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Why Should I Study Latin?

By Yann, published on 22/06/2018 We Love Prof > Academia > Latin > Why Learn Latin? The Top 10 Reasons

That is probably the question that popped into your mind. Latin is an extinct language with no native speakers left alive and is the official language of only one state in the world, the Vatican City.

But Latin is also the origin of most of the Western European languages. From Belgium to Sicily, from Portugal to Romania, the Romance Languages are the evolution of Latin.

Once taught in every school in Britain, Latin was for a long time the language used by all lettered people.

Today, only a few state schools and universities offer Latin classes which some academics fearing that the disappearance of Latin in schools is responsible for an overall decline of the national literacy level.

“As a minimum, Latin and classics should be taught in every primary school and continued into secondary school with the addition of ancient Greek,” said Professor Dennis Hayes, an expert from the University of Derby and Chair of the College of Education Research Committee, adding that the subjects could be offered by state schools through the Classics for All programme or the use of retired Latin teachers.

Often reserved to public schools (i.e. private sector education), Latin is still a GCSE option for around 10,000 pupils every year and roughly 1,500 of them will also take Latin as an A-level subject.

With budget restrictions and the lack of properly trained Latin teachers, some schools have been forced to discontinue Latin classes, sometimes putting an end of hundreds of years of Latin education. That is what happened to a school in North Yorkshire, that had no choice but to stop teaching Latin, after 600 years.

Latin is useful for archaeology Latin is useful in Archaeology, either Classical or Early British, in order to decipher inscriptions found on digs. Photo credit: Rafael del Pino on VisualHunt

So why are some experts so adamant that Latin is beneficial for pupils and students and why should you take on Latin classes? That is why we will try to answer by giving you the Top 10 reasons we think anyone should learn Latin.

1. To Enjoy Classical Latin Literature

When most scholars argue about the usefulness of learning Latin, or not, few are the ones that point out that Latin is a beautiful, complex language that should be enjoyed for what it is.

When used in texts today, Latin also denotes a certain level of literacy and it would be stupid not to add Latin locutions in your essays, given that you know what they mean and how to use them.

Many such Latin locutions are used in everyday writings by academics:

  • ad hoc – formed for a particular purpose
  • ad lib – improvised, is often used to describe the performance of an artist who has not prepared anything
  • alter ego – other self; this usually describes an intimate and close friend who you trust with all your secrets
  • bona fide – real, genuine
  • caveat – a stipulation or condition often included in a contract or lease.
  • consensus – agreement
  • de facto – in reality, this word often describes a person or institution who has no legal rights but who in practice holds the power of a position or institution
  • de jure – by law
  • ergo – therefore
  • et cetera (etc) – and so on
  • major – meaning great, important or serious, this word is also used as a rank for officers in many armies and to describe the main subject one might study at university
  • per capita – per person
  • per se – specifically, by itself
  • verbatim – in exactly the same words

2. Study Latin To Improve Your Cognitive Skills

Learning Latin will require some (hard) work and a fair amount of (long) hours of study.

But while you’re learning how to use the Latin declensions, memorise the Latin grammar and start reading texts by Ovid, Cicero or Julius Caesar, your brain’s flexibility will definitely improve.

Learning any languages, and especially a language such as Latin, with numerous declension and grammatical cases will force both your brain’s hemisphere to do a bit of extra work every day.

It has been proven that the brains of bilingual or multilingual people are much more flexible than the brain of a monolingual person.

Memory, logic and adaptability are increase as your brain has to translate whatever you read, hear of write in the different language he knows, even if you don’t notice it doing it.

3. Learn Latin To Be More Rigorous And Methodical

To translate from Latin to English or vice versa (Latin expression for “the other way around”) is not necessarily easy even if you know the declensions like the back of your hand.

The translation process will require a real investigative word if you don’t want to miss the real meaning of a sentence or a story.

The method that you will learn to get it right every time can easily be used in other subjects and as each translation will be a mini brain-teaser, you will quickly realise that the logic and rigour you’ve been applying so methodically in your Latin studies will transpire in other tasks you do; solving an equation, filling a cross-word grid or deciphering other languages than Latin.

4. Extend Your General Culture

The old Hadrian Wall in Northumberland. Hiking along the Hadrian Wall is really easy as it crosses England from East to West pretty much in a straight line. (by clairetresse)

Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire and as you probably know the Roman civilisation dominated Europe, North Africa and the Middle East for almost 800 years.

To be able to read Latin texts in their original language will give you an incredible insight in what the life under the Roman Emperors was like; which customs were practised, how twisty the political life was at the time and what kind of literature the Roman citizen was fond of.

From Caesar to Caligula, Latin was the vehicular language of Rome and of all the provinces that the Empire’s legions had conquered.

It remained so for some time after the fall of the Roman Empie.

But for almost 1000 years, Latin was in constant contact with other cultures and dialects, even though Romans considered anything foreign as barbaric, they could not stop linguistic exchange between the local dialects and the Latin vernacular.

To learn about Latin is to learn about the History of Europe and will most likely give you a much better idea of why today’s countries look how they look and speak the modern language they do.

5. Romances Languages Made Easy

As much as learning how to speak or read Latin won’t be much of use on its own, it will make the study of any Romance language (inherited from the mix of local dialects and vulgar Latin and include Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian and many more idioms) much easier.

Today Romance languages are spoken by more than 1 billion people on Earth, from Argentina in South America to New Caledonia east of Australia.

Because these languages share more of their vocabulary (between 75 and 90% depending on the language), it will be much easier to take on one of these languages if you know Latin and the origin of most of the words of the target language.

The Romance languages also took on many of the Latin grammar rules so it’s likely that if your master Latin you will have no issue learning any of the 35 living Romance languages and dialects that are spoken throughout the world.

