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Why Study Latin?

People sometimes wonder and ask why we still teach Latin in some schools today, especially classical, Christian schools, which is a good question that deserves a good answer.

Actually there are two questions that need to be addressed. The first one is, “Why do you teach Latin?” And the second is, “Why do you start in 3rd grade?”

The first question has an easy answer. It is common knowledge and research in cognition and language shows that the more children are exposed to language the more proficient they will become in using language, both their native language and other languages as well.  Therefore, the study of a foreign language should start as early as possible in grammar school, e.g. in 3rd grade, and not wait until high school, which is what unfortunately most schools do.

The second question may be answered with the question, “How can we afford not to teach Latin?” There are three sides to the learning of Latin. One side is the practical one; i.e. around 50% of the English vocabulary derives from Latin, so by studying Latin, one develops and increases his/her vocabulary tremendously (think about students taking the SAT). Latin is present in Law (legal terms), in Biology (all those words high school students need to learn in anatomy), in Chemistry (understanding better the names and symbols of the elements in the Periodic Table), in mottos everywhere (colleges, the military, and the states), in everyday sayings (per capita, caveat, mea culpa, MO, etc, per se, bona fide), it helps with the learning of the Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, and Romanian), and because Latin is a case-based language, it also helps with the learning of other case-based languages such as German.

The second side is a more profound, more philosophical side of learning Latin. There is good, beauty, and truth in studying languages. When one studies the grammar, the expressions, slang, pronunciation, word order, and the culture of a language, one travels to other places. Latin helps one travel to other times, to Ancient Rome and its empire which is part of the birth of western civilization and literature.

Finally, the third side is that both Latin and Greek are also the languages of oration.  The fact that word order in Latin is not an important factor requires the reader/speaker/scholar of Latin to have a deeper understanding of the subtleties of language and rhetoric, and how a certain word order in a particular sentence or line in a poem interferes with the message being delivered. Furthermore, for a student who intends to become a linguist and/or a true learner of a language, the study of Latin is a must.

Truth and good are in the first and second sides of learning Latin, and beauty is definitely in the third side of it. Nevertheless, all three are everywhere in the rich and important knowledge of learning Latin. So, the answer is indeed, how can we afford not to teach Latin and not to offer our kids this amazing opportunity?