Why Study Latin?

by Brian Nicholson

Classical Christian Education as it is practiced across America contains, as one of its core elements, the study of the Latin language. Many people find this curious and wonder why a “dead language,” that is not spoken today, should be studied by our children. Why not a modern language like French, Chinese, Spanish or German? Classical education is not at all opposed to the study of modern languages. However, it seeks to preserve the study of the ancient language of the Romans for several important reasons.

  1. English is a hybrid language containing words derived from a) Anglo-Saxon roots (a Germanic language), and also words derived from b) Latin roots. Anglo-Saxon words are common, concrete and everyday words. English words with Latin roots describe more complex and abstract concepts. In fact, about sixty five percent of all English words have a Latin derivation. Ninety percent of English words that are over two syllables come from Latin roots words. So the study of Latin by a child becomes a key to unlocking the meaning of vast numbers of English words. Students who have studied Latin do very well on the verbal skills portion of the SAT exam. Why? Because they understand the meaning of complex and abstract words.
  2. Latin provides the technical vocabulary for all the modern sciences: biology, chemistry, astronomy, psychology, sociology, economics, law, philosophy, theology, logic and medicine. These disciplines were established when Latin was the international language of the academic disciplines. Accordingly, a huge number of technical words were borrowed from the literary and academic language of Europe which was of course Latin.
  3. Latin study is the best way to learn English grammar. The study of Latin verb tenses, noun cases, relative and subordinate clauses, the use of the active, passive, imperative and subjunctive verb forms, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and other parts of speech is immensely helpful when students come to advanced English study. Students who have studied Latin are able to express themselves effectively in writing English prose.
  4. Latin study is of immense benefit when learning other languages. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian are “Romance languages” because they descend from the language of the Romans. Much of the vocabulary of these modern languages derives from Latin root words. So it is very easy for Latin students to pick up the Romance languages. The study of non-Romance languages like Greek and German is also aided by the study of Latin.
  5. The study of the Latin language creates a well disciplined mind which is able to understand logic and language and to express itself effectively using sophisticated verbal forms.
  6. The literary documents of the American founding such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were composed by the American founding fathers who had all studied Latin. People today are impressed with the beauty and precision of these documents and with the other literary works of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. How could they write such elegant prose? The answer. They all studied Latin at a young age.
  7. Latin has been and continues to be the most influential language in world history. The Romans adopted much of the critical thinking and vocabulary of the Greeks and they put it into their own language. This became the foundation of what we call “Western Civilization.” The Hebrew and Greek concepts emanating from the Scriptures were codified, organized, expressed and passed on by scholars writing in Latin for over a thousand years. This is the heritage of Western thought which is neglected by much of modern education today.


Here are seven reasons to study this language. More could be added. But these are sufficient for you to see the benefit of this language for your child’s education. And it’s never too late to study this important language!