Why Latin?


To the surprise of anyone who sat next to me in Latin class when we were ten years old, I am now a Latin teacher. My Latin teachers would be especially surprised. One teacher threw a piece  of chalk at me when I was paying no attention (actually, this may have been my French teacher, but my memory fails). I suppose, I couldn't see the point in it. Latin is a ‘dead’ language after all. Why study a language no one uses? 

Now I teach Latin and I realize how important it is. Here are four reasons for learning Latin:[1] 

First, Latin is a precise and highly regular language. Consequently, Latin is an ideal language from which to begin learning how to memorize words and endings, comprehend rules of grammar, and produce translations. 

Second, Latin is the language of ancient literature. Homer, Virgil, Cicero, and Augustine all wrote their great books in Latin. Latin was the language of theologians for over a millennium. Our doctrines of the Trinity, incarnation, and revelation were forged by Latin. Consequently, knowing the language in which a text is written produces better readers of English translations. This is also true of learning a biblical language as anyone who has done so will tell you. 

Third, the demise of Latin is overstated. Indeed, much of the vocabulary of an English speaker owes its existence to Latin. Knowing a Latin root aids our comprehension of English. For example, the Latin, vÄ«ta, means life. We find it in the English words, vital, vital signs, vitality, vitamin, revitalize.[2] 

Finally, learning any language helps us to read any text better. Our present culture seems to encourage reading as fast as possible while only seeking the main points and disregarding the rest. Learning Latin helps to develop attentive reading of text. An unfamiliarity with a language forces us to ask deeper questions about what the author is saying. A habit of reading slowly for good comprehension not only aids study of text books and literature but also helps us pay close attention to what God is saying in Scripture. 

Latin also sounds cool (have a listen here)

[1] For further reasons see Doug Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), Chapter 16.
[2] Frederic Wheelock, Wheelock’s Latin (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), 18.

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