Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why Study Latin

A new perspective on why Latin is such a valuable language to learn, despite many people's argument that it is a "dead language" and it should remain that way....

This is by far the question Latin teachers are most frequently asked. Interestingly, however, it is only within the past century that this question has arisen. The fact is that until recent years, most considered Latin a necessary staple of a good education. In the 1700’s the University of Georgia, like many of its contemporaries, required of incoming freshmen, “a correct knowledge of Cicero’s orations, Vergil, John and the Acts in the Greek New Testament, “ (LaFleur, 985, p.341) in addition to English Grammar, Geography, and Arithmetic. This is requiring more than the familiar chanting of amo, amas, amat. This statement indicates a desire for an intimate understanding of the language and more than a passing familiarity with her greatest writers. Thomas Jefferson, himself a great supporter of quality education in America, wrote to J.W. Eppes in 1787, “In general, I am of opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages: Latin, Greek, French, Spanish.” As Mr. Jefferson suggested, up until the 1920’s Latin was a common course amongst elementary and secondary schools alike, oftentimes a requirement for graduation. However, the times have changed and it seems necessary to defend the virtues of Latin. Unfortunately, these are far too numerous for me to elaborate on here to my liking. So, I will offer the five most common reasons for the teaching of Latin in classical schools.
1. The most commonly regarded benefit is the great improvement in the understanding of the English language. We derive approximately 60% of our English words, and 90% of those words consisting of more than two syllables, from Latin.
- 2. If Latin is so helpful to students’ understanding of English, classified as a Germanic language, it only stands to reason that it would be of even greater help to those languages directly derived from Latin. There are five modern languages that call Latin their parent language. These Romance languages are Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese. 

3. Many are not surprised to learn that Latin significantly increases verbal scores on tests such as the SAT and even GRE exams, scrutinized carefully by prestigious colleges and universities everywhere. It may surprise them, however, that the analytical and problem solving scores, often associated closely with math skills, also increase significantly among Latin students.
4. Another truly wonderful feature of Latin is that it is not merely a means of communication, but a key to unlock the past. Through the writings of Cicero, Caesar, Livy, and others we learn so much about the world of ancient Rome and Greece; a world which has greatly affected our own.
5. Perhaps the greatest benefit that Latin affords is the great door it opens into the world of Literature.

To read the whole argument, you can find it on Classical Academic Press by Karen Moore

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