For years, I was convinced that Latin was the last language I would want to study or that I would want my kids to study. And I had what I thought were solid reasons for my convictions.
Primarily: Latin is a dead language. No one speaks it anymore! But more than that, isn't it true that whatever advantages you can claim for studying Latin, you'd also gain from studying virtually any language?
When I finally took the time to talk with someone who knew the answers, I couldn't believe my ears.
For those in the know, it turns out, the fact that Latin is "dead" is a huge plus for the language! Why?
The fact that it is dead means...
It follows "the rules" more closely than do modern languages. Therefore,
Latin is easier to learn -- you don't have to memorize all the exceptions to the rules!
You don't have to learn how to converse in it. Therefore,
You can study Latin far more efficiently than any other language.
"Normal" foreign language programs devote about half of their time to teaching students simply how to say (pronounce) and hear (recognize) common phrases in the language.
With Latin, you don't have to devote any mental energy and time learning how to engage in conversation. Instead, you learn the underlying vocabulary, grammar and syntax (sentence structure).
When you study Latin, you can spend more time in actual translation -- carefully comparing and contrasting the meanings of words, phrases, and sentences in the two languages (in this case, English and Latin). This, in turn, hammers home the skills, concepts, and lessons you are learning through all the rest of your language study.
Besides the benefits that arise from the fact that Latin is "dead," here are several more major advantages. Among them:
Latin is a highly inflected language.
Languages in which the exact meanings and uses of words are indicated by the words' endings are called "inflected" languages. Such languages are different from English in which the position of the word in a sentence determines its exact meaning.
Consider the sentence, "The car hit the dog."
There are two nouns in the sentence: "car" and "dog." In English, we can tell which of these two nouns is the subject of the sentence (i.e., which one did the hitting) and which is the object (i.e., which received the hit) by where they are found in the sentence.
Because it comes first, we know that the car is the subject; it did the hitting. And because it comes second, we know that the dog is the object; it received the hit. Besides their order in the sentence, there are no other clues that tell us what function these nouns fulfill.
In Latin, by contrast, you can tell what is the subject and what is the object not by its position in the sentence (words can be in just about any order imaginable), but, rather, by the structure of the words themselves-their endings. (Does the word end with -a? If so, it is the subject. Does it end with -am? If so, then it is the object. And so forth.)
By studying Latin, then,
You will come to really know how languages "work." You will come to fully understand both of the two common methods whereby human beings communicate their meanings. And that means,
All subsequent language study becomes relatively simple.
As one gentleman, who is fluent in eight languages, declared, "Latin is such a good specimen language, even though Russian is from a completely different language family, my Latin helped me to learn Russian!"
You gain a much deeper understanding of English grammar.
By learning to understand this language that is so "other" than what you are used to, you will be forced to compare and contrast it to the English with which you are familiar. And through this comparison and contrast, you gain a much fuller understanding of English.
There is another major reason young people should study Latin:
Latin has had a greater impact on our language and culture than any other foreign language.
Did you know that over 60 percent of modern English words are based on Latin? The fact that so much English is based on Latin has several benefits. Among others:
Most students have already done a lot of the work to learn Latin vocabulary; they did it when they learned English!
If a person has a good grasp of the Latin roots of modern English words, s/he enjoys an unparalleled advantage when it comes to accurate spelling, especially spelling of complex and less familiar words.
As a result of all the benefits listed above,
Latin study appears to yield a consistent and demonstrable gain in standardized college entrance exam scores in both the Verbal and Math spheres -- a gain that no other language seems to offer.
Verbal scores of Latin students on the SAT are, on average, anywhere from 25 to 30 points all the way up to over 60 to 80 points ahead of the verbal scores of students studying other foreign languages.
Is there a cause-and-effect relationship between Latin study and high scores on standardized tests? No one can prove it. But based on the testimony of those who have studied Latin, and their personal impressions about the kinds of analytic skills they have developed and the personal confidence they have acquired as a result of studying Latin, I am strongly inclined to agree with those who say that it is, indeed, the study of Latin that increases students' competency, not some innate competency in the students that leads them to choose Latin for their foreign language study.
Perhaps you want to study Latin?