Why Learn Latin?

Where did all the Latin go? Latin used to be a staple of American public education. In 1890, about 35% of students in US pubic schools took Latin as a foreign language (Marrs, 2007). By 1905, that number had tripled, such that approximately 56% of American students learned Latin. In 1928, nearly three million students took Latin in schools across the country, and even during the Great Depression, that number steadily increased by about 70% halfway through FDR's first term. Yet, with the dawn of the Cold War, Latin enrollments suddenly plunged, and no more than about 429,000 high schoolers were taking Latin in 1948. A decade and half later, that number would grow to about ten million students nationwide; however, even that figure as a percentage of total population would account for just 7.1% of high school enrollments. Today, if the College Board's standardized testing data may serve as a proxy for enrollment, roughly 6% of American high schoolers learn Latin. Concerning the broader decline of foreign language curricula across the country, in 2012, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee published a report entitled, "A National Security Crisis: Foreign Language Capabilities in the Federal Government." 

We want to reach at least 56% of American high schoolers. Latin language acquisition provides an important skill-set for mastering English and understanding other languages. Find a few more reasons to learn Latin with Pegasus below.

Seven Reasons Why You Should 100% Learn Latin: 

Fun Fact: 90% of the terms in STEM fields derive from Latin and Greek (e.g. an ion, an atom or molecule, whose number of protons and electrons are not equal, is named after the Greek heroine, Ion, the wanderer).

Fun Fact: 90% of the terms in STEM fields derive from Latin and Greek (e.g. an ion, an atom or molecule, whose number of protons and electrons are not equal, is named after the Greek heroine, Ion, the wanderer).

I. Expand Vocabulary
About 60% of all English words derive from Latin, and 90% of English words with more than two syllables have a Latin root. With just twelve Latin root words and two Greek roots, plus 20 of the most frequently used prefixes, an estimated 100,000 English words could be generated!

Fun Fact: the French national motto, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, comes from three Latin nouns, libertas, aequalitas, and fraternitas.

Fun Fact: the French national motto, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, comes from three Latin nouns, libertas, aequalitas, and fraternitas.

II. Speak Romance Languages
Latin is the source of all Romance languages including French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. Studies have shown that learning Latin makes learning one of these languages easier. A study by German researchers in 2000 even indicated that Latin was associated with positive transfer effects on grammar-related activities for Germanic texts. 

Fun Fact: secondary language acquisition correlates with anatomical changes in the brain. 

Fun Fact: secondary language acquisition correlates with anatomical changes in the brain. 

III. Enhance Analytical Abilities
Studying Latin improves a student’s capacity for critical thinking. As an ancient inflected language with a relatively limited vocabulary, Latin syntax and semantics follow a complex logic, which requires careful precision on the part of the translator. Incidentally, the best performers on the Law School Admissions Test that assesses for logical reasoning are Classics majors. This group of students on average scores 160 (out of a total score of 180) on the exam, exceeding the performance of the LSAT's average test taker by about 10 points. 

Fun Fact: Latin students routinely outperform their peers on the verbal section of the SAT.

Fun Fact: Latin students routinely outperform their peers on the verbal section of the SAT.

IV. Score Higher on the SAT/ACT
High school students learning Latin have consistently earned better SAT scores than their peers studying other foreign languages, and similar trends have been documented for the ACT, too. According to the most recent standardized testing data made available by College Board, for students who took both the general SAT and subject tests, those students who took the Latin subject test on average outperformed their peers on the general SAT by 158 points!

Fun Fact: Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, third US President, and founder of the University of Virginia, was a strong proponent of Classics, writing to friends, "In general, I am of the opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages: Latin, Greek, French and Spanish."

Fun Fact: Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, third US President, and founder of the University of Virginia, was a strong proponent of Classics, writing to friends, "In general, I am of the opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages: Latin, Greek, French and Spanish."

V. Understand the Western Canon
European and American literature (e.g. Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, etc.) contain so many Latin phrases and allusions to Greece and Rome that they often escape notice. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was originally entitled Trimalchio after a character from Satyricon, an ancient story written by the Roman novelist, Petronius. Interestingly, Trimalchio was the name of a wealthy freedman...

Fun Fact: A Black Odyssey by Romare Bearden, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance, reinterprets the story of a hero's homecoming from the Trojan War in the context of the African Diaspora.

