Latin Isn’t Just for Your Child

When we plan our child’s education, we are often trying to give them the education we wish we had. Even if we had a good education, there are inevitably particular subjects that we either never learned or never learned well. For the parent interested in giving their child a classical education, Latin or Greek is probably on that list of subjects. Whether you want your child to learn Latin or Greek because that’s just the “classical” way or because you sincerely wish you had learned them, I want to challenge your thinking a little bit.

If you think your child should learn a classical language, then you should too

Unless or until your child is pursuing highly specialized training in trade school or college, this should apply to everything your child learns. This will be obvious for the things you already know or mastered. You know you and your child should learn to read, write, speak, and compute – and you probably already did. You know you and your child should learn American history – and you probably already did. You may still be unsure why you had to learn so much Geometry or Trigonometry in high school, but you did, and so accepting that your child should is not too challenging.

But what about those things we tend to think of as “electives” – music, art, languages, etc.? For me personally, I think my children should learn to play a musical instrument, but excepting those two years of recorder in my elementary years, I haven’t (yet). So I understand your hesitation to accept my claim.

Now, I am not claiming you have to start today. Or that you even have to learn a classical language before your child does – even though that would be ideal.

These are important questions to consider, though: If you value the classical languages for your child, then why wouldn’t you value them for yourself? And if the reasons for learning classical languages aren’t strong enough for you personally, why are they sufficient for your child? 

We should be teaching our children valuable, permanent things – things that we wish everyone could learn, even if they learn them late. If something is not worth learning late, is it really worth learning at all?

2 Great Pep Talks for Latin

Every Latin educator has their “elevator speech” for why someone would want to study Latin. And with the growth of classical Christian education and its marketing there have been lots of articles, blog posts, and videos posted about why Latin is important. These are valuable to read if you are just starting to consider Latin as a subject for yourself or your child, but they are also helpful for motivation when the task of learning gets challenging. Here are two I’ve really appreciated:

1. The serious:

At The Imaginative Conservative, Michael De Sapio sums up the most significant reasons for learning Latin with emphasis on what, in my opinion, is one of the most compelling reasons to learn Latin:

Even if the more arcane, classical culture is forgotten, Latin still has an indelible connection with Christian thought and worship, and Christians live by the divine promise that the church will not be destroyed.

Amen! Latin has been a key method of communication through so much of the Western Church’s history, so let’s be vigilant in not losing this key to our heritage.

2. The serious, yet not-so-serious:

This video squeezes in all of the normal talking points about the value of Latin while focusing on some of the key things that I know I personally gained from Latin study.

Note: This is not meant as an endorsement of Classical Conversations (the creator of this video).

Do you have any go-to articles or videos that you recommend for those considering Latin? If you do, share them with me!

Latin Can Be for Anyone

We tend to forget that every natural language, even a dead one, is natural – common, everyday, used by all layers of society.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Fr. Reginald Foster, a unique and prominent Latinist of our day, makes an important point (somewhat cheekily), starting at 1:43:

Every poor person, derelict, prostitute, anyone else in Rome spoke Latin… when the Romans said to their dogs… Veni huc, conside, et cenam tuam sume…. the dog picked it up.

Fr. Reginald Foster

That may not be a flattering way to think of your Latin study, and may even be downright frustrating: “Even the Roman dogs knew Latin better than I do!” Clearly, that is not the point. The point is that Latin, like any language, can be learned by anyone with the proper context, tools, and effort. Latin is like any other language in its nature – a common means of communication for normal people, including you and me.

What’s a “Dead” Language?

“Latin is a dead language.”

Everyone who has ever heard of Latin knows that. You’ve probably heard that. And unless you are already fully convinced of the value of learning Latin, this may be one of the key issues you have with choosing to learn Latin over a modern foreign language.

I won’t spend time here trying to convince you of the value of Latin, that will come later. Before we can tackle that question, we should define our terms and hopefully put you at ease. “Dead” is not as ominous a term as it sounds. “Dead” sounds, well, dead.

Silent, irrelevant, incapable of anything.

Psst… here’s the secret. “Dead” just means there are no native speakers of the language. Did you catch that? Let me repeat, no native speakers. There are no longer living communities of native Latin-speaking adults who raise children to speak Latin as their first and primary language. There are speakers. There are even fluent speakers. There are books, videos, podcasts, etc. produced in Latin. There are classes taught exclusively in Latin. And, of course, Latin is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church.

I’m ready to concede that Latin is very different from the modern languages you’ll find spoken and taught in your local communities. And if “dead” is the term we want to ascribe to that distinction, I’m okay with that. After all, Cicero is dead. Virgil is dead. Augustine is dead. Aquinas is dead. Newton is dead. But they still have something to say to us, and they say it in Latin.