“Why study Latin?” you may ask. You would really be surprised at how much you could benefit.

Latin has not had any native speakers in more than a millennium, yet some people are still learning it. Why is that? Why is Latin important to learn? Does it still hold any relevance?

Over time, fewer and fewer South African schools have offered this as a subject of choice. These days, curricula are structured around English and indigenous languages and, to a large degree, lean towards Science and Technology. This, along with the lack of interest in the language and few teachers who can teach it, has seen Latin relegated to the dustiest shelves in the country’s education arsenal.

However, there are still schools, many of them the top private schools in the country, who continue with the teaching of what many deem to be a “dead language”. One of these is St John’s College in Johannesburg, which justifies the inclusion of Latin in the following way:

“Latin is the parent of French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and has significantly influenced German. Since many English words, particularly complex ones, derive from Latin, learning the latter will strengthen your English vocabulary.

The fact that Latin is a “dead” language is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Latin’s syntax, grammar and vocabulary are no longer evolving or expanding and so studying it provides you with a framework for understanding the basic building blocks of any language.”

The above nicely provides an answer to the question, why study Latin. Many academics agree.

Another important reason is that the words that learners are exposed to, in the Foundation Phase (grades 1 to 3), are the basics provided by the English language. However, as the learner progresses through the higher grades, many words become increasingly complex in the way they are spelled and pronounced. Why? Because they are rooted in Latin, a knowledge of which would place a learner in a highly advantageous position.

So, there may not be many learners engaged in the study of Latin, but that trend can be reversed, over time, when educationalists realise that the study Latin, the “dead” language, holds numerous benefits. Sign up today and join the band of informed scholars who have benefited from the study of Classical Latin. This has been going on for more than 2 000 years – not many subjects come close to that little statistic!

There are, even today, some high school students who are quite excited to share their thoughts on how they have benefited from learning Latin.

The Head Teacher at Benton Park School in West Yorkshire, England quotes one of the students, who wrote: ‘Learning Latin is like uncovering the scaffolding that was used to build the languages of so many countries: how can anyone fail to be interested in that?’ She continues: ‘An enriched knowledge of how words have evolved and how they constantly cross boundaries between languages is something intriguing and invaluable to have when studying almost anything involving words.’”

So, why not emulate this young student and enrol to learn Latin?

The library of Oxford.
Most of the books that were found in Oxford library were in Latin or Greek until the 16th century, 500 years after the university was founded.
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Select Latin as a Matric Subject

If you were to start a beginners Latin course or decide to study Latin up to grade 12, you would definitely be learning far more than simply how to speak, read and write in Latin.

Latin classes, generally, have quite a broad approach to the study of the language, which includes:

  • The reading of classical Latin literature and learning about Roman history and civilisation through great writers such as Ovid, Titus Livius, Phaedrus, Seneca, Cicero, Horace and Virgil.
  • Acquiring knowledge about Greco-Roman mythology, as well as of the day-to-day lives of ordinary Roman citizens.
  • Learning about Latin’s grammatical rules and its syntaxis (noun declensions, verbs and conjugation, etc).

If you continue your pursuit of Latin up to your matric year, you will probably also be exposed to Roman philosophers and commence reading more interesting and complicated ancient texts.

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Learn Latin to Excel at School

Latin seems to have been the preserve of the elite and wealthy in times gone by. During the Renaissance period, the language was mainly used by wealthy people. This was used as a tool which the most educated (or lettered) people, the upper classes (the bourgeoisie and nobility) used to assert their superiority over the rest of society.

Learning Latin made you upwardly mobile, a fact which was further reinforced by the Roman Catholic Church adopting Latin as its official language.

In the South African school curriculum, science, mathematics and technology have increasingly gained importance, with a language like Latin being shoved firmly to the side. There are still, however, students who seek to study it and schools which continue to teach it, many of them private or independent schools. Because of where the language is offered, it is, once again, mainly available as a choice of study to the wealthy and privileged.

However, thanks to the Internet, Latin is now also available to anyone who has access to electricity and a computer or cell-phone. A number of websites offer learning material and host forums free of charge.

Also ask any medical or law student why is Latin important to learn and they will advise you that so many terms stem from Latin, they wish they had been exposed to Latin at high school.

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Master English by Learning Latin

Latin, today, does not have any native speakers. This has been true for a few hundred years. However, it has been taught and learned since the days of the Roman Empire and these activities still continue today.

