Whitefield Academy Blog

Latin: Why Teach A Dead Language?

by | Oct 25, 2017 | Classical Christian, Education, Private Schools, Reading | 0 comments

We discovered classical Christian education when our oldest was entering the third grade, and we began to incorporate Latin into our curriculum. Several friends and even some family members began to question this seemingly outdated notion. Often times people would comment that Latin is a dead language and thus might not be terribly useful. As I began to learn more about Classical education, I began to investigate a defense for learning Latin. Soon I discovered, in research and then by our own experience, that Latin is a language of depth and style, full of words rich in meaning and definitely worth learning.

Latin Builds Thinkers

The academic reasons provide many strong claims praising the value of learning Latin, but my first and favorite reason is that Latin builds thinkers. This is the main aim of classical Christian education (CCE): teaching students how to think, not what to think. When translating, the very structure of the Latin sentence trains the reader to decipher details which use his brain in a challenging and different way. Latin cultivates the mind, prompting the student to question and consider, and in doing so, develops the next generation of students as thinkers. So not only will the learning of modern “useful” languages be strengthened and enriched by having a Latin foundation, but the mind of the student will be strengthened and enriched as well.

Latin is Foundational

Latin is the “mom,” so to speak, of the Romance languages such as Italian, French, Spanish and even Romanian. Learning Latin offers students a leg up when studying these other modern languages. When our daughter studied Spanish in high school, she found her previous Latin studies provided her a sturdy foundation, helping her to understand the structure of Spanish, aiding her greatly in learning both vocabulary and Spanish grammar.

Latin Roots Strengthen English Vocabulary

Latin roots make up an estimated 60% of words in the English vocabulary. As students discover more about English words, their roots and their definitions, knowing Latin actually strengthens a student’s understanding of the word. Words like diligentvocation, earthwholebook and transportation are derived from Latin. Additionally, having a Latin base aids students in learning new English vocabulary words by providing context. A recent ACT vocabulary practice test included words such as abstainabrogate and abasement. All of these have the prefix “ab” which in Latin means “from” or “away from.” With that knowledge a student can deduce the likely meaning of the word. More than being helpful on the ACT, students can use their knowledge of Latin roots on tests, college applications or even when reading a piece of great literature.

Latin Fortifies Science Learning

A substantial number of terms related to science are taken from Latin, including the basic system of classification. In fact the word science comes form the Latin verb “scio” meaning “to know.” Might your student have an interest in pursuing a career in the medical industry? Forensic science? Pharmacology? Biology? As a base for many scientific vocab words, consider Latin a strong asset–so much so that the State College of Florida comprised a list of over 200 scientific words derived from Latin.  So whether it’s learning science, speaking other languages, or understanding English better, learning Latin provides a firm and unparallelled foundation upon which students can build.


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