12 May 2005

Learning Latin

I've mentioned before that I studied Latin for two years in public school. I knew there were a few people out there still learning Latin, but I've never met anyone my age who had (besides the 7 other students in my Latin class, one of whom died a few years later). So when I read The Well-Trained Mind for the first time and saw that they recommended studying Latin starting in third grade, I knew I had found the homeschooling book for me. (The chronological study of history also was a big selling point- I have never understood why this idea is not more widely implemented, but I'll save that for another post.)

I firmly believe that foreign language study is vital for students who do not live in a multi-language home or society. Latin is an excellent choice for that study, at least as a starting point. There are two reasons: Latin gives you a good grammatical overview and it is not a spoken language so you don't have to worry about pronunciation and its practical use. You can focus on grammar and the basic structure of language in a way that you can't when you're trying to figure out how to ask someone how much that banana costs. (Grocery shopping is what concerns me most right now about living in Bishkek. I could handle it in Cairo, but I'm not ready to do it in Bishkek.)

Since taking Latin, I've also studied French, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Uzbek, and now back to Russian again. Latin has been invaluable for all of these languages even though French is the only one that is really related to Latin (Russian is, but it's a stretch). When I hear people sing the praises of learning Latin vocabulary to help with learning other Romance languages, I feel like they are missing something. The grammatical background is invaluable.

I don't think I'll require my children to continue with Latin studies for more than three years. If they're interested, it would be great, but I will encourage them to move on to a spoken language of their choice. Because, to me, the real point of learning a language is to be able to converse- to talk about new ideas and new perspectives. And there's simply no one to talk to if you only learn Latin.


  1. I admit as a person who can experience social unease, the fact there was no Latin Study Abroad program was a huge draw. That, and the classicism snobbery factor. When I got in, it was the small vocabulary and artificially consistent grammar that won my heart.

    And no one can beat Latin for pithy phrases. The language is coiled like a snake that strikes with sharp insight.

    "Amor tussisque non celantur."

  2. Thank you for the link Amira. My daughter has been looking for something to study at home. Her husband is currently pre-law and this just might help the both of them!

  3. Hey Amira,

    Your kids can speak to my kids in Latin, as well as all of the other classically-educated geeks that will be around in a generation.

    No joke, we get together with another family (with *triplets* my son's age) and sing songs, play games, and act weird in Latin. It's fun.

  4. Maybe someday we'll live in a town with other classically-educated kids. It'll work as long as they use classical pronunciation. I have to admit to being a snob because I can't stand ecclesiastical pronunciation