Why do we study Latin?

“Why are you studying a dead language?” 

This is the number one comment that I receive when I talk about Latin with others. In some ways, it’s true. You are not going to vacation in a place that speaks Latin or run into someone that needs a Latin translator. However, I would argue that this “dead language” is very much alive in our everyday use of English. We just need our eyes opened to see its deep benefit. I think of Latin as giving students unique tools that will greatly benefit many areas of their life to come.

So what are those tools--why do we study Latin? There are a host of reasons; one of the most well-known reasons is its benefit to our vocabulary. Linguists have different thoughts on this, but it’s safe to say that fifty percent of one-syllable words in English come from Latin. When we look at multisyllabic words, it is estimated that close to ninety percent of these are derivatives of Latin words. Ninety percent! Students with a solid Latin foundation have an amazing tool that will allow them to break apart unknown words and understand them. The benefit to their reading cannot be understated. Let’s say that a student sees the word ambulatory. A Latin student will know the verb ambulare means to walk and quickly understand that ambulatory means to be able to walk.

Not only does Latin help with vocabulary, it helps immensely with English grammar. It feels counterintuitive to think that studying an unknown language will allow us to understand our own. With Latin, this is absolutely the case. In order to correctly translate Latin, students must have a solid understanding of types of subjects, verb tenses, active/passive voice, singular/plural nouns, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, predicate adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, and much, much more. When students are able to identify and use these concepts in Latin, identifying them and using them correctly in English becomes effortless. Students who master Latin will absolutely have a clear understanding of English. They are able to communicate effectively in verbal and written form. We want our students to be clear communicators, and Latin is an effective tool to help them with this.

Let’s look beyond the language benefits to other tools Latin provides. Just the act of studying Latin is incredibly beneficial to students. Latin is a language of details. It can’t be skimmed or glossed over. It requires students to slow down, look carefully, and think deeply. Whatever students do later in their lives, the ability to do these three things will be of great benefit.  

In the same way, Latin provides an opportunity for students to learn something completely new to them. In Latin, students learn many different study skills that allow them to comprehend new materials and hopefully, learn the feeling of accomplishment that comes from mastering a subject that many find challenging. What an amazing benefit to our students! What happens when you find out you can work hard and master something challenging? You know you can do it again! That is the opportunity Latin provides to our students. 

Let’s help students fill their toolboxes with tools, not only to understand our language, but to gain skills to help them in every area of their lives.