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Why teach Latin?

There are so many advantages to studying Latin—whether or not you want your child to be a Latin scholar. Some of the benefits:

The last goal requires a climb to the top of the mountain—but many of the other goals can be realized with a shorter course of study, if you choose a program that matches your goals. So read on, even if you're not sure you want to climb all the way to the top!

English vocabulary enrichment

Our Latin ancestor

Many English words are descendants, or derivatives, of Latin words. Often a whole group of English words comes from the same Latin ancestor, or root! Knowing that Latin root word unlocks a whole family of English words. Children are excited when they figure out the meaning of a new word on their own from their understanding of the context and of Latin roots!

Vocabulary power

Which is easier—to learn, separately, the definitions of transportation and portable and import and export and deport . . . or to know that they all come from the Latin word meaning carry, which unlocks the whole word group? Oh, and it also helps to know that "trans-" means across . . . because now you're a step ahead when it comes to transform and translate and trans-Atlantic! And similarly for the other prefixes and suffixes. Latin derivatives make up a huge percentage of "big words" in English, the kinds of words your child will meet in literature study and on the SAT.

Derivative worksheets!

The Great Latin Adventure includes full-featured derivative worksheets that expose children to good writing, teach them useful English words, and reinforce their Latin vocabulary learning. To read more about how the derivative worksheets work in the overall chapter structure, take a chapter tour.

"The derivative worksheets are simply unparalleled among all the Latin programs I've encountered"
Karen K.-C., co-op founder

A jump start on Romance languages

Shared vocabulary, similar verbs

Since Latin is the ancestor language for French, Spanish, Italian, and more—the Romance languages—children who study Latin first have a leg up in learning vocabulary in the modern Romance language. A great deal of vocabulary will be similar and familiar. Also, since both Latin and the Romance languages have similarly inflected verb systems, the task of mastering the verb system in, say, Spanish, will be familiar to a Latin student.

The evolution of language, and the etymology bug

Just as important, by studying Latin first, then a Romance language, children get a first-hand look at the historical evolution of language. I (Katharine) still remember encountering the word fenêtre in French. I wasn't studying French yet, but my classmate was. Looking at his book between classes, I saw this word. I was studying Latin—but I was able to tell that fenêtre must mean window. The resemblance to Latin fenestra was the key! And that also meant that the "ê"—an "e" with a circumflex sign—was how the French conveyed what Latin conveyed with "es." Aha! Later, when I did study French, this was borne out in more French and Latin pairs. But in at least one French-English pair, too: French prêtre means priest. Our English word, this time, still has the "s" which the French circumflex sign replaces.

This began for me a lifelong interest in etymology. It might do the same for your child, too!

Learning how an inflected language works

I touched on inflection in the last section in relation to verb systems, but Latin is actually heavily inflected in both its noun and its verb systems.

Changes in word form signal meaning

An "inflected" language is just a language in which changes in word form—usually changes in word endings—have grammatical significance and carry meaning. This is by contrast with English, in which we much more often use word order to do the same thing. (We have a trace of inflection in our pronoun system: I ate the peanut; you gave the peanut to me. Both pronouns refer to Katharine, but they have different forms to show that one is the subject and the other is the object of a preposition.)

How about New Testament Greek?

Latin's heavily inflected noun system is very similar to the noun system of other important languages. Greek stands out among these, as many users of The Great Latin Adventure would be delighted for their children to be able to read the New Testament in its original Greek!

Or Russian or German or . . . ?

Russian and German are also heavily inflected—and modern and spoken, to boot. I've studied both Russian and New Testament Greek, and having studied Latin first was a great help. I was able to move to those other languages and concentrate on the new alphabet and the new vocabulary, and in the case of Russian, on the fact that it was spoken. The inflectional system just was not mysterious, and I knew how to approach learning and translating. I am thankful for the boost that early Latin study gave me.

What you'll take away if you don't go all the way . . .

I should say, though, that if you are interested in this aspect of Latin study, you will want to be aware that different programs explore the terrain of Latin using different topic sequences.

. . . Depends!

What difference does this make to you? A lot! I've discussed this more elsewhere [link to a few places], but The Great Latin Adventure takes a path through Latin grammar that explores Latin's inflected noun system in greater depth, sooner, than is common in programs for beginners.

This was deliberate, and the advantage for you is that even if the only Latin you ever do is The Great Latin Adventure, your child will grasp the essential features of an inflected language. Instead of knowing just forms and chants that will be of little value in the next language, your child will know how an inflected language works—valuable wisdom to take into the study of many other languages.

The GLA takeaway

Not everyone who starts Latin wants or needs to keep going all the way to reading original Latin works, so it's important to know that you'll have something to take away even if you don't go all the way. With GLA, you will.

