Why Do We Study Latin Again, Mom?

Surprisingly, I didn’t encounter this question with my first three children.  Two of them are now self-studying Wheelock’s Latin while the 5th grader is on his second year learning with Latin for Children B.

When my now 3rd grader brought up this issue the second time, it sounded more like she was genuinely curious and innocently forgot my initial response (or so I’d like to think!) rather than frustrated.  Of course, it was in the midst of our lessons (now the 11th lesson of Latin for Children A) that she made this comment.

The “classical” nature of our studies obviously introduced Latin to us. Since the benefits presented to me then seemed to make sense, we had no qualms about embracing the idea. Described as a very systematic language, the study of Latin vocabulary, endings, and grammar patterns would contribute to the language-focused education we aimed to undertake. Because of our Canadian connection, Latin would provide an excellent background to gaining competency in French which is Latin-based (along with several other Romance languages). Lastly, learning a language is known to enlarge one’s world.

Though these advantages were mere ideas to me back then, they are becoming reality at present. I am seeing the usefulness of our Latin studies.

Improved vocabulary.  It is always fun when the children come across English derivatives of the Latin that they know.  Since at least 50% of English originate from Latin, this happens quite often. From fabula, fabulae (story) comes fable or fabulous.  From regina, reginae (queen) comes reign.  From patria, patriae (father, fatherland) comes patriarch, patriot, paternity.  From laboro, laborare, laboravi, laboratum (I work, to work, I worked, worked) comes labor, laborer, laborious. Or from specto, spectare, spectavi, spectatum (I look at, to look at, I looked at, looked at) comes spectacles, spectator, or spectacular.

Provides mental exercise. Like our textbook says, “Latin is a language of few words but many endings.”  Unlike English, instead of using a different word for each form (person, gender, number, case, or tense), Latin uses different endings while retaining the stem word.  For example, “amo, amas, amat” translates to “I love, you love, he/she/it loves” (all singular and present tense, but differing in “person” – 1st, 2nd, 3rd). The adjectives “magnus, magna, magnum” are used to describe a masculine noun, a feminine noun, and a neuter noun, respectively. Figuring all this out requires skills in memorization, observation, and logical analysis.

Grammar (and diagramming on above photo) is a breeze.  In our house, 3rd grader, 5th grader, and two high schoolers can talk about “the nominative case” and “prepositional phrases” like they talk about the latest movies (sorry, we don’t have cable TV).  Latin lessons make one very familiar with noun cases or verb conjugation that grammar lessons will simply serve to cement these concepts. Diagramming (or possessing the skill to readily see the bare bones of a sentence) combined with Latin to English translation work allow the student mastery of the English language.

Together with Grammar, Latin studies help produce better writers. “Parsing” which we practice both in Latin and in our writing program (see sample lesson above) is an excellent pre-writing exercise.  The ability to analyze parts of speech in detail gives the writer the skill of working with words. My eldest who is on the second half of Wheelock’s tells me that even as she translates original Latin paragraphs, the style of the ancient writers tend to rub off her own writing.

Preparation for acquiring other foreign languages. The children’s study of Latin has made learning another language natural to them.  French is an easy transition (although their desire to return to Canada gives extra motivation) especially since it is derived from Latin as well.  From femina, faminae (woman) comes the English word feminine or female and the French word femme (woman). If she had time, one of my older girls would have wanted to learn Greek so she could read the New Testament in the original. I only wish there was a homeschool-friendly Tagalog (Filipino) curricula aside from Rosetta Stone.  With a good program, my proficiency in speaking the language, and our immersion for the past 3 years, learning the Filipino language would have undoubtedly been easy (but that is a topic for another post).

So, if for some reason, you are looking to enrich your homeschool and you are able to get your children interested (it’s easy enough for them to get hooked to the language of video games), consider adding foreign language lessons (Latin?) to your schedule. As further encouragement, here’s a quote from 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 mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labour and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty per cent.  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 and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilisation, together with all its historical documents.

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5 comments

  1. I never did get formal education on the fundamentals of the English language… perhaps I should ask Bea to teach me! And Latin sounds like fun! I wish they had that as an elective when I was in school.

    • Winnie

      Acquainted with how meticulous you are, you probably would do well learning Latin..ha, ha! Yes, Bea is now the expert around here. I think she has a gift with languages. She’s doing very well with her French 1 online classes and sings Les Mis songs in French!

  2. Winnie, your post is making me rethink my decision not to continue Visual Latin! My youngest son begged for Latin for two years but when we tried the free first lessons at VL, he had difficulty so I thought that maybe after another year ….

    • Winnie

      Yes, reconsider. My second child stopped Latin on her sixth and seventh grades after 3 years at it (she couldn’t keep up with her older sister and she also began it younger) but she decided on her own to take it up again (and is on her second year at it again). It’s hard work.

      I think for children in the early grammar stage (gr 3-4 or younger), it should be fun and more of memorizing words and chants along with studying grammar (parallel to English grammar lessons). And for us, Latin for Children AS IS does exactly that. After that, it can become more rigorous. By high school, it would be easy to self study a real course having been made familiar with it in the younger years. 15 minutes a day is all it takes in the beginning.

  3. Pingback: Latin Update | living and learning

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