Why Study Latin—The Tutor’s View
by Matt Bianco
In the summer of 2012, I had a conversation with one of my rising Challenge IV students and her family. She wanted to quit the study of Latin in her final year of homeschooling with Classical Conversations. We met and I suggested that she needed to give it this one last year. As a rhetoric student, she needed to study things from a rhetorical perspective, and her Latin studies had finally progressed to the point where she could begin to be truly rhetorical with them. If she were to give up on Latin and switch to, say, French, she would be switching to a grammatical study of a language right when she needed to be rhetorical with it. If she would work through this year of a rhetorical study of Latin, she would be far more equipped to return to a grammatical study of any other language. She and her family were persuaded, even if tenuously, and she continued her study of Latin into Challenge IV.
Going into the Christmas break of that year, Anna Harvey wrote the following persuasive essay regarding the study of Latin. I am thankful for her humility and willingness to admit and share what she discovered about the study of Latin. I am thankful for her presence and participation in our seminars and discussion. I am thankful for the godly young lady she is.
Why Study Latin—The Student’s View
by Anna Harvey
Have you ever been mistaken in a belief? For years I thought learning Latin was a waste of my time. I have recently come to realize that learning Latin is anything but a waste of time; it makes me a better person. There are three different aspects to consider as to why this is the case. First, learning Latin has a utilitarian purpose. Second, learning Latin helps me understand the world more thoroughly. And third, learning Latin is satisfying.
The first reason in support of my belief that learning Latin improves me is that learning Latin has a utilitarian purpose. Through the process of learning Latin I have gained a greater understanding of my own language. Latin has increased my grammatical skills as well as my vocabulary. Also, learning Latin has helped me develop my skills of learning. I started learning Latin at a young age. The activity of learning a language, even with only a basic understanding, has helped me to develop study skills and habits.
The second reason for my belief is that learning Latin helps me understand the world more thoroughly. Most people today think of Latin as a dead language. Latin moved into the realm of the dead in the eighth century. It became a language only for the church and scholars; the common man no longer studied and understood the language of his ancestors. If we fail to study the language of the past we miss out on a part of the world’s civilization, culture, history, literature, art, and beauty. Carlos Ruiz Zafon said, “There is no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds.”1 Learning Latin awakens our minds. It opens the door to a whole new realm of knowledge and opportunities. It helps us know the world around us, understand the struggles we face today, and recognize the beauty in all that surrounds us.
The third reason for my belief is that learning Latin is satisfying. Just in the past few months, I have come to truly appreciate the joy Latin brings me. This is because I resisted learning a “dead language” which did not appear to have any applicable purpose in my life. But I decided to try to like learning the language. Eventually I realized how satisfying it is to learn Latin. Latin is logical and structured, but as with most things it has its exceptions and inconsistencies that make it challenging. Translating Latin gives me a feeling of accomplishment which in turn gives me confidence in myself and makes me happy.
It could be argued that all of these benefits could be gained through learning any language, so why learn Latin, a dead language? Learning a dead language can be thought of in the same way as learning to paint a picture. In today’s world, the human element could be removed from the realm of art. With cameras, computer generations, and many other technologies, a painting could paint itself. Yet people still paint pictures. Why? The same goal could be achieved through other, more practical means. Technology could capture the world around us just as effectively as the human hand. Yet we paint. We paint because we recognize that art is not for the purpose of recording reality, but that it is meant to do much more, to express our minds, our hearts, and our souls. The same is true of learning. We learn not to have a list of facts stored up in our brain for the sole purpose of utility, but to have an understanding of the world around us and to have an appreciation for all that God has given us. If you look at learning as a way to better know our Lord then there is no reason not to learn Latin.
In conclusion, I believe that Latin makes me a better person. It has utilitarian purposes, it increases my understanding of the world, and it is satisfying. If we want to know God and make Him known we must embrace all that He has given us, and we must view learning as a means to this end, rather than an end in and of itself.
1 Unknown. “Carlos Ruiz Zafon>Quotes>Quotable Quotes.” http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/142800-there-s-no-such-thing-as-dead-languages-only-dormant-minds. n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
Years of being taught by Mrs. Leigh.