Fun Fact: A Black Odyssey by Romare Bearden, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance, reinterprets the story of a hero's homecoming from the Trojan War in the context of the African Diaspora.

VI. Explore Cultural Phenomena
The Cambridge Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once argued: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." Whether or not we choose to decipher the legacy of the Greeks and Romans to better understand our world, the intellectual impact of the Greeks and Romans continues to resonate in almost every academic discipline, ranging from art history to biology.

Fun Fact: according to the Shakespearean scholar, Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare's favorite author was Ovid.

Fun Fact: according to the Shakespearean scholar, Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare's favorite author was Ovid.

VII. Improve Oral and Written Communication
Knowledge of Latin grammar improves a student’s writing style, and Classical oratory can inform a student's powers of persuasion. Some of the greatest communicators of the English language have emulated Latin and Ancient Greek rhetoric. As the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, one of the world's most famous statesmen and orators of English, once remarked: "I would let the clever [students] learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat." 

 

"Experto Credite." 

-Vergil, Aeneid (Book XI, line 283)

Rome (a.k.a. the eternal city) was founded on seven hills, but if seven reasons were still not enough to learn Latin, "believe an expert."

Strengthen Quantitative Reasoning

While modern languages require logical reasoning (Morgan, 1989), they focus on four proficiencies of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding the language. On the other hand, the study of Latin requires that students employ higher order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation while translating at greater levels of difficulty:

[I]n that respect, [Latin] represents a verbal analogue to the teaching of mathematics as a cumulatively organized subject area.
— VanTassel-Baska, 1987

Alleviate Demographic Disparities

In New York City, the average SAT score in 2015 for black and Hispanic students was 1235 and 1242, respectively. This was over 300 points lower on average than their white peers. In the same city, this achievement gap is unacceptable, and it is largely due to a failure of infrastructure supporting underserved schools. That said, experimental outreach programs in Latin in recent years have led to positive impacts in such precincts. In the early 90s, Beloit Academy, sponsored by Beloit College, offered a Latin course to minority students living near campus; student surveys of the extracurricular programming offered by Beloit indicated a positive impact on minority students' performance and state of mind: 

Many children say learning Latin is one of the things that they like best about the academy.
— Magner, 1991

Gain Self-reliance

After observing a 40 point boost from students who reviewed Greco-Roman derivatives for 45 minutes twice a week by using a computer program, which cycled 150 common root words, researchers concluded:

A knowledge of Latin and Greek root words has improved the English skills of students through a broad range of grade levels.
— Holmes & Keffer, 1995

Support Global Citizenship

Latin and Attic Greek are so ancient that they are in many ways apolitical. Still, students of the Classics inevitably acquire an ameliorated view of the modern world by investigating the past:

[Classics students] are exposed to great literature, which offers them the opportunity to examine political, social, and moral questions posed in ancient times and allows them to draw parallels and gain insight into their own complex world.
— Abbot, 1991

Still think Latin is just a dead language? In a survey of college admissions officers conducted by Classical Outlook in 1991, 61% of all respondents viewed a student with two years of Latin or ancient Greek as either “much stronger” or “somewhat stronger” than other qualified applicants. More recently, the American Classical League surveyed college admissions offices across the United States to better understand their assessment of Latin on high school transcripts. Here are some of their remarks:

Vocabulary and grammar of the English language can be mightily improved through the study of Latin.
— Kathy Lindsey, Associate Director of Admissions, Middlebury College
This student is likely to be disciplined, have a strong basis for further learning, [and] be a little more creative toward intellectual pursuits than most.
— Michael C. Behnke, Vice-President for Enrollment, University of Chicago
We value the study of Latin very highly, at least on par with other languages.
— Steve LeMenager, Director of Admission and Associate Dean, Princeton University
I was particularly impressed by a student with average test scores and grades who had taken Latin throughout middle and high school. We ended up offering the student admission, and I think it is fair to say that it was his commitment to Latin that tipped the scales.
— Andrea Thomas, Assistant Dean of Admission, Hamilton College
We consider students who study Latin seriously (with strong, steady performance) to be excellent candidates for Bryn Mawr.
— Elizabeth Mosier, Acting Director of Admissions, Bryn Mawr College
Students taking Latin are typically scholarly. They pursue academic study in the purest sense, they are not simply fulfilling a requirement.
— Matthew Potts, Admissions Counselor, University of Notre Dame

For more information, contact [email protected]

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