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Why Should You Learn Latin?

By Yann, published on 22/06/2018 We Love Prof > Academia > Latin > What Are The Benefits Of Learning Latin?

That is a very legitimate question. Why would anyone want to learn a language that has not had any native speakers for more than 1000 years?

In the U.K. the schools that offer Latin classes are fewer every year. Budget cuts, lack of interest from the students or even the lack of properly trained teacher is slowly taking away the remnant of the Latin education.

But still some schools and students resits. About 10,000 pupils take Latin as one of their GCSE’s every year and roughly 1,500 students take it for their A-levels.

It might not be a lot if you know that there are about 1.3 million pupils and 250,000 students in the UK but still, some people are carrying a tradition of Latin study that has been going on for more than 2000 years.

The very prestigious University of Oxford, founded in the 1000’s, has been teaching the lingua latina since it was created. To ensure that Latin continues to be studied, the university has been running a program to give state schools pupils access to Latin classes.

Tilly, 14 years old, from Marlow, has been Learning Latin and it has had an impact on her broader school performance.

‘It’s a long way to come, but it’s really fun to learn the language, I can relate what we learn in Latin to French and Spanish,’ says Tilly. ‘Without this scheme, I might have struggled more with those languages – and I would’ve had a very boring Saturday!’

So why not do like Tilly and start learning Latin!

The library of Oxford. Most of the books that were found in Oxford library were in Latin or Greek until the 16th century, 500 years after the university was founded.

Learn Latin for your GCSEs

If you choose to study Latin for your GCSEs, you will certainly learn more than just how to read, speak and write in Latin.

The classes usually have a broader approach to the discipline:

  • Reading classical Latin texts and learning about the Roman civilisation and history through authors such as Titus Livius, Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Seneca or Phaedrus.
  • Learning about grammatical rules and syntaxis (Latin verbs, noun declensions, conjugation, etc).
  • Learning about the Greco-Roman mythology and about the everyday life of the citizen of the Roman Empire.

If you push your study up until your A-levels you will most likely also study Roman philosopher and start reading more complicated and interesting ancient texts.

Learn Latin To Be The Best In Class

There is a reason you might think that learning Latin is reserved for the elite and the “posh” students.

Sociologues have shown that from the Renaissance period that started in Italy at the end of the 14th century and reached England 150 years later, the use of the Latin language was often reserved to the most lettered people.

The family from the upper classes, bourgeoisie and nobility, used the apprenticeship of ancient languages such as Greek and Latin, as a tool to assert their prestige or rise above the rest of the society.

Learning Latin was a way to reach the top of the social ladder, a fact that was reinforced by the use of Latin as the official language of the Catholic Church.

Around the middle of the 20th century, science and mathematics became the most prestigious field of study even though Latin stayed among the options that pupils and students could choose for their exams.

As Latin remain the languages used by scientist, clerics and philosopher for several hundred years, it is not a surprise that it has been taken on more by wealthier families having access to a better education.

But thanks to the Internet, learning Latin has never been as equalitarian as it is today.

Many websites host forums and offer learning material for free.

Learn Latin To Master English

Latin no longer has any native speaker. It has been so for hundreds of years now.

However, it was taught and learn since the Roman Empire and still continues to be today.

English is not a Romance language as it takes its grammar and syntaxis from the Germanic language that was spoken by the Anglo-Saxon invaders that came to be the main population of the British Isles.

However Latin left a huge mark on the English language and at least 29% of all English noun, verb and adjective come from Latin. Linguists also estimate that another 29% of all English words come from French (so indirectly from Latin).

What are the benefits of learning latin? Learning Latin won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

Consequently learning Latin is like studying English.

We use the same alphabet as the Romans did too. Even though we prefer the Arabic numeration system, we still use Roman numbers when writing about kings and queens.

Many Latin words gave more than one English word:

  • nova: new (novice, novel)
  • longa: long (longitude, longevity)
  • habere: have (habit, habitual)
  • lingua: language (lingual, linguistics)
  • mea: me or my
  • pictura: picture (picturesque, pictorial)

Because Old English was influenced by both Latin and the Proto-Germanic languages brought by the successive Saxon, Angle, Norse and Dane invaders, a lot of the Latin words that were later included in Great Britain’s lingua franca (common language) remained close to their original version.

Learn Latin to Master A Foreign Language

Today, the Romance languages (originating from Latin) are spoken by more than a billion people through the world. A BILLION!

