Make Latin Part of Home Education
As the old saying goes, “Latin is dead, as dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me!” Most students sound almost ridiculous when they tell you they’re learning Latin as part of their home education curriculum. Latin is out of usage, goes the argument of the opposition, nobody speaks it, it’s of no use in what they say is the real world. Further, all the important classical works by authors like Virgil, Cicero, or Seneca, are available in pretty good English translations. Why do we at JHI defend the study of Latin in home education?
Latin Teaches Grammar
As a German native speaker who later on studied Latin, English, Italian, and French, I know from personal experience that it is easier to study foreign languages after you have a solid grammatical foundation. English is so simple that complex grammar, as you’ll find it in German, Italian, and French, to name only the ones I’m really familiar with, is often rather difficult to understand for native speakers of English. Latin, on the other hand, has a complex grammar, which, at the same time, is still very clear, structured, and logical.
Here’s just one example that shows how English simplifies things. Yes, you have to conjugate verbs in English. The only problem (or benefit, depending on your perspective) is that the verbs all look and sound the same: I love, you love, he loves (here is a slight change), we love, you love, they love. The verb doesn’t change. In Latin, this is different: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant. Only the stem is the same, but the endings change significantly. If you understand how Latin works, it’ll be much easier to learn a modern language like German, where the conjugation goes as follows: ich liebe, du liebst, er liebt, wir lieben, ihr liebt, sie lieben. Just like with Latin, the stem stays, while the endings change depending on the grammatical person as well as the grammatical number.
Latin Is the Foundation of Many Modern Languages
Latin also helps with modern languages in other ways as well. All Romance languages are more or less similar to Latin not only in grammar, but also in their vocabulary. Here’s an example: The Latin word that means “to sing” is canere. The Italians say cantare, the French say chanter, and the Spanish say cantar. Numerous other words could be listed here. Once you know Latin, you’re set for picking up Romance languages more easily.
English is not a Romance language, by the way, but many words can be traced back to Latin. This derivation is generally not as obvious as in the Romance languages, but still visible. The English word “to embrace,” for instance, comes from the Latin word bracchium, which means “arm.” Another example is the English word “crime,” which goes back to the word crimen in Latin. Knowing Latin will even help you identify the meaning of English words that sound a little strange, like “ancillary,” “culinary,” or “secession.”
Latin Is Important for History and the Church
If you study history, you need to know some Latin. It’s inappropriate to study Roman and medieval European history without knowing at least some words in Latin, preferably whole phrases. You might ask why you need to study history, given that, like Latin, it’s the past, and we live in the present, but that’s the subject for another article.
Finally, the language of the Church is Latin. If you study theology, which JHI encourages strongly, you are immediately confronted with Latin. Many technical terms are simply anglicized Latin words. The important reality of “transubstantiation” is, in Latin, almost the same: “transsubstantiatio.” While a lot of texts by the Church fathers, as well as the doctors of the Church, are readily available in English (albeit sometimes a little antiquated), some important documents are still only available in Latin. Also, looking at the Latin original of certain texts can clear up at least some confusion caused by translations. The documents of the Second Vatican Council come to mind, where in many cases translations into modern languages are somewhat tendentious.
While Latin may be of less immediate use than subjects like physics, chemistry, or biology, it’s still relevant, at least indirectly, and as a secondary skill that helps you in doing other things. You could call out any opponent who advocates for an increased study of subjects like chemistry that this is irrelevant for most people, too — unless you become a chemist, or work in a related field.
All that said, Latin can be tough, annoying, and a little painful, but it’s worth the struggle in the end.