LATIN IS FOR LANGUAGE LOVERS
WHY TEACH LATIN?
We all understand the importance of phonics, the systematic study of the English letters and their sounds. But phonics only covers half of our language, the English half, those good old concrete words that students learn to speak and read first. But then we stop, even though there is another half of English that has a whole new set of root words, spelling, and pronunciation patterns.
English, you see, is a hybrid language, a marriage of two languages—English and Latin. The name English comes from the Angles who, along with the Saxons and other barbarians, invaded Britain after the fall of Rome in the 5th century. English is a Germanic language and, the Germans being barbarians, had mostly concrete, common, everyday words, the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school.
But, beginning in 3rd grade, students start to encounter the Latin half of English. Latin words are bigger, harder, have more syllables, more abstract meanings, and different pronunciation and spelling patterns. How do we teach the Latin half of English in a systematic orderly way like we do phonics? We don’t. But we should. And the only truly systematic way to continue the study of the English language after phonics is to teach Latin—the foundation of the Latin half of English.
6 REASONS TO LEARN LATIN
#1 Latin helps students become better spellers.
After students learn the roots of words, they then can see the Latin influence in the English words. Likewise, once a student studies the patterns of Latin spelling, he/she gains fortitude in those 90 percent of words with more than two syllables. Two words that come to mind are separate and definite. Separate comes from the Latin word pars meaning “part.” When a student learns the word’s derivation, it is unlikely he/she will misspell the word with “per” in the middle. The same is true for definite. It comes from the root finis meaning “end.” The study of Latin helps students sort and spell words based on their roots rather than memorizing isolated words. In a study of sixth-grade students in Indianapolis, students who took Latin were four months ahead of others in spelling.
#2 Latin helps with mental acuity.
Simply put, Latin exercises a person’s brain and trains the brain to be detail-oriented. Students not only must translate a verb in the correct person, number, tense and mood, but they also must translate the word in the correct context. For example, the word peto, petere means “to seek, beg, ask, attack or aim at.” Look at the following sentence: Petimus auxilium.Petimus is in the present tense and has the ending “-mus.” From that, we know that the subject is “we.” Auxilium means “help” and is a second-declension neuter noun, which means that it could be either the nominative subject or the accusative direct-object singular. Based on this, we know that the basic sentence is going to be translated as “We ____ help.” It would not be good to attack help, so the best translation would be, “We seek help.” Not only do we need to understand the sentence syntactically, but we also need to figure out what makes the most sense in English. This is just one of the few ways that Latin gives the mind a workout.
#3 Latin provides the root words for all of the modern sciences.
#4 Latin is the language of law, government, logic, and theology
#5 Half of our English Vocabulary is made up of words with Latin words and Roots
#6 Latin helps students with their study of English literature.
Dante, Milton, Swift, Tolkien, Lewis et alii studied Latin very vigorously and their writings reflect that in word choice, sentence structure and content. Though Shakespeare and Chaucer did not study Latin very assiduously, each had studied English translations of Latin originals. Some of their tales are simply retellings of Greek and Latin myths. Not only does the knowledge of Latin help students with their reading comprehension, but it also acclimates them to vocabulary, sentence structure and content used by authors of classic works.
#8 Latin does for the language side of the curriculum what math does for science.
#9 Latin is the mother tongue of Western civilization.