ryse: Son of Rome and Total War: Rome II, our desire for greater knowledge of the Classical World is filled by the large selection of educational apps available on both the android and iTunes store. One of those apps is SPQR Latin Dictionary and Reader, an app devoted to bringing the Latin language to our smartphones.
Latin Dictionary iPhone App Content
Of all the Latin apps–and there are indeed several–SPQR ($7.49) offers the greatest variety of content. Tools to test grammar, flashcards to expand vocabulary, and a dictionary to help in almost every session will further students’ Latin. Yet none of these compare with SPQR‘s reader, filled by the ancient texts of a dozen authors ranging from the rather simple prose of Caesar to the elaborate and difficult sentences of Tacitus. Each author’s home page includes a biography and an introduction to his works. Each paragraph of the texts receives its own page; needless to note, they appear in Latin, the English translation to which can be quickly accessed from a button above the text. The app’s additional features, its pages on Latin grammar and Roman history, its addictive quiz, modeled after the style of a scratchie-card, and its few other tools give users of SPQR multiple options of how they wish to spend their time.
Nothing is particularly flashy about SPQR: Latin Dictionary, though since it is an educational app this is only of secondary importance. In the reader the pages are the same as those in a book, black text on a pure white background. Helpfully, the size of the text can be so greatly adjusted that the iPhone’s screen can be filled either by two or three words, or by an entire paragraph. Visual simplicity and clearness are best for reading, and this is the approach SPQR takes.
As for the apps’ other tools, the grammar test’s design is far more colourful, and its quiz questions and mutiple-choice answers, superimposed on a marble background, look fine. Of all the pages the most attractive are the home page and the scratchie-quiz game. The home page features the Prima Porta, a statue of the emperor Augustus, with a Latin quote enclosed within a bubble and an English translation below it; if you touch the screen, a new quote will appear. In the quiz a question is displayed on a marble background between two pillars. With their fingers, users may rub away at the marble to reveal the answer lying behind it–which is surprisingly addictive!
The app is easy to navigate, with the main tools–the reader, the dictionary, and the grammar–located on a bottom bar on the home page. While I was using the app, things ran smoothly and there were no crashes. Nor were there any loading times: the app it will open at once. iPhone apps must have little waiting time, if any, and SPQR is reliable in this: the program runs smoothly, its pages open quickly, and its menus are navigated easily.
However, SPQR: Latin Dictionary may frustrate beginners. While intermediate and advance students can make full use of the reader, the dictionary and the grammar tests, beginners may struggle to learn the language from scratch. For even though it offers instruction in its included grammar books, SPQR makes little use of its potential, as an interactive app, to teach students the basics. Students attempting Latin for the first time should consult an instructional text such as Reading Latin, which has grammar, exercises, and texts.
Learning a new langauge can be an expensive excursion, and students commonly spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and aids. While it is by no means a stand alone guide to Latin, at $7.49 SPQR: Latin Dictionary is certainly an affordable and a useful app with a great deal of content to be enjoyed by intermediate Latin students. SPQR gives them the opportunity to practise their learning on the go, to have with them a very good dictionary at all times, and to carry around some of the oldest and greatest works.