Learning Latin Contents

Why Learn Latin?
How to Study Latin
Latin or Greek First?
Latin Curriculum Reviews
Latin & Greek Links

Why Learn Latin?

This is a legitimate question for someone wondering why we should take the time to learn a language that is no longer spoken. Here are the reasons that we have come up with:

1) Latin gives greater understanding of English, in two ways. First, in its grammatical structure: Latin words are inflected, that is, they have suffixes added to roots, and the suffixes (inflections) determine the function of the word in the sentence. English syntax is more complicated than that, as word function is determined by word order in an English sentence. Learning Latin grammar first helps prepare students for English syntax. Dorothy Sayers in her essay, The Lost Tools of Learning says, “the inflected languages interpret the uninflected.” Latin is one of the most regular of the inflected languages, and English is uninflected. Therefore, learning Latin grammar can help tremendously in learning English grammar. Secondly, Latin helps in the understanding of English in its vocabulary, as over 50% of English words have Latin origins.

2) Latin is a precise language, more so than English. The language follows its rules the great majority of the time. Studying its precise forms and grammar helps to develop precise thinking skills, which, once developed, are of benefit in other subjects as well.

3) Latin is the root of the Romance languages of French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. Studying Latin will benefit those students who go on to study any of these languages.

4) Latin is the language of the sciences and medicine. Someone once said, “If you know the vocabulary of a subject, then you know the subject.” Learning Latin helps win half the battle in learning the sciences, as the vocabulary of the sciences will already be familiar.

5) The literature of Western Civilization is saturated with Latin, and understanding Latin therefore leads to a greater understanding of our literature.

6) Many colleges and universities have a foreign language entrance requirement. Latin fulfills that requirement.

The following articles also address this topic:

Keys to Language & Cultural Awareness from Bolchazy-Carducci
The Latin Advantage from Bolchazy-Carducci
Other “Why Latin?” Links from Bolchazy-Carducci
Why Study Classical Languages? from Trivium Pursuit
Why Your Kids Should Learn Latin from About.com.

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How to Study Latin

Begin in the grammar stage. Do not wait until the upper grades to begin Latin study, as the minds of children are so fertile in the grammar stage for memorization of vocabulary, phrases, and paradigms. Also, as previously discussed, learning Latin grammar helps in learning English syntax, because in Latin grammar words are clearly defined as to their function in a sentence by their inflections, which is fairly easy for grammar stage children to grasp. When they begin English syntax in late elementary/early dialectic, the knowledge of Latin grammar, since it is an inflected language, will aid them in making sense of English syntax, as an uninflected language.

What if you have children older than the grammar stage, and you want them to learn Latin? Of course they are able to, they will just be memorizing the vocabulary and the paradigms along with learning the grammar and translating.

Therefore our recommendation is as follows:

Grammar Stage:
Let children learn their English phonics before starting Latin pronunciations. As the vowels in Latin are pronounced differently than they are in English, beginning Latin before English phonics are down can be confusing. We think that after a child can read fairly fluently in English - not struggling unduly over decoding - he is able to begin Latin. Each child is different, but around third grade as a general rule.

The appropriate material to cover in the grammar stage would be (more or less in order of difficulty):

Learn Latin pronunciations, whether classical or ecclesiastical. Classical pronunciation is, according to the scholars who study these things, the supposed pronunciation of the Latin of the Roman Empire, the pronunciation that those who wrote the Roman Classical works used. Therefore it is considered the more “correct” form of the two. Ecclesiastical pronunciation is easier to chant, and the rich heritage of church music that we have in Western Civilization is in the ecclesiastical pronunciation. Some curriculums use classical, some ecclesiastical. Whichever you decide, stick with it.

Memorize Latin vocabulary, paradigms (or patterns of inflections), and phrases.

It is also helpful to learn the common English words that have been derived from the Latin vocabulary being learned.

Learn to conjugate the 1st and 2nd conjugation verbs.

Learn the meanings of the inflections of verb conjugations.

Learn to decline the 1st and 2nd declension nouns.

Learn to conjugate the 3rd and 4th conjugation verbs.

Learn to decline the 3rd, 4th, and 5th declension nouns.

Learn the meanings of the inflections of noun declensions, and the functions those inflections impose on Latin nouns.

Dialectic and Rhetoric Stage:
Continue learning Latin grammar and practice that grammar by translating Latin to English, and English to Latin. As new vocabulary is encountered, continue learning the more advanced English words that are derived from that vocabulary. Begin reading the Latin classics in Latin.

At anytime when the child has successfully completed his study of Latin grammar, he then is free to go on to a study of Greek or other modern languages. These are our recommendations, and are not meant to be considered as the rule for every classical educator. We pray that our experiences in teaching Latin to our children will be of benefit to you.

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Latin or Greek First

There are several different advantages to beginning with either Latin or Greek first. The advantages for beginning with Latin first are:

Latin is a bit easier to learn, as a new alphabet does not have to be learned along with a new language, as would be the case in learning Greek. Also the Latin inflections are simpler for the most part than the Greek ones. Once familiar with the concepts of inflections and grammar learned in Latin, those concepts can be applied more easily to Greek.

The advantages for beginning with Greek first include:

It is difficult for a child to confuse his English phonics with Greek phonics, as their alphabets are completely different. Greek is the language of the New Testament, and those that learn Greek can then read the New Testament, including all of its shades and nuances of meaning, with accuracy. Reading the New Testament in the original language is a very important criteria for some.

Others feel that the abundance of reference materials available to us, such as Greek Bible dictionaries, Greek word commentaries, and interlinear Greek New Testaments, makes it feasible to put off a study of Greek until Latin has been learned. We feel it is up to the individual parent to weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves what is most important for their children.

Then there is always the third option: learn Latin and Greek concurrently! Children have a great affinity for languages, and the time before puberty is the easiest time to acquire new languages. What a gift we can give our children--the languages that are found at the foundation of English, and at the foundation of Western Civilization and therefore our way of life and our worldview.

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