“Latin? Really? Does anybody teach Latin any more?”
That may be the most common response I have received over the thirty years I have studied and taught Latin and Greek. Almost everyone thinks the language is dead, and few understand the benefits of studying an ancient language. Generally I begin by responding that Latin is not really dead. Yes, Latin is not the official language of any country except Vatican City, and few people who are not Classicists ever speak it to one another. However, Latin is very much alive in the world. I continue to explain the many practical aspects of studying Latin – “bigger” English vocabulary, since approximately 60% of English words (90% of words over two syllables) are derived from Latin; students who study Latin typically score higher on SAT and ACT exams; colleges often prefer students who have studied Latin over equally qualified students who studied other languages; students who learn Latin have better understanding and usage of English grammar; studying Latin makes learning Spanish, French, or Italian much easier since these languages came directly from Latin. The list goes on an on.
While there certainly are numerous measureable benefits to studying Latin (and Greek) and I share those with parents and students all the time, Latin is not beneficial solely for improving test scores or preparing for a career in law or medicine. There are intrinsic benefits. Studying the classical languages exposes students to the culture, history, art, mythology, and literature of the ancient Romans and Greeks and of the early writers and thinkers of the Catholic Church. Students make connections to other subjects they study and can feed their natural curiosity to explore other subjects. There is also the feeling of success when one has wrestled with a challenging passage and finally translated it well or the benefit of learning to think in ways which are different than the first glance.
In a world in which we seem to value only “practical” or “useful” things, we need more than ever to develop a student’s understanding of that which is true, good, and beautiful. We need to help them appreciate ars gratia artis – Art for the sake of art. We need to help children to understand that a well-trained mind which is able to explore, memorize, analyze, and synthesize information may be the most important tool for success. One does not have to be headed off to law school, medical school, or plan to teach Classical languages to benefit from the study of Latin. Every child, no matter the intended career path, can benefit from the study of Latin
Pax et bonum,
Middle School Latin and religion teacher
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