My sophomore year in college I went on a once in a lifetime trip. A group of guys and I went on a mission trip where we hiked into the secluded jungles of Nicaragua. We spent a week visiting some of the most remote tribes in Central America in order to give the Gospel to those who have never heard. It was so remote that many of the native children were frightened to meet us because they had never seen a white person before.
The missionary family whose home we used as our home base had been serving in Nicaragua for a couple of years. The couple was in their early forties while their son was nine or ten. They were immersed in the culture, taking Spanish classes and speaking it as much as they could. However, they were struggling mightily to pick up the language. It was entertaining to listen to them speak the little they did know in a deep Alabama accent. The only exception was their son. While only exerting a fraction of the effort of his parents, he had far surpassed them in his ability to speak Spanish. He was able to guide us through the market negotiating prices, he talked to local friends and acted as our translator. His parents would marvel at how easily and naturally the language came to him compared to them.
It is fairly common knowledge that the earlier a child begins learning a second language the easier it is for them to master it. That is why we begin teaching Latin as a core class in the 3rd grade. As Dorothy Sayers wrote in her essay The Lost Tools of Learning, “Latin should be begun as early as possible–at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world; and when the chanting of “Amo, amas, amat” is as ritually agreeable to the feelings as the chanting of “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.””
It does not take much convincing for parents to see the value of learning a foreign language at a young age. However, the question we usually do get is “why Latin?” As a student from Redeemer Classical School recently said, “Latin is like a zombie. It’s dead. But it’s not.” So why are we teaching our students a dead language?
There are many benefits in learning Latin but here I will narrow it down to three.
- Superior Grammar – Learning Latin grammar reinforces the concepts of English grammar. In fact, our English and Latin curriculum is designed to work together to take advantage of this. As a bonus, Latin grammar constructs a great foundation for learning the grammar of other languages in the future.
- Expanded Vocabulary – Over 50% of English words find their origin in Latin terms. If you glance at our student’s vocab lists you will find many examples. For instance, nimbus means cloud, herba means herb or plant, delecto means I delight and antiquus means ancient. Looking at these Latin words probably brought several English words to your mind. It is the same with students. In fact, studies have shown that students who have studied Latin have significantly better scores on the vocabulary section of the SAT.
- Sharper Mind – Latin grammar is very precise and logical. This makes Latin great at training our students to pay attention to details and to be precise. The method of working out the grammar also trains the mind to work logically. Obviously, a mind well practiced in logic will see benefits in many areas of life.
As stated above, this is just a sample of the many reasons we teach Latin at CLA. Our goal is to train “students to think, live and engage the world in a manner that consistently brings glory to God.” Latin makes us more effective at reaching that goal through equipping them with logical minds, versatility with the words they use and the grammar to do it coherently. This will better prepare them for any class or subject they face and lays the foundation for the work they do in the logic and rhetoric stages.