Nearly all colleges and universities require students to take at least two years of a foreign language while they’re in high school. Given these prerequisites, most students end up asking themselves which foreign language would be best for them. Statistically speaking, students are most likely to study Spanish, French, Japanese or German, seeing as how they are the most common languages taught in high schools. But one of the most important languages seems to have been lost over time: Latin.
Despite Latin falling under the definition of a dead language — “one no longer spoken in everyday use” — there is a common misconception that it holds no relevance on the modern world. Unlike extinct languages, which have neither living speakers nor living descendants, Latin has evolved and continues to influence today’s languages, with English being one of them.
Here are three reasons why more high schools should teach Latin and why everyone should learn for their own self-betterment.
1. Eases the Transition into the Romance Languages
The reason that most teachers give their students for learning Latin is that it makes learning the Romance languages an easier task. The Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian) are a product of the time when the Roman Empire spread its vast influence (and language) through what is now modern-day Europe, evolving to become what they are today.
Despite their evolution, today’s Romance languages are still loosely linked to each other through their similarities in vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar styles. A simple comparison between Latin and the Romance languages is seen in the English and French word “art,” which in Latin is “ars,” “arta” in Romanian and “arte” in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
After having studied Latin, students don’t need to spend as much time memorizing vocabulary on flashcards or understanding how to conjugate verbs, as they already acquire these skills while taking the class.
Latin familiarizes students with the etymology of words (both of other Romance languages and English), allowing them to discover patterns and contributing to their understanding and enjoyment of language learning as a whole.
2. Strengthens Critical Thinking & Analytical Skills
Today, there are many subjects taught in schools contributing to the development of critical thinking and analytical skills in students. Out of all the subjects, math seems the most beneficial in that it forces students to solve problems with complex or creative solutions and to pay close attention to detail. In this regard, Latin is just as an effective way of gaining these skills through its highly mathematical nature.
Along with German, Arabic and Russian, Latin is a highly inflected/synthetic language. An inflected language is one with words signifying tense, person, number, gender and other components associated with composing sentences.
Most Latin students agree that the most challenging part of learning Latin is memorizing the many different forms of declensions (a term associated with inflection, which is a variation of a noun, pronoun or adjective) and applying their knowledge when translating a sentence.
Just like memorizing formulas or algorithms to solve a problem in math, students must correctly identify the declension (if the word is a noun, pronoun or adjective) or conjugation (if it’s a verb) of every word of a sentence to properly arrive at its true meaning.
Holding a magnifying glass to each word not only builds critical thinking and analytical skills but also teaches students patience and discipline applicable to all forms of learning.
3. Increases Knowledge in English Grammar & Vocabulary
Along with purchasing textbooks on Latin grammar, most Latin classes also require students to have textbooks on English grammar. As students progress through a Latin class’s curriculum, they come across grammatical concepts already taught to them in their regular English class.
Due to English grammar already instilled in their minds, students may not know or remember the exact grammatical terms they employ in their writing. Because students aren’t aware of doing what comes naturally to them, Latin becomes a second English class in that it reinforces their knowledge of their native (or secondary) language.
Knowing Latin grammar equates to learning/relearning English grammar, improving upon a student’s writing skills in both languages.
Along with English grammar, Latin also helps students expand upon their vocabulary and diction. As explained in a TED Talk video on YouTube titled “The Value of Latin,” the lecturer says 60% to 70% of English words are derived from Latin, illustrating how about half the words composing the preamble of the U.S Constitution are of Latin origin.
While it may no longer be a modern form of conducting business transactions or communicating with companies overseas, the language still provides students with valuable skills in any career path they choose.
Because of Latin contributing to the well-roundedness of students, it should qualify as a worthy class to be taught in more high schools, giving students the opportunity to fulfill their foreign language requirements.
As an added benefit, this ancient language is an attractive detail to have on student’s resume or curriculum vitae (CV), which itself is a Latin expression meaning “the course of life.”