So, how does this impact on English, if at all? For one, English isn’t a Romance language, because it takes its syntaxes and grammar from the Germanic language which was used by the Anglo-Saxons, who became the predominant population group of the British Isles.

Latin, however, had a major impact on the English language, since no less than 29% of English verbs, nouns and adjectives originated from Latin. Another 29% of English words stem from French, so, indirectly from Latin. Again, this underscores why you should learn Latin.

What are the benefits of learning latin?
Learning Latin won't be easy but it will be worth it.

Accordingly, when you’re learning Latin, you’re effectively learning English!

Although we use the Arabic numeral system, we still make use of the Roman alphabet, as well as the number system when we write about kings and queens, e.g. Henry IV.

Many Latin words have given rise to multiple English words:

  • amo: to love (amicable, amorous, amity)
  • aqua: related to water (aquarium, aquatic, aqueduct)
  • audio: to hear (audio; auditory; audience)
  • habere: have (habit, habitat, habitual)
  • lingua: language (lingual; linguist)
  • longa: (longevity, longitude)
  • mea: my or me
  • nasus: nose (nasal; nostril)
  • picture: picture (pictorial, picturesque)

Following successive invasions of Britain by the Angles, Danes, Norse and Saxons, English was markedly influence by their Proto-Germanic languages as well as Latin. A great deal of Latin words that had entered into daily use have, subsequently, remained close to the version originally used.

Conquer a Foreign Language by Learning Latin

An unbelievable statistic! These days more than one billion people speak a Romance language (one which originated from Latin).

Language Ranking (Most Spoken)
LanguageNumber of Speakers in 2022
(Million)
Percentage of world population in 2022
1English 1 34019%
4Spanish5438%
7Portuguese2674%
9French2584%
27Italian681%

Again, why should you learn Latin? Because it is really helpful in another way. Since English is a Germanic language, with numerous Latin influences, a study of Latin would greatly assist you when you study one of the other European languages, such as those in the above table. Interestingly, learning a language such as Spanish would also be of benefit outside of Europe, since it is widely used as first language in many South American countries.

If it is your goal to become multi-lingual, you can’t go wrong by learning Latin. During the Middle Ages, civil servants and government officials used Latin widely in communications, since there were simply far too many local dialects. This explains why many words in one Romance language has the same meaning in another.

Many European languages were influenced by Latin
Many countries belonging to the European Union speak a language inherited from Latin.

Learn About Roman Civilisation

Still wondering why should you learn Latin? Read on.

Find out more about this interesting civilisation which governed a large part of Europe, and even Britain, about 2 000 years ago.

The history of the Roman Empire is nearly 1 300 years long, spanning the period from 753BC to 476AD. While Rome did have its fair share of greedy and corrupt government officials, the Empire is even today revered for its technical prowess. Some of the structures, built 2 000 years ago, are still standing today.

Romans were impressive civil engineers and invented modern sanitation and plumbing, heating systems, concrete, aqueducts and urban design.

Roman ruins in Rome.
Many Romans ruins are still all around Europe, a lot of them can be found in Rome. ( by Rickydavid)

Let’s not forget that the Romans also created the newspaper, surgery, social welfare and a postal service, along with many laws that are still used today.

Romans also fostered and developed the arts of sculpture and painting, and still today many students study the works of Roman writers and philosophers. One of the most famous pieces of all Latin literature is Julius Caesar’s De Bello Gallico.

The Coliseum in Rome is, most probably, one of the finest examples of Rome’s power and genius. It only took only 10 years to build, considering that this massive building is 48 metres high,189 metres long and could house 80 000 spectators. That was a mighty impressive accomplishment at that time: 70 – 80AD.

Learn Latin: The Top 10 Reasons

Still not sure why you should learn Latin? Here are some compelling reasons:

  1. Latin naturally follows on phonics.
  2. Latin is the best way to learn English grammar.
  3. More than half of English vocabulary consists of Latin roots and words.
  4. Root words for all the modern sciences originate in Latin
  5. It is the language of government, law, theology and logic.
  6. Latin trains and develops the mind very effectively.
  7. Latin is actually the language of Western Civilisation.
  8. It will improve your general knowledge tremendously.
  9. To learn about the Roman Empire.
  10. The study of Latin is transformative.

Enrol for a beginners Latin course and entirely change your view on life and the world!

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.