by Martin Cothran

There are three reasons to study Latin.

The first is that Latin gives the student a mastery of academic vocabulary. One of the chief reasons students struggle in advanced high school and college subjects is unfamiliar and complex vocabulary. Most multi-syllabic English words are derived from Latin. A mastery of Latin enables the student to more easily understand the more technical academic vocabulary of both the sciences and the humanities.

The second reason is that Latin teaches grammar better than the study of English grammar. Traditionally, the teaching of grammar was done in Latin and Greek. Teaching grammar in these other languages has the advantage that, for one thing, it is different than our own language and it prevents us for taking so much for granted. It is hard to analyze the grammar of a language you already speak and write in, particularly a language so unstructured as English. Latin and Greek are also much more highly structured, since they are inflected, meaning that the grammar of their nouns and adjectives is as explicit as verbs in modern languages. The nouns and adjectives display their function through their endings, enabling the student to see the grammar of words and sentences in a way that is impossible in English and most other modern languages. In addition, Latin is pedagogically better than Greek and inflected modern languages like German because it is more regular in its structure and has fewer exceptions in the rules that govern its use.

Finally, Latin is the best critical thinking skills subject on the language side of the curriculum. The reason math and science are seen as being great critical thinking subjects is that they are objective, structured, and systematic. Language, on the other hand, is seen as subjective, imprecise, and disorderly. Indeed the unstructured nature of English grammar contributes to this belief. But the highly structured nature of Latin grammar brings order into an otherwise fluid and unmethodical subject. Latin grammar is both more complex than English and less imprecise, enabling the student to learn the two fundamental thinking skills, analysis and synthesis, in a much cleaner and less frustrating way. Studies of students taking college entrance exams have repeatedly demonstrated a close correspondence between the study of inflected languages like Latin and high performance on tests that largely measure thinking skills.

 

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