What do Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill all have in common? They were all proficient in Latin.
Yet, in an age of modern technology, is the study of Latin still relevant? Mark Zuckerberg, the 33-year-old founder of Facebook (worth $72.3 million dollars), says it is. In interviews, he has said his study of Latin was one of the keys to his success.
Headmaster Father Benedict Armitage of Christ the Savior Academy, a classical Christian school in East Wichita, believes the study of Latin is so critical to a student’s educational foundation, that his students begin studying Latin in second grade. What starts with fun Latin games and songs to learn the vocabulary, ends with a goal of being able to read classical texts in the original Latin language by high school.
Why? Headmaster Armitage and CSA Latin teacher Katherine Earles make a strong case with six reasons your child should learn Latin:
#1. The study of Latin builds a strong understanding of English words and meanings.
More than 50 percent of the English language is taken from Latin. Latin words are often bigger, harder, more abstract and have unusual pronunciations or spellings. Studying Latin makes it easier for students to grasp English.
“I love it when a light bulb goes off in my students’ heads as they start to see the connection between Latin and English,” Mrs. Earles says. “A third grader may read the word ‘constellation’ and say that she recognizes the root word from the Latin ‘stella,’ which means ‘star.’ Suddenly, they have a shelf in their mind to put that word on.”
#2. Latin is the most efficient way to learn English grammar.
The Latin language was organized much the way Romans organized their roads – logical, structured, and efficient. It is consistent and inflected.
“It is much simpler to learn grammar through a language not your own,” Father Benedict Armitage said. “And even better to use a so-called dead language that is fixed and unchanging. That makes it much easier to learn and master.”
#3. Latin builds critical thinking skills.
Acquiring competency with grammar stretches and strengthens the mind, much like physical education builds the body.
“So much of critical thinking comes down to seeing and understanding fine shades of distinction in meaning,” Headmaster Armitage said. “Understanding the structure of a language allows one to understand the structure of thought. That, after all, is really what Grammar is – the structure of thought. If one wants to think well, one must understand Grammar.”
No wonder students who have studied Latin for two or more years score 140-160 points higher on the SAT than students who have never studied Latin.
#4. Latin is a springboard to learning other Romantic languages.
Once students master how a language works, the task of learning another Romance language is much easier. Spanish, French and Italian are all Latin-based languages.
“Knowing Latin unlocks the doors to these languages free of charge,” Mrs. Earles said.
#5. Latin helps students learn the grammar of science.
There’s a reason why universities that offer degrees in science and medicine also offer courses in Latin. Modern sciences began their development 500 years ago, when all educated people knew Latin and Greek.
“Knowing Latin vocabulary means knowing likewise the roots of a vast portion of our collective vocabulary, especially the technical and scientific vocabulary,” Benedict said. “It gives us a key to easily deciphering much of the treasury of English words.”
#6. Latin unlocks the treasury of Western Civilization.
This is the reason why Latin teacher Katherine Earles loves the subject she teaches so much. She wants to pass on the treasure of Western Civilization by teaching her students its native language: Latin. Through the study of Latin, students gain insights into the Roman world – including sculpture, architecture, sport, religious and political life.
She recalls how in South America, for example, the local languages are called “treasure languages.” Stories and oral histories are never transcribed in Spanish or Portuguese; they are kept in the original languages and passed down through generations in their native tongues.
“In Western Civilization, our treasure language is Latin,” Mrs. Earles said. “Recently, I smiled when I heard a graduate of Christ the Savior Academy sing along to one of our Latin Christmas songs during a concert. That song is now part of his treasury.”
While Latin stretches the minds of students and challenges them in ways other subjects cannot, Earles said students think it is fun to learn – especially when she pulls out her guitar and the students get to sing or play games.
“It’s like a secret code,” She said. “I guess I am a code-breaker at heart. It’s my calorie-free chocolate.”