Trying to decide whether or not Latin is for you? Here are 9 reasons why you should learn Latin!
My study of Latin has enriched my life in so many ways. But learning a language – any language – is a challenge, so you need to be committed.
Do I think Latin is still worth learning today? Absolutely. But what is most important is that you feel enthusiastic about it.
Don’t learn Latin because someone told you to. Learn Latin because it resonates with you.
Here are 9 reasons that Latin is worth your time and attention. Some are more important than others, but all are valid. See if one of these reasons is your reason!
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#1: Latin is everywhere.
Latin has been a critical part of European history since the rise of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. European immigrants brought the importance of Latin with them over the Atlantic to the New World. So if you live in the Americas or in Europe, then you will encounter Latin everywhere.
We don’t speak Latin anymore, but two millennia of influence don’t vanish overnight.
Latin shows up in mottos and on coins. You find Latin abbreviations in newspapers and in books. You even use Latin words when you speak English. Et cetera, vice versa, ad nauseam . . . have you ever stopped to wonder what these phrases mean?
In short, Latin pops up all over the place in everyday life. Learning the language will help you to understand all the references that have been going over your head.
(Curious? Take a look at this list of over 40 Latin phrases common in English. How many of them do you know?)
#2: Knowing Latin helps you understand English better.
Up above I mentioned Latin phrases that we use unchanged in English. But the role of Latin in English goes deeper than that. According to one study almost 30% of English words derive from Latin, with another 30% coming from Latin via French.
Of course a lot of these words aren’t used in everyday life outside of scientific, medical, and legal contexts. But on the other hand, many of them are! If you are interested in etymology, then Latin will introduce you to a treasure trove of fun word histories.
At this point I see Latin roots everywhere. When I am doing my laundry, I remember that “detergent” comes from Latin dētergeō, which means “wipe off” or “clean”. When I send a text message, I think about the fact that “text” ultimately means “a thing that is woven” (from texō, “weave”).
Besides providing amusement in your everyday life, Latin will help you remember the definitions of all that pesky fancy vocabulary. A word like “defenestration” is easier to figure out if you know that fenestra means “window” and dē means “out of”.
If you speak a modern Romance language like Spanish or French, then you will see even more Latin roots. After all, Latin literally turned into the modern Romance languages!
#3: Latin will help you to hone your analytical skills.
My mom started teaching me Latin when I was seven and to this day I am so grateful. Why? Well, here’s the thing. Latin is an inflected language, which means that the endings of Latin verbs and nouns change based on their use in a sentence.
The ancient Romans would have used the proper endings instinctively; Latin was their native language, after all. But we have to learn the rules and how to apply them to Latin texts.
We have to remember to use the nominative case for the subject of a sentence, but the accusative for the direct object. We have to remember the difference between a verb’s present stem and its perfect stem.
At first this involves conscious analysis. It is a great exercise for your mind and it teaches you to break down sentences and paragraphs into logical chunks. Eventually, you will make the connections effortlessly.
#4: Latin will make learning other languages easier.
I speak from personal experience here. When I was in my early teens, I decided I wanted to learn Polish. And my knowledge of Latin (rudimentary as it was at that young age) helped me out so much.
Polish is a Slavic language, so it doesn’t have much Latin vocabulary. Furthermore, Polish grammar is very different from Latin grammar. So why did Latin help me?
- I had learned to analyze sentences carefully (see above!).
- I was familiar with a lot of grammatical concepts and terms.
When textbooks talked about direct objects and predicate nouns, I already knew what these things were. Infinitives and participles did not faze me.
In the decades since then, I have studied languages as diverse as Mandarin Chinese and Akkadian. The basic skills that Latin taught me proved invaluable every time.
This will be even more true if you study a language that is strongly influenced by Latin. Latin has helped me so much with Spanish (and vice versa).
#5: Latin is your gateway into the fascinating Roman world.
