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Why You Shouldn't Just Ditch Latin

This missive is inspired by things I see on the Facebook groups to which I belong. The temptation to give up on Latin seems to fester around this time of year (coincidentally at the same time I personally get tired? I think not). Homeschool mamas and papas and grandparents get tired, and we want to take something off our plates. I get that. There are many reasons, though, why you should not ditch Latin (feel free to add more in the comments):

  1. Latin is the subject most easily integrated into the other subjects. Since Latin derivatives comprise 52.6 percent of English words and 90 percent of words two syllables or more, they are seen in all subjects. Chemistry and Biology are filled with Latinate vocabulary, as are logic and philosophy. Latin is really a continuous strand in the entire Challenge program.
  2. Latin increases your child’s comprehension in reading. American and British authors use some big words. Remember how 90 percent of English words two syllables or more come from Latin?

For instance, take these lines from Billy Budd by Herman Melville (italicized words are Latin derivatives; parenthetical comments are mine):


For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy (Latin and Greek) spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in certain exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?


Every one of those “five dollar” words that your student does not know decreases his or her reading comprehension. What is Melville saying here? If you know what “antipathy” (a strong feeling of dislike, from anti, “against”; pathos, “emotion”) and the other italicized words mean, you can see that this rhetorical question is basically saying that, in some people, sometimes a feeling of dislike is brought out (evoked) by a harmless people, perhaps because of the person’s innocence itself. Billy Budd was an innocent sailor whom some people did not like simply because of his harmlessness.

  1. Latin is a constant review of Essentials’ grammar. Students have seen participles, gerunds, and infinitives in English; now it is time to use them in another language and see how the constructs are the same/different. If students do not take Latin and do not make a conscious effort to review grammar, they may lose what they have learned.
  2. Latin is the basis for the Romance languages, and the cornerstone of Western culture. If you want your child to study Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, or Portuguese, Latin will give them a strong base. Romance languages become infinitely easier with a foundation in Latin—not just Henle First Year Latin, but great Roman authors like Cicero and Virgil. As you study those authors, you will see how they relate to our culture. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams loved Virgil. In a letter to his son, Adams implored him to use the best dictionary when translating Virgil, and said, “Let no Word escape you, without being understood.” He then tells his son that John Drydens’ English translation “is good, but it is not Virgil. You will do well to Study the Difference.” Adams understood that some things are lost in translation. He also understood the importance of a strong Latin background in education.
  3. Before you ditch Latin, try scaling it. My friend Denise Jasso, a Challenge B director, says, “Scale, don’t bail!” Vocabulary and grammar memorization are the most important things. Next, do some Latin-to-English translations. (I am also writing an article on scaling, so stay tuned.) If you have time, maybe do English to Latin. One strange thing I have found is that preparing for the National Latin Exam helps even the most hesitant student. I think one reason is that it is multiple choice, so it is “easier” than Henle. Another reason is that students get to learn about Roman culture and history and see its connection to their world. People usually think the National Latin Exam is for only the best students, but it is good for everyone. There is no failing and it helps you learn things that get overlooked in Henle.

Before you just ditch Latin, please know how important it is. It is a major component in the "classical" part of Classical Conversations. It is easily integrated into other subjects and, in many cases, makes the other subjects easier.

CATEGORIES: Classical Christian Education

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