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Why You Should Learn Latin (or Stop Judging Those Who Do)

It's not just for SATs, okay?

Do you like pretending to be a wizard or spotting misspelled pretentious tattoos?

Of course you do–those are basic human pleasures. One highly under-rated skill that enhances your ability to do both those things is knowing even elementary Latin.

But here's a plot twist: You probably already do.

In the panoply of human languages (7,000 of which are spoken in 2020), five major languages of today are derived from standard Latin (as opposed to the more colloquial Vulgar Latin): Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.

However, because of migration, immigration, colonization, and also kind of The Black Death, many languages within the prodigious Indo-European language family have Latin roots mixed with other influences. For English speakers, this is why you may not be familiar with words like "panoply" but you know the prefix "pan-" usually means "all" or "full" (fun fact: panoplia is Latin for "full armor"), so with context clues...maybe it means "a complete or impressive collection of things."

lisa simpson latin Gif

Sure, some professions rely on Latinate words more than others, such as medical and legal fields. Similarly, if your professional or academic subject of study is literature or fine art, then you may have been encouraged (or strong-armed, depending on your school system growing up) to study Latin.

But even if you're not a language enthusiast (some of us prefer the term "word nerd," thank you), then learning basic Latin is still akin to having a latent superpower.

1. Knowing Latin enhances your ability to acquire other languages. Learning a secondary language is easiest when you're young, because your neurons are used to constantly absorbing new information–but getting older is hell on the brain. Did you know there's a process called "synaptic pruning" that takes place as you grow up? Your brain shuts down connections between neurons that haven't been used in a while. So once you stop actively learning a language, you lose some of those connections. But if you have a foundation in Latin, then learning other languages becomes particularly easier due to Latin's pervasive influence within the Indo-European language family. It's a bit like a cheat code for your brain–your old, old brain.

2. You'll speak and write English better (especially your grammar!). Heightened awareness of Latin's grammar (with the verb usually falling at the end of the sentence) will clarify why sometimes a line "just doesn't sound right."

3. Your brain becomes better at detecting patterns. In order to understand a Latin sentence, you need to rely on context and detect language patterns in order to interpret the grammar. Translating a Latin sentence is a bit like figuring out a puzzle. For example, a simple Latin sentence is: "Vir sapientiam dat" (the boy has shoes). The common grammatical structure in Latin is SUBJECT + DIRECT OBJECT + VERB.

3 Reasons to Study Latin (for Normal People, Not Language Geeks)

So whether you're a word nerd, a doctor, or just very bored, you can benefit from learning basic Latin. These are some of the best ways to get you started!

Rosetta Stone

Learn Latin

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone takes you through the history of Latin and its significant impact on cultures all around the world. Fun fact: The Latin alphabet is the basis for many Germanic and Romance language writing systems.

(Sign up for Rosetta Stone here).

Wheelock's Latin 7th Edition (The Wheelock's Latin Series)

Wheelock's Latin


Wheelock's Latin is the best choice if you're looking to learn Latin and enhance your knowledge of Classic literature. Using passages from revered Roman authors and designing exercises to quiz your translation skills, Wheelock and LaFleur immerse you in ancient literature and culture while you learn the basics.

Latin for Beginners Lesson 1: Introduction

Lastly, let's set the record straight: Latin is NOT a "dead" language! Technically, it just evolved and separated into many modern languages that we still hear today.

But of course one major challenge to learning standard Latin is that you won't find a native speaker anywhere. For pronunciation practice, don't underestimate the power of YouTube, which has various playlists of language enthusiasts who are also studying Latin–just a few steps ahead of you.

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