Rank as the most spoken language LanguageNative Speaker (2007)Fraction of world population (2007)
2Spanish390,000,0005.85%
3English365,000,0005.52%
6Portugese205,000,0003.08%
18French75,000,0001.12%
23Italian59,000,0000.90%

Even though English is the most common international language thanks to the influence of the British Empire and the rise of the United States of America as the first global power, it remains that many European countries are really bad at it.

No wonder since English is not a Romance language.

That is why learning Latin will unlock many other languages. But learning Spanish will be useful outside of Europe since it is the first language of most South American countries.

Start by becoming bilingual in Latin and you will most easily become multilingual.

During the Middle Ages, the sheer number of local dialects, idioms and languages, sometimes changing from a village to the next, made it impossible to learn them all. That is why Latin was still widely used by government officials and civil servants to convey messages, orders and to negotiate.

That influence explains why Romance languages are still so close to each other when it comes to the translation of the same word.

EnglishFrenchItalianSpanishPortuguese
Good morning / dayBonjourBuongiorno / BuondìBuenos días / Buen díaBom dia
GoodbyeAu revoir Arrivederci / ArrivederLa (for)Adiós Adeus
How are you? (inf)Ça va?Come stai?¿Cómo estás?Como vai?
BadMalMaleMalMal
I understand Je comprends Capisco Comprendo / Entiendo Compreendo / Entendo
Good luck Bonne chance Buona fortuna Buena suerte Boa sorte
Enjoy your mealBon appétitBuon appetito Que aproveche Bom apetite

Even though Italian is the closest living language there is to Latin, Tuscan, which is the official language of the Republic of Italy, is not entirely the same.

It is probably because, at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, many different dialects were still spoken in the Italic peninsula. Umbrian, ancient Greek, Etruscan, are only a few of them. But with time they mixed with Latin to give the modern language, we know today.

The same process happened in France, Spain and Portugal.

But learning Latin is the key to unlock all those languages.

Many European languages were influenced by Latin Many countries belonging to the European Union speak a language inherited from Latin.

Discover the Roman Civilisation

Teachers and academics quickly realised that studying Latin just for the sake of it was boring.

That explains why today Latin classes also include more about the civilisation that ruled most of Europe 2000 years ago and which left many marks on the island of Britania.

The Roman History is 13 centuries long, from the foundation of Rome on the banks of the Tiber River in the central region of Italy called the Latium, to the fall of the Empire in 476AD. Through the course of these 1,300 years, Rome only knew three different political system:

  • The Roman Monarchy, from 753BC to 509BC
  • The Roman Republic, from 509BC to 27BC
  • The Roman Empire, from 27BC to 476AD

Historians consider that Archaic Latin was born somewhere during the Roman Monarchy through the lack of written documents only lead us to know that the last Roman kings borrowed the Etruscan alphabet while Archaic Latin was still used by the commoner people.

The history of Rome is filled with what would be considered today as terrible leaders and greedy politicians. Murders, plots, treasons, lootings, war and rebellion was common in the days of Rome, capital of the Roman Republic.

Nonetheless, Rome is still renowned for its technical prowess and capability. Some of the building they built more than 2000 years ago still stand today!

Romans were formidable civil engineers and invented modern plumbing and sanitation, heating systems, aqueducts, concrete and urban design.

Roman ruins in Rome. Many Romans ruins are still all around Europe, a lot of them can be found in Rome. ( by Rickydavid)

They also invented postal service, social welfare, the newspaper, surgery and created some of the laws we still use today.

Romans also developed the arts of painting and sculpting and many philosophers and writers of the time are still studied in schools and universities across the planet.  De Bello Gallico, written by Julius Caesar is probably one of the best-known examples of Latin literature.

One achievement that probably sums up the genius and power of the Roman Empire citizen is the Coliseum of Rome. Built between 70 and 80AD, it only took 10 years to finish this massive building, 48 meters high and 189 meters long, was able to hold up to 80,000 spectators.

Top 10 Reason To Learn Latin

If you are still not convinced you should take Latin classes, here is just a little list of the best reasons you should learn Latin:

  1. To improve your general trivia
  2. To learn about the Roman civilisation, the cornerstone of Europe’s culture
  3. To improve your English
  4. To improve your grades
  5. To make it easier to learn other European languages
  6. To sharpen your mind
  7. To access your dream university. Why not Oxford or Cambridge?
  8. To learn European languages
  9. To understand some of the hundreds of movies about the Roman Empire
  10. To show off!
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