6. Learn Latin To Master English

It might feel counter-intuitive to learn a dead language to improve your English skills.

However, due to the Roman colonisation that was followed by the invasion of the Normans from France (William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings in 1066 and installed a French-speaking court in London), English vocabulary is made up of at least 60% of Latin or Latin-derived words.

Just have a look at these words you probably use every day:

Alibi: this thing you desperately might need if you are suspected of some shenanigans, alibi just means “elsewhere” in Latin. And if you were elsewhere, how could you have stolen the cookies?

Agenda: from the Latin verb “agere” meaning to act, agenda is used to describe a list of items that might be discussed during a meeting, a plan of actions to be done or the ulterior motives of a particular person.

Ego: what today describes one’s self-esteem simply meant “I” (first person singular pronoun).

Acumen: the noun describing someone’s quick perception and sharp spirit comes from the Latin word meaning “sharp point”.

Maximum and minimum: the Latin words meaning “the biggest” and the “smallest”.

Quid pro quo: the phrase means “taking something for something else”, the term was originally used by apothecaries when they would substitute an ingredient for another. Today it is mostly used to describe an exchange of service “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”.

Gratis: meaning kindness in Latin, this word is used in English as free of charge, at no cost.

Ultimatum: from the Latin word for “final” (ultimus), it is used to describe a requirement demanded by one party to another, often as a threat of retaliation or war.

Veto: meaning “I forbid” in Latin, this right, often political, is used to stop the process of a decision such as the signature of a new law. In the U.K., the Queen can veto any bills that affect the Royal Prerogative of properties. It is the Royal Consent.

Vice versa: the Latin phrase for “the position having been reversed” is used in English to describe a situation in which two things or people have been reversed.

Via: this Latin word simply means “road” but is mostly used today to say “by way of” or “passing through”.

Visa: in Latin, the expression was used to describe a document that had been verified “charta visa – a paper that has been seen”. Today it is a permit that allows you to enter a foreign country and that will be “seen” by the border authority.

Video: literally “I see” in Latin, the word is used in English to describe any film, short clip or an old VHS cassette.

Knowing the Latin origin of English words will help you improve your spelling and orthography.

7. Improve your grades

“Why learning a dead language would help me in my studies”, you may ask?

Well, some studies have shown that students that learned Latin in school had overall better results in all the other subjects they studied.

In the U.S., SATs (the equivalent of our A-levels) results, show that in average, students that learned Latin in school ended up with a better global SAT score.

That may be due to the fact that learning a language, any language, increase the cognitive skills of the learner. The brains become more “flexible” as it constantly translates what you see, hear and sometimes say, in the other language(s) you are fluent in.

And if you are studying any scientific subject, from mathematics to biology, Latin will certainly give you an extra edge. 90% of all English scientific words come from Latin.

8. Get In Your Dream University

While not a lot of state schools still offer Latin classes, it is absolutely possible to learn by yourself or to get a tutor to help you progress in Latin.

While not knowing Latin will certainly not hurt your application to your dream university, acing your A-level in Latin will probably give you a huge bump up the list of the potential recruits of some of the most prestigious universities in the countries, including Cambridge or Oxford.

It is true for any application, the more you stand apart from the thousands of other applicants, the better your chances to get in.

What you show by having learned Latin is that you possess a broad horizon of knowledge and interests and if you are applying for a Latin-heavy field such as European languages, biology, medicine and more, knowing Latin will give you that extra edge you might need to get in.

Oxford university under the snow Oxford is one of the most famous and ancient university of England and has been teaching Latin since it was created, nearly 1,000 years ago. ( by simononly).

What about your future career?

While learning Latin remained mandatory for doctors and lawyer up until the 20th century, you will not necessarily have to take Latin classes if you are going to medical or law school.

If you’re aiming for a Bachelor of Science it will be even better.

Carruthlatin.com is a great website, with an abundant amount of resource to learn Latin but they also summed up a few jobs where Latin will come in handy:

  • Computer Science: CS, engineering, etc., especially jobs that require programming knowledge, are excellent career paths for people who have studied Latin. Why? Because Latin gives you a great understanding of ANY language, and computer programming uses its own set of languages whose rules are a lot easier to understand with a Latin background!
  • Medicine: A background in Latin makes a lot of medical terminologies a lot easier, and tells medical schools that you are serious about academics and not afraid of memorization.
  • Law: Law schools love to get applications from classicists – success in the study of Latin proves that you have a mind capable of learning and using the kind of detail you will be required to deal with as a lawyer. It doesn’t hurt to already know all those Latin terms, either!
  • Education: Like Mr Carruth, you too could end up teaching – and not just Latin; a Classical education helps prepare you for English, history/social studies, geography, and is a great basis for starting other languages.

On top of those, you will probably have to learn Latin at some point if you’re aiming at becoming a historian, archaeologist, Ethnologue, linguist or philologue.

10. Understand Movies And Shows Featuring Antic Rome

The Roman civilisation has inspired movie directors and scriptwriters as early as the 1920’s.

We count today hundreds of movies and TV shows which take place during the Roman Empire period.

The original, silent, black and white Ben Hur film released in 1925, its more famous 1959 epic production remake starring Charlton Heston and the more recent and ultra famous Gladiator movie by Ridley Scott released in 2000 and starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, are only a few example of great movies that you will probably enjoy much more by knowing the context they’re set in.

Roman legionaries in battle. The Roman legionaries were instrumental in the extension of the Roman Empire. Not only they fought, but they also built roads, viaducs and aqueducs. (by hans s)

With so much impact on our current languages and cultures, some argue that Latin is not a dead language at all and should be appreciated to what it is really; the common factor of European civilisation.

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