Latin: Wanted, Dead yet Vibrantly Alive

Latin: Wanted, Dead yet Vibrantly Alive

by Suzanne Walker, Latin Teacher

As a Latin teacher, I regularly receive questions like these: “Isn’t Latin a dead language? What is the point of learning Latin? When am I ever going to use it?” Personally, I love an opportunity to share positive responses to these inquiries, which indicate true curiosity, a valuable trait to have as a student of the language. If you have ever wondered these questions yourself, consider yourself an excellent candidate to begin the study of Latin. 

First and foremost is affirming that yes, Latin is indeed considered a “dead” language, one that is no longer spoken as someone’s main language. But, the good news is that because Latin is not spoken regularly, we can learn it within a stable framework of understanding. If a language is not constantly changing through everyday use, its mechanics will be formulaic and predictable. If you appreciate the logical nature of math and science, you will adore the reliable patterns of Latin. 

So, what is the rationale in learning Latin and how can it be useful for its students? These are big questions that point to a larger discussion about the innumerable benefits of a liberal arts education that offers a wide scope of humanities courses. My top five replies are supported by authentic feedback from Latin students here at Merion Mercy Academy. 

  1. Learning Latin is a powerful interdisciplinary tool and can strengthen cross-curricular learning. By drawing connections and comparisons to other languages, civilizations and cultures, a student can make notable academic strides in multiple disciplines. 

“Knowing that my studies in Latin can enrich my learning of literature makes me feel like I have a better understanding of both subjects. It's also helped me realize the connections between my other classes like robotics and computer science, physics, calculus, biology and psychology.”

  1. Learning Latin can be challenging but does not necessarily have to be hard. There is not one type of student that is “right” for learning Latin. It is not all about memorization and grammar, and language learners of all backgrounds and experiences have the potential to be successful. Latin at MMA has much to offer in its vibrancy and lively experience. 

“By studying Latin over the past four years I have learned that I have the ability to succeed in challenging courses… I have never felt as great a sense of accomplishment in any other class.”

“[Choosing to take Latin at MMA] was scary because they only offered an honors course. Little did I know, however, that I would learn to love the challenge of taking this course, which led me to push myself in other subject areas.”

  1. Learning Latin can expand your English vocabulary and your understanding of language structure. This growth can materialize on standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT and LSAT. Learning Latin also provides incredible opportunities to develop your critical thinking and problem solving skills.

“Latin has honestly made my life easier in a way. I can identify so many Latin roots in the English language, which makes me feel so much more confident utilizing my vocabulary when writing a paper, reading, public speaking, etc.” 

  1. Learning Latin is FUN, enriching and engenders a close-knit feel in class. Latin at MMA is an interactive experience that covers a wide range of topics and perspectives. From mythological performances to storytelling to ancient archaeology and architecture, there are engaging aspects for everyone. 

“Latin is so interesting and unique because by translating ancient works, you can gain insight into the cultures and civilizations of far away and ancient places.” 

“It is more than just a language. It is learning about culture, art, poetry, and history.”

  1. Learning Latin is a unique experience and students who choose to study Latin stand out among their peers.  

“I would say that it’s difficult at times, but it’s totally worth it. Your class becomes so close, and the topics we cover are very interesting. Plus, it’s not something a lot of people do, so it’s a more unique addition to your college application.”

“Do not be afraid to be different. Branch out and develop a love for a language you are completely unfamiliar with.”

One student of mine beautifully commented, “We keep Latin alive by our very study of it.”

Connecting closely with ancient voices through primary sources is a way we can make the past very relevant to our present and engage in discussion about universal themes. Latin may be ancient and technically “dead” but at MMA it remains fresh with creativity and innovative in its applications.