Biting your children with the language bug

As you can tell, I've been bitten with this bug, and it started with Latin! (Well, it started with one day of French vocabulary relay races in Grade 2 . . . then I moved to a different state and a different school . . . I got to study English grammar beginning in Grade 4, and actually enjoyed the tables of easy-to-confuse English verb forms like lie, lay, laid . . . then finally I was able to study Latin in Grade 7
. . . then was able to add French in Grade 8 . . . then had the opportunity to take Russian at Princeton, and majored in it.)

All right then, the language bug more or less started with Latin! And beginning with Latin, then adding French, also infected me with the etymology bug, as I mentioned earlier, and this helped me write the derivative worksheets for The Great Latin Adventure. (I'm grateful that users really enjoy this feature.)

Who is your child?

You'll never know what God has placed inside your child unless you explore. You may have a linguist there . . . why not find out? Studying Latin is a great way to discover who your child is.

A much better grasp on what grammar is for

What is grammar, anyway? When we study English, do we ever really find out? Well, it has something to do with rules. We're supposed to learn it. It's supposed to help us write better. Etc. But why? How?

There's nothing like studying another language to help children appreciate what grammar really is. That's because the first great discovery about grammar that students make in a foreign language is that the grammar is not the same as English grammar. It's similar in some ways—maybe—and different in others. Definitely.

Grammar paints a picture before it gives orders

Right there, that tells a child something. It tells him or her that grammar is descriptive first, before it is prescriptive. Grammar describes how a given language works before it tells us what to do! It describes how a language works, and we are students of that description in order to use that language powerfully and well.

Not a few people have said that English grammar made no sense to them until they studied another language and encountered a second grammar. Then the light came on. Of course, you can achieve this benefit with a language other than Latin, but given all Latin's other benefits, it's a great place to begin, and you'll gain this benefit as well.

Learning orderly thinking

Our immersion days

We learn language by immersion when we are young—when we are truly surrounded, twenty-four hours a day, by nothing but that language, and when our developing brains are uniquely wired for language acquisition by that method. What to do once we are older and we desire to learn a second language?

The grammar-translation method

Many believe that the most efficient way to learn another language after very early childhood is past is by the time-tested grammar-translation method. The Great Latin Adventure is a grammar-translation program. It achieves a greater focus on translation, sooner, through a unique topic sequence, but it belongs in the family of grammar-translation programs. Grammar is presented first in each new lesson, explicitly, and then new exercises and translation are introduced which draw on and apply the new grammar. It's a tried-and-true method, and very doable for parent-teachers who may not have a background in the language themselves.

Tackle this sentence!

In a grammar-translation program, consider the multi-step thought process involved in translating from English into Latin a sentence like the pirates captured the terrified sons and daughters of the king in the palace on the hill. Actually, just consider sons and daughters! First you have to know that this is a compound direct object, receiving the action of the transitive verb captured. Then you have to know that in Latin, the direct object goes into the accusative case. Then, you need to recall the Latin words for son and daughter. Then, you need to remember the accusative plural forms for these words—out of around a dozen possible forms for each word. Then you need to put those forms down on your paper in a reasonable location in relation to the other words in the sentence. (Latin word order is much more flexible than English word order, but there are tendencies.) And similarly for every other element in the sentence!

Latin and . . . truth tables?!

To do this accurately and fluidly requires orderly thinking—and learning to do it helps develop orderly thinking. When I first encountered logic truth tables in tenth-grade geometry class (no, I don't know why they were put there . . . ), I believe that my early training in Latin was actually a help. Multi-step reasoning was not new to me—because of Latin translation. It's exciting the way good mental habits from one subject can carry over to another! Some benefits of studying Latin emerge in symbolic languages as well as spoken languages.

Yet Latin also helped me with Russian, a spoken, inflected language—Latin study doesn't just produce "puzzle-solvers."

"I love the way you teach—so logically, thoroughly, and engagingly!"
Kimberly P., homeschooling Mom

In GLA, I labored to be clear, simple, incremental, accurate, so that you learn to teach and your child learns to think and to translate.

Access to valuable literature in Latin

The pinnacle of Latin achievement is to read great works in the original Latin, from the histories of Caesar to the Latin Vulgate Bible. Rome produced historians, thinkers, poets whose work is still worth reading today—and best read in the original.

But does everyone need to reach the peak?

Some of you will start Latin with your children and go all the way to the peak, the pinnacle. Others will start Latin to explore: to find out what gifts God has placed in your child. To achieve some of the other benefits we've talked about. To serve as a springboard into a love of other languages, or even just into greater appreciation for and mastery of English itself. There are many reasons to study Latin, and many ways to go about doing it!

So why study Latin? Latin rewards the climb

So, why study Latin? Latin's not the only language that matters, and yet Latin study is especially able to richly reward you and your children—whether you go all the way to the peak, or use a shorter course of Latin study as a launching pad. Just be careful to choose a program that supports your Latin study goals, whatever they are, and which gives you a payback even if you don't go all the way to the top.