As a busy homeschool parent with so much to study and so little time, learning a dead language like Latin might seem like a waste of time. Why not study something more practical like Spanish? It turns out there are many compelling reasons to prioritize Latin as part of your homeschool program.
1. The study of Latin trains the mind to think in an orderly way, which has benefits across all areas of life.
Latin study is rigorous. As with math, Latin is a cumulative subject that builds year after year, requiring ever more advanced, higher order thinking. Latin demands precision, attention to detail, and a great deal of hard work. In the same way that exercise trains the body, Latin is a subject that trains the mind in logic, discipline, and accuracy.
As Dorothy Sayers wrote, “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 percent.” We might quibble over Sayers’s percentages, but the truth remains that a mind formed by the study of Latin will excel in other areas as well.
2. Latin aids in English language mastery since a significant percentage of our English vocabulary is composed of Latin words and roots.
As Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press explains, “English is a Germanic language and had mostly concrete, common, everyday words, the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school. But beginning in 3rd grade, students start to encounter the Latin half of English. Latin words are bigger, harder, have more syllables, more abstract meanings, and different pronunciation and spelling patterns.” They also appear frequently on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT.
Skipping the study of Latin means we aren’t giving our students the fundamental tools they need to read, write, spell and comprehend the Latin-derived portion of our English language successfully. And it is not a small portion. Over half of English words are built on Latin! When you look at it this way, learning Latin is a crucial step in mastering the English language.
3. Latin gives students a leg up in learning almost any other language.
Latin is the basis for Romance languages like Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. But even if you prefer to have your child learn a non-Romance language like Russian or Chinese, Latin study offers benefits. Because Latin is learned not through conversation, but through mastering its grammatical rules and patterns, the study of Latin teaches how language works. Your student will gain an understanding of the mechanics and structures of language that they can apply to any other language. A student who has learned Latin will have no trouble with concepts like inflected nouns, conjugated verbs, and grammatical gender, regardless of the language they are studying. Once you gain a mastery of Latin, other languages come more easily.
4. The language of math and science is built on Latin.
You don’t have to look very far to see that STEM education is all the rage right now. It may seem worthwhile to divert time away from a foreign language like Latin in order to devote more time to science and math. Nothing could be more counterproductive.
Modern science arose during the Renaissance, a time when the educated people of Western Civilization knew Latin and Greek fluently. For this reason, the technical terminology used in the study of math and science (as well as theology, law and government) is based on Latin. For example, the entire classification system of plants and animals, the abbreviations in the periodic table of elements, most anatomical terms, and the names of stars and planets are all taken directly from Latin. Learning Latin gives students bound for a career in the sciences a huge advantage over their peers.
If you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that studying Latin may be a great stepping stone to reaching your educational goals for your children, academic or otherwise. Consider the words of Charlotte Higgins, author of Latin Love Lessons: “Latin helps create curious, intellectually rigorous kids with a rich interior world, people who have the tools to see our world as it really is because they have encountered and imaginatively experiences another that is so like, and so very unlike, our own.” If your goal is to raise children who are disciplined, attentive, hard-working and bright, yet curious, humble and reflective, Latin would be an excellent addition to your homeschool program.