• Global Citizenship
  • Middle School
Why Latin? Why not?

by Jason Wainio, Latin Teacher

One of the things I love to think about is how Latin is still relevant to our world today. I can remember early in my career how people discussed how every subject had to have meaning to the students in the real world.  Also, more recently, there has been such push for engineering and technology education. It leaves the Latin teacher of the 21st Century to sit and ponder, “Where do I fit in?”  

Maybe I don’t fit in. I can certainly make an argument for such a conclusion. I always think of myself as a man out of time. Not that I think I would have thrived 2000 years ago in ancient Rome, but perhaps maybe more like 50-60 years ago. Latin’s inclusion in schools has ebbed and flowed throughout the years. Every time it seems like it is on its way out, this dead language comes roaring back. Why is that?  Many love to point out the usefulness that Latin has to understanding our language. It is true that 65% of the words in English derive originally from Latin. It definitely helps me break down a word like “antepenultimate” or “stercorious.”  Not sure where that becomes useful beyond a test like the SSAT or SAT, but it is a lot of fun. Of course, many of my students are preparing for tests like that, so sure, it does support them in that regard.

So, here it is. This is why I find Latin to be so useful to our current students for their future: Writing is a part of any future, regardless of what you do. The Latin language dives deeply into an understanding of grammar that I found difficult to relate to in the English classroom. Concepts like clauses, indirect objects, pronoun usage, transitive and intransitive verbs become so much more concrete when taught within the framework of Latin. I developed a much stronger understanding of and appreciation for the English language because I was able to truly parse sentences and break down the grammar in an effective manner. The other aspect of the Latin language that I find so fascinating is how the language is structured. English is structured in such a way that word order is very important. A noun’s placement in a sentence determines whether it is a subject or direct object. In Latin, it is all based on the word endings; word order takes a much lesser place of importance. Therefore, a learner has to truly key in on the endings placed on nouns and verbs to determine how the word is being used in the sentence. I liken it to a puzzle or even a mathematical equation. It really works on a student's deductive reasoning and problem solving skills.  

sentence diagramming