Monday, March 03, 2008

Why Study Latin...?

Besides being a teacher of English literature and Classical Civilization, I teach Latin to a small---yet keen---group of students. I recently came across a great little article about why we should teach/study Latin. The article is posted on the webpage for the Bradford Academy, a Classical Christian school my brother is starting in North Carolina. Here is the article:

Richard A. LaFleur, in the essay, "The Practical Benefits of Studying Latin" writes: One of the most PRACTICAL benefits of studying Latin for high-schoolers is boosting verbal skills and scores on tests like the SAT; students with two or more years of Latin typically score 140-160 points higher on the SAT than their Latin-less peers. Numerous studies have demonstrated a significant positive correlation between studying Latin and improved scores on a variety of tests and even with college GPA and performance in college English classes.

On purely utilitarian motives we ought to be inclined to study Latin. The following is a table (from illustrating the advantage Latin students have over their peers on the SAT:

1998-2005 Taken from Table 6 in College-Bound Seniors. A Profile of SAT Program Test Takers.

Our goal is to teach students how to learn and to think. Historically, what one subject characterized elementary education prior to the last century? If you read any educational history you’ll recognize the term “Latin Grammar School.” Before we ask why we should teach Latin, perhaps we should ask why was LATIN part of the education of every literate English speaking person up until the 20th century. Why were elementary schools called Latin Schools? Did they know something we don’t?

Listen to Dorothy Sayers: I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50%. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Romance languages and to the structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.

Here are the benefits of LATIN in general:

  • Latin opens up new worlds of literature. Latin was the lingua franca of literature in the western world for over 1600 years. Many great scholars, such as Augustine of Hippo and John Calvin, wrote in Latin, not to mention the great body of Enlightenment scientific works. Learning to read Latin opens up the original works to understanding and enjoyment.

  • Learning Latin teaches language learning. Language acquisition is an art and skill that can be acquired. By teaching and learning Latin as a language, children learn the discipline and techniques necessary to acquire other languages in the future.

Here are the benefits of LATIN as we learn how to LEARN

  • Latin builds vocabulary. Over 50 percent of English words (and 90% of words of multiple syllables) are derived from Latin and therefore knowing a few Latin word cuts down on the effort required to learn new vocabulary. For example, the word for SUN is SOL. Knowing that fact children can quickly see the connection in the words solar, solarium, and solstice. In addition, knowing Latin helps understand different shades of meaning and synonyms.

  • Knowledge of Latin improves spelling. Because many English words still carry remnants of their Latin roots in their spelling, it helps that we know DOUBT came from DUBITO, or that DISCIPLINE came from DISCIPULA (student). In each case the silent letter that students may tend to drop in the English is pronounced in the Latin.

  • Familiarity with Latin assists in the appreciation of good literature: Students will appreciate classic books in English because so many of the books of enduring value include Latin quotes, phrases, and classical allusions.

  • Latin aids in cultural awareness. American ideas were not dreamed up out of nowhere in 1776. They have their roots in the medieval and classical world. Students that know the language of that world better appreciate our own heritage. Latin helps students appreciate and connect to our own history (and frankly, it ought to humble the American student as he sees the smallness of our own society compared to the grand scope of Western history). In addition, it helps students appreciate all those Latin mottos and slogans.

  • Latin promotes the discipline of the mind: Learning Latin grammar takes a great deal of careful study and precision. This mental practice is profitable in every field.

So LATIN is one of the best ways to teach students how to think and learn. A classical education teaches Latin as the foundation for language learning itself, for development of thinking skills, and for connecting modern children to the scholars of the past. Latin is for all children and shows significant advantages to those that grapple with the subject.


Barbara said...

So does Laur use that Christiana latin program (just showing my ignorance that I don't even know what it is really called)? I'd often thought I'd love to do a "Latin Roots" program. There are several that don't teach Latin per se, but rather English from the Roots Up (I believe that is actually one of the programs I had considered). Just wondering if you'd started yet with your boys or not....seems like something I'd like to incorporate, but also seems like just one more thing.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Hey Barb,

I started the Latina Christiana program with Joseph, but it has trailed off. He really enjoyed it but I just felt bad devoting so much time (what little I have) with only one son. Now that Nate is older, I may start over teaching them both.

Ah, good intentions.

We started the boys on French this year with a French teacher; it is actually going better because it is regularly scheduled meetings.

Latina Christiana includes etymology along with Latin grammar and Latin prayers to memorize. We have friends that picked up the Latin & Greek Roots booklet. It looks pretty good too.

These things are not essential, but every little bit can be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Why not encourage your pupils to use the Latinum podcast during the summer holidays - that way, they will come back for a new year of Latin without an unwelcome hiatus.