“Why study Latin? It’s not spoken anymore.”

The educator who asked and then answered his own question should have known better. Granted, one studies French to learn how to speak French; one studies Spanish to learn how to speak Spanish; however, one studies Latin to learn how to speak English.

Annually, a Latin teacher hears, “I became better at English because I studied Latin.” Such students would never say, “Who you going to the game with?” Instead, they would say, “With whom are you going to the game?” They know the meanings of these derivatives: “octogenarian,” “ubiquitous,” “beatify,” “terraqueous” and “filial.” They notice that “Millenial Nails” should be “Millennial Nails” (“annus” is the Latin word for “year”). They do not confuse “i.e.” with “e.g.” or “etc.” with “et al.” With confidence, they use expressions like “carpe diem,” “ad infinitum,” “pro bono publico “ and “cum grano salis.” Also, they recognize that 12 p.m. is an impossible time.

One reason for studying Latin is often disregarded: It helps a student get into college. In 2001, the mean verbal SAT score for all students was 506; for students enrolled in Latin, it was 665.

Professor Paul Mahoney of the University of Virginia Law School says, “If we see that a candidate has taken Latin, then we know that we have a serious person.” Dr. Neal W. Allen of Union College said that “Latin is not only the basis for the English language but also the foundation of learning.”

William Fitzsimmons, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, says, “Because so few students these days master Latin, it can help an applicant. … It can end up tipping the student into the class.”

Five seniors at a Maine public high school were enrolled in Latin IV during academic year 2018-19. Each was accepted to one of these colleges: Dartmouth, Boston College, Northeastern, MIT and Harvard.

Perhaps the best reason for studying Latin came from a seventh-grader: “Latin makes me think.”

What do you think?

Morton Soule

retired Latin teacher


Related Headlines

filed under: