Why Learn Latin?
“Why do we have to learn this?” is a common lament from many students about many subjects. But when it comes to Latin, it seems that its applicability eludes children and adults alike. As a former Latin student, I can assure you I have asked the same question. But as a current Latin teacher, I am equipped with some answers! I’m about to give you some of my favorite reasons why our students will benefit from learning Latin.
Did you know that over 60% of English is derived from Latin? Students who study Latin are not only increasing their Latin vocabulary, they are exponentially upgrading their understanding of the English words they use today. For example, when my students learn that “mater” is the Latin word for “mother,” they also learn the meaning of English words such as maternal, maternity, matriarch, etc. So although “mother” does not look like its Latin equivalent, words dealing with motherhood do. This understanding becomes increasingly applicable as students read more advanced literature and prepare to take standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.
I was once told Latin and Greek are languages for engineers. Unlike English, which seems to be a language full of exceptions, Latin is fairly straightforward. Noun declensions and verb conjugations follow strict rules, and although they exist, exceptions are few and far between. The different language structures help students master not only Latin grammar, but English grammar as well. When learning Latin, a student must develop critical and analytical skills to translate or read the one language into the other without losing the essence of the sentence. When we translate between Latin and English, we need to fully grasp the grammar of each language to accurately translate. This gives students the tools to succeed in areas such as writing and public speaking because they understand the power of sentence structure. Yet, because of Latin’s more formulaic design, it also strengthens skills in more quantitative subjects like math, logic, and science.
In the same vein, learning Latin will give students a head start in whatever profession they may choose. Latin language and civilization are the the basis for many areas such as medicine, law, music, art, and literature. Studying Latin is studying more than a language. It is a crash course in ancient politics, literature, religion, and philisophy. A little bonus (literally meaning “good” in Latin) about studying Latin and other classical languages is the fact that the influence of ancient cultures affects almost every aspect of modern culture. Students who are learning to read Latin are reading from the works of Caesar, Cicero, Vergil, Sallust, and Augustine. And while you may not recognize all of those, you interact with their ideas and influence on a daily basis. The men who shaped Roman history have consequently shaped American history. Our own legal system is taken from the ancient goverments of Rome and Greece!
When Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life, he had an overinflated ego that eventually led to his death. But the truth is that he was one of the greatest influencers in the most influential culture. I’m not saying that you all have to love Latin class the most, or go on to study Classics in college to become Latin teachers. But you can take the opportunity to apply yourself—and encourage your children to do so!—to this one subject. You’ll find that it enriches, encourages, and enlightens every other area of your life. After all, Latin isn’t dead—it’s immortal!