Why I Teach Latin (And You Don’t Have To)

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Are you thinking about teaching your kids Latin? Are you feeling the pressure? You might not have to!

Lynna Sutherland

Lynna believes that the gospel moves the homeschool mom from performance to possibility. She offers support for moms overwhelmed by homeschooling multiple ages and distracted by constant sibling conflict. Ditch what slows you down and look to Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Sure, there are lots and lots of reasons to study Latin.  I don’t think I’d have a hard time convincing folks it’s a decent subject to include in our homeschool.

Are you thinking about teaching your kids Latin? Are you feeling the pressure? You might not have to!

Improved Understanding of English

You can drive a car without understanding much about how the engine works.  But if you are going to take out one part and replace it with another (especially if there isn’t an exact one-to-one correlation between the old part and the new) then you are going to need to know a little bit about the inner workings of the system.  Translating between languages is much like working on a car engine.  If you are going to take out one piece and replace it with another, you have to have a much better understanding of how it functions as a part of the whole.

One of the reasons Latin is such a good teacher of grammatical concepts is that it is a much more consistent language than English.  In English, there are almost as many exceptions as there are rules.  In Latin, there might be six exceptions to a rule, they are all exceptions for a particular reason, and there is a rule that governs the exceptions!

Preparation for Learning Romance Languages

My college Latin professor used to say that the Romance Languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian) were all “vulgar Latin“.  He wasn’t trying to be offensive; he was using the term “vulgar” according to its traditional definition: “of or used by the common people”.  Classical Latin was used in law, ceremony, writing, and oratory.  Vulgar Latin was spoken by slaves and shopkeepers, children and the everyday man.  All languages change over time.  It was vulgar Latin that evolved into what we now call the Romance languages.

Logical Thinking Skills

Sometimes reading and translating Latin feels a bit like solving a math problem.  In fact, one of my college Latin professors taught us to think about translating like filling in the variables in an equation.  Bill Carey, a math and Latin educator at a classical school, explains how learning Latin prepared him for computer programming!  (If you’d like to watch the video, click the screenshot below.  For the meat of the discussion, skip to 2 minutes 23 seconds in.)

Bill Carey Video

Teaching my Children to be Lifelong Thinkers and Learners

I will be my children’s teacher for a very limited part of their lives.  Long ago I had to face the fact that there wasn’t any possibility that I’d be able to teach them everything they’d need to know by the time they graduate from our homeschool.  In fact, that isn’t really my goal!  My goal is to teach my children how to think and how to study information for themselves.

Latin is an excellent tool for teaching these skills.  I gained some of my best study habits and discovered a great deal about myself as a learner through my study of Latin.  And I’m sure that you’ve heard the gossip that students who study Latin do better on the SAT’s than other students, right?

Check here for a big juicy list of Free Latin Resources!

What if You Don’t Teach Latin?

With all of these great benefits, you might be feeling a little pressure to include Latin in your homeschool.  Perhaps you’re even feeling like not including Latin means that you are purposefully choosing to doom your kids to a poor grasp of English grammar, weak math skills, and low SAT scores.  Would you allow me to relieve you of this burden?

Studying just about any foreign language will create the take-it-apart-put-it-back-together experience of translating between English and another language.  There are hundreds of ways to stimulate logical thinking skills and mathematical reasoning.  Plenty of people have learned computer programming without a Latin background.

And that old SAT statistic?  Do you realize that those statistics are based on students who have studied Latin for four or more years?  Sure, Latin will bolster your language skills.  But those statistics might demonstrate correlation rather than causation.  In other words, a student who enjoys the kind of learning that is involved in Latin study (and enjoys it enough to continue for four years) is also the kind of student who would do well on the SATs.  Or, perhaps the kind of student who is highly motivated to attend a high-ranking college is motivated to take a transcript-impressive class (for four years) and also to be well prepared for the SATs.

Why I Really Teach Latin

Latin is a great subject to study.  That’s why I majored in it in college.  But the things you want to impart to your children can be demonstrated and delivered in so many ways.  At the end of the day, the real reason that I choose to teach Latin in my homeschool is that I love it.  It is something I enjoy and am passionate about.  I know it well enough to be able to teach it easily.

Your children are going to learn all kinds of things from you.  They are going to benefit from your unique set of skills and interests, gifts and passions.  They are going to develop talents that my children never will.  And that is OK.  Just as we are all diverse as individuals, the children we are raising will be diverse as well.  Who you are as a person will shape who your children become.  And that’s not a bad thing!

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  • I love this! You’ve presented such a great argument for Latin. I’ve been amazed at how wonderful learning Latin has been for our family’s critical thinking skills. I’m so thankful for it.

    • Well, Betsy, I’m smitten. But I know that not everyone has the natural “Latin bias” that I have, so I’m trying to be objective. 😉