It would be easy in today’s technological age to suggest that a language like Latin is no longer relevant. Latin has influenced many modern languages, such as Italian, Spanish, German etc., but it's no longer commonly spoken and there are no native speakers. Is it wrong to suggest that learning Latin is unnecessary? How wrong would that be? Or is learning Latin the base for understanding the most popular languages in the world today.
Most of the English lexicon comes from Latin
Students who study Latin develop an interest in words. They learn something they had never thought of before. More than half of English words are Latin and observe spelling and pronunciation rules different from the English words students learn in primary school. Words have history, and many words travel the world, from Greece to Rome, then to France and to England. This is why words are fascinating — there are many Latin words used in English with no change, and we use them every day.
Then there is phonics, and Latin is the next step after phonics, continuing the study of English throughout primary school when children are finding out new words and building up their vocabulary. Latin teaches children the history of words, which is a very good thing. But phonics only covers half of our language (the English half) — those words that we learn to speak and read first. Then we stop, even though there is another half of English that has a whole new set of root words, spelling and pronunciation patterns.
English is a hybrid language, a marriage of two languages — English and Latin. The name English comes from the Angles who, along with the Saxons and other tribes, invaded Britain after the fall of Rome in the 5th century. English is primarily a northern European, Germanic language and, the Germans being barbarians, had mostly common, everyday words — the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school.
Later, as students, we start to encounter the Latin half of English. Latin words are bigger, have more syllables, more abstract meanings, and different pronunciation and spelling patterns. The only truly systematic way to continue the study of the English language after phonics is to teach Latin.
English grammar and Latin
Why is English grammar so difficult to teach? Well, English grammar sometimes doesn’t connect with students. It's difficult for students to analyse something they use instinctively, because students don't need grammar to use their own language, so the grammar, for some students, is dull and uninspiring.
The second reason is that English grammar is abstract and invisible because of its lack of structure and inflection. Latin grammar, on the other hand, is concrete and visible because of its structure and inflection. Inflected languages have noun endings and verb endings that tell you who is doing the action of the verb and when. English grammar is abstract and hidden because it's uninflected. It's unsystematic, unstructured, unreliable and inconsistent. We break the rules, whereas the Romans were the most disciplined, structured, organised people in history. So was their language, with their conjugations and declensions marching in disciplined rows.
Learning a foreign language is the most effective way to learn grammar, since the student must break it down to learn it. Learning a foreign language makes use of techniques guaranteed to open eyes and develop a deeper understanding — contrast and comparison. We don’t really see something until we see it in comparison to something else. Contrast and comparison deepen the understanding. They make the subject come into perspective and thus come alive.
Latin is a grammar system unparalleled among all the languages — it has no equal. Latin is the most orderly, logical, disciplined, structured, systematic, consistent grammar in existence. Every lesson in Latin is a lesson in logic. For this reason, Latin is the best preparation for learning a Romance language — or any language. Once you really understand how language works, the task of learning a new language will be reduced considerably. Learn many, but learn Latin first.
Latin is used in all the modern sciences
All of the modern sciences began their development at the time of the Renaissance, when all educated people knew Latin and Greek. A new science means a whole new set of words, a whole new vocabulary. Think of all the new words that came in with computer science. Think of all of the big words in biology, chemistry, astronomy, psychology, sociology and economics. The first task in learning a new subject is to learn the vocabulary. Latin provides the root words for the specialised vocabularies of all modern sciences.
Science terms must be created, so they all came from the ancient classical languages, Latin and Greek — even the word computer comes from the Latin word computo, meaning to count, to sum up. Now, what is the difficult part of learning a new science? Probably the grammar, the vocabulary — learning the specialised vocabulary of each new science is half the challenge.
Botany is completely reliant on Latin and, while trees that keep their leaves all winter are evergreen, an easy enough English word, trees that lose their leaves are deciduous, a not-so-easy word — unless you know Latin, of course. Even mathematical terms come from Latin. Integer means fresh, uninjured, whole in Latin, and thus integers are whole numbers. Axios means worthy in Greek, and thus an axiom is a principle that all reasonable people accept, even though it can't be proven, ¬because it's worthy of belief.
Then there is law, government, logic and theology
Latin is the language of law, politics, logic and theology. While a large number of words in science come from Greek, law is the exclusive domain of the Latin language — all legal terms are in Latin, and it's invaluable for the business and law student. Although logic was first explained by Aristotle in Greek, it was really developed by the schoolmen in the Middle Ages — in Latin.
Latin develops the mind
Latin is the most effective tool we have to develop and train the minds of the young. Not only does it cut in half the task of learning another language, but it also makes learning any subject easier. The student who has learned how to learn with Latin will be a better student in all his or her other subjects. Latin is an unexcelled system — once you learn one system, you learn how to think systematically and approach any new subject with greatly enhanced learning skills.
Latin is a unit study where everything integrates naturally, where the work is done for you, and where the connections are there for you to discover. There is no subject you can study that connects with every other subject more than Latin. Just look at all of the connections with science and maths, logic, theology, law — everything from the ancient world has come down to us through Latin. For 1000 years, the only language we had was Latin so it's the foundation to most learning.
The original thinkers in the ancient world were the Greeks and the Hebrews, but it was the Romans that summarised, synthesised, codified and handed it down to us — in Latin. Latin is the mother tongue of Western civilisation — it could have been Greek or Hebrew, but it wasn’t, and now Latin has spread over the world in all of the sciences, law, five Romance languages and one hybrid: English.
Latin is the most influential language in human history, so enjoy!