People often learn foreign languages because they are interested in the culture associated with the language. Well, it’s true that the Roman Empire fell well over 1000 years ago, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the ancient Roman world.
The field of Classics is alive and well. There is so much information out there about the Romans and their quirky customs. For instance, did you know that the Romans celebrated New Year’s, too? They gave honey, dried figs, and dates as gifts so that the whole year would be sweet.
There are many excellent books, podcasts, blogs, and more dedicated to the Roman world. Not to mention that if you love to travel, you can go explore Roman ruins in Italy and around the whole Mediterranean.
A truly excellent textbook or teacher will try to incorporate Roman culture into your study of Latin. When I teach Latin, I love sharing tidbits about the ancient world. So you will find yourself exploring a new world that is familiar and yet strange.
(Want to read a beginner-friendly book about ancient Rome? Check out Mary Beard’s bestselling SPQR!)
#6: You can read Roman literature in the original language!
This is one of the main reasons why you should learn Latin. People tend to focus on Greek literature, but the Romans wrote literary masterpieces, too. They put their own twist on Greek myths and genres and the result is often brilliant.
And no, I’m not just talking about Vergil’s Aeneid. Whether you like epic, comedy, history, philosophy, or satire, the Romans will not disappoint. Currently I am recommending Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, a fascinating retelling of the Jason and Medea myth. (Read my review here.)
You can always read Roman literature in translation – in fact, I highly encourage it. But there is something magical about accessing works in the original language. Poetry especially changes dramatically when it is translated, and some of the charm is lost.
#7: Latin is the language of the Roman Catholic Church.
If you are Christian (especially Catholic), then you may have religious motivations for learning Latin. Latin has a special place in the hearts of Catholics who grew up singing the Agnus Dei and listening to the Ave Maria.
I can’t speak personally for the Protestant experience, since my background is Catholic. But I know of Protestant Instagrammers and I have good Protestant friends who learn Latin because of their faith.
Why the interest in Latin? To begin with, many early Christians were Romans – as becomes clear if you look at the names of a lot of the early martyrs. Plus important early Church Fathers such as Jerome and Augustine wrote in Latin.
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church continued to use Latin as her primary means of communication. To this day papal bulls are still published in Latin and you can still hear snippets of Latin at some masses.
So if Latin makes you feel closer to God, go for it!
#8: Latin will help you in many academic fields.
It’s time to be super practical. Knowledge of Latin is a bonus in certain fields of work. If you want to be (or are) a doctor, lawyer, or scientist, then you will encounter a lot of Latin-based terminology.
You don’t have to know Latin, but it certainly helps.
Latin is also useful in the humanities. If you want to study Classics, then the connection is obvious. But I personally have taught Latin to graduate students in history, comparative literature, Celtic languages, and Slavic languages (among others). All of these students needed Latin to help them with their research.
Latin was the cultured lingua franca for many centuries, so there are thousands of important documents in Latin about all kinds of topics. This is why academics and professionals from all over the world learn Latin!
#9: Learning Latin is fun and rewarding.
Last but not least, learning Latin is an awesome experience. You will feel such satisfaction when you begin to understand Latin sentences. You will be so proud of yourself whenever you master a difficult topic.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. As I said at the very beginning, learning any language is a challenge. Since Latin is an ancient language, it comes with its own set of difficulties. But I have never regretted all my time spent on Latin.
And teaching Latin is one of my favorite things to do, since I love seeing the joy and interest in my students’ eyes.
Should you learn Latin?
Only you can decide whether or not learning Latin is right for you. But hopefully these reasons to study Latin have helped you to gain some clarity.
And if you do decide to embark on a Latin adventure, be sure to come back to this site. I have so many Latin tips and tricks to share. You can start by checking out my list of awesome Latin-learning resources!
You can also follow my new Instagram account, @latinwithlivia. I post everything from Latin vocabulary to grammar help to trivia about the ancient world. It’s an easy way to learn bits of Latin in fun, bite-sized chunks!
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