I have often talked to students about which language they should take for their foreign language elective. Statistics show that about 70% of high school students decide to take either French or Spanish. These are some great languages with very developed curricula, and their real life practicality is obvious. But today, I would like to discuss what I consider to be a very underrated choice. The language that started it all; the origin of French and Spanish (and many other Romance languages). The primary language of western civilization―Latin!
When students are prompted to consider Latin, here are some of the most common responses:
“No one speaks Latin”
“My parents are forcing me to take [X] instead ”
“Latin is a dead language”
These are definitely some legitimate concerns. But the truth is that Latin may not be as dead as you think.
At the end of the day, studies have shown that studying Latin has many spillover benefits to one’s educational career. Latin is a very organized and logical language. Words and grammar constructions have a lot of pattern, sequence, and logic behind them. Here are just a few of the benefits of studying Latin that go beyond a simple foreign language credit.
Latin is Ubiquitous
From the origins of the Constitution and the nation’s founding fathers, Latin used to be the second language of America. Many legal terms still used today are Latin phrases. Habeus corpus (a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge). Ex post facto (a law that has retroactive effect―after the fact). E pluribus unum (the motto of the United States―one out of many). There are three Latin phrases on the dollar bill. We frequently hear about the president’s veto (the right to reject a decision). The truth is that Latin lives on in many facets of modern society.
Students studying Latin have an increased English vocabulary. About 80 percent of English words have Latin roots. In STEM fields, this is closer to 90 percent.
Latin Unlocks Other Languages
Latin is the language of the ancient Romans, who once conquered nearly all of Europe. This is why languages like French and Spanish which developed from Latin are called Romance languages! In fact, there are so many similarities that studying Latin first makes it much easier and more intuitive to learn other Romance languages.
Higher SAT/ACT Scores
Students studying Latin have statistically higher scores on SAT/ACT and other higher-education entrance exams (LSAT, MCAT) and higher GPA in college.
Medicine and Law
Students studying Latin are more likely to succeed in medicine and law. As mentioned previously, there are so many legal terms and medical terminology that are derived from Latin and still used today, from bona fides to Caesarian section. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “students who major or double-major in Classics (Greek/Latin) have a better success rate getting into medical school than students who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of science.”
Students studying Latin will better understand the U.S. Government and the Constitution. Did you know that even modern historians frequently misinterpret parts of important historical documents such as the Constitution? One example is the word “perfect,” which in modern dictionaries is synonymous to “flawless.” During the founding era however, “perfect” is typically closer in meaning to “complete,” and the background for this difference in interpretation is rooted in Latin. The Preamble of our Constitution makes a reference to “a more perfect union.” A few other commonly misinterpreted words of founding era historical documents include “agent,” “necessary,” and “application.”
Ultimately, studying Latin helps one better understand the frameworks of American society and has correlated with success in many common career paths. But most importantly to me, it’s a fun language to learn. Latin took me back to ancient Roman society and gave a glimpse of one of the most successful early civilizations. Latin gave me more context to understand famous quotes such as “Veni vidi vici” and “Et tu, Brute?”
So will you reach for adversity through the stars (per aspera ad astra) and seize the day? Carpe diem!