Most students will need to use two resources to find the meaning of an unfamiliar Latin word when thet are reading.
1. Whitaker's Words
An obvious problem arises when a student encounters an unfamiliar Latin word. Dictionaries do not contain all forms of Latin words, but only a few necessary grammatical forms. Nouns are listed in their nominative singular form and verbs are listed in their 1st person present form. So, if you come across the the noun ORA, verb FUERANT, or the pronoun MIHI, unless you know your Grammar, and can identify their dictionary form, you're not going to find it.
A good computer tool to help you is Whitaker's Words. You can enter any Latin word, in any form, into the search box and it will provide you with the dictionary forms of the word.
Here, looking up the word ORA, we find a mess. There are three options, and our word is the last of them--so "looking up a word" isn't always easy. Sometimes, you may need to ask for help.
Now, you can see that Whitaker's Words provides not only the basic forms of the word, but also it's grammatical information and a definition. While this may be helpful, I do not recommend you rely on the definitions found in Whitaker's Words. They are very limited. So, check them out, see if they help and, if the meaning still seems fuzzy, go to a real Latin dictionary.
2. Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary
To get a full range of possible meanings for any Latin word, you need to use a Latin dictionary, and I'd recommend using the Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary.
What's most valuable about a good dictionary is that, in Latin, words are used in literal and figurative senses and their meanings can be quite broad.
3. Context, Context, Context
Sometimes, you will not know which of all of the possible meanings of a word to use, or you will feel that NONE of the possible meanings seems to fit. When you run into such troubles, use the context of what you're reading to find a meaning that seems to make the most sense. Realize, however, that this IS often the challenge of translation. Don't think your struggles are a sign that something's wrong with you--this is normal.
4. Work on Grammar
When you're in Grammar I, you have to realize that, while you're learning alot, you still have a lot to learn. Grammar II will teach you the rules of Construction, which will shed a lot of light on translation work, and in Grammar III, you'll learn about the figures of speech which help us ot understand the figurative meanings of Latin words.
5. Read, Read, Read
The more Latin you read the more experience you will have with the usage of Latin words. imagine a man from China coming to America and hearing us speak of as we do. How many phrases are impossible for a visitor to understand--and, when it comes to Latin, we're the visitors.
William Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy