As I reflect over the past 10+ years of studying Latin as a family, I have been contemplating this question. Why should one study Latin? Obviously, we drank the kool-aid, right? My son is a Latin tutor on Latin with Andy, and I’ve generated multiple Latin resources, so we definitely are passionate about this line of study. While I do feel it is important, the fruit I’ve seen from this study might not be exactly what you’d expect. We don’t walk around speaking Latin in the house, have an excellent grasp over every Latin saying that would be perfect for a meme, or read The Hobbit in Latin. However, the challenge of learning Latin has shaped my family in a meaningful way. Latin is a humbling course of study that has provided stability for us in difficult times with the beauty of its ordered nature.
Latin is Humbling
When you embark on studying something that you’ve never encountered before, you are bound to find a mountain of unfamiliar ideas eluding your grasp. Even though I had studied Spanish in high school, Latin did not come easily for me. My son, however, had experienced the joys of memorizing facts in Classical Conversations, and he knew that memorizing was just something one needed to do. When we hit troublesome spots, he’d find a new way to remember the content from a skill he’d learned in Foundations or Essentials.
Is the third conjugation giving you a hard time? Start parsing every third conjugation noun you know until it becomes clear. Do passive verb endings feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back—just one too many verb forms to remember? Create a chart of verb endings and start copying them until the pattern emerges. These were my son’s ideas because he was willing to humble himself before an unfamiliar subject.
It humbled me too. I could have just let my son struggle through the work and come in with my soul-deflating red pen and mark all of his mistakes from a safe distance. However, through submitting myself to the trial of learning Latin, I built a deeper relationship with my learner. My compassion and humility provided a way for him to teach me.
As my son has graduated and embarked on new learning adventures, I see the fruits of his labor everywhere. He’s not afraid to study Greek because he knows how to approach a language. In the same way, he’s not overwhelmed with learning music production because he’s experienced the power of humble learning.
Where do you start? Learn the vocabulary. How do you grow? Sit at the feet of those who have walked the path you’re walking, and learn from them.
Latin Provides Stability
I know that some people might believe that we’ve achieved success in studying Latin because Andy is the perfect student. While I think very highly of my son, neither of us would claim perfection in his study habits! Andy’s sophomore year of high school, or his year in Challenge II, might have been our worst year from an educational standpoint. Our lives had pretty much been turned upside down with my sister’s death, and as we helped her husband and five kids walk through that tragedy, uncertainty marked most of our year.
Up until that point, Andy aspired to be an eye surgeon. Over the course of the year, there were times where I just said to him, “Please, just work on something,” because all work felt difficult. He’d bypass the Biology book and always start with the Latin.
That next summer is when we began making videos for Latin with Andy. The grief and challenges were still very real, but Latin provided an “anchor to windward,” as Mr. Bowditch would say. It grounded us and gave us the kind of challenge that required all of our focus for a short time and relief from constant grief for me.
While I pray that none of you endure that kind of tragedy, 2020 brought instability to the masses. Everyone could use an anchor right about now.
Latin is Orderly
If you have more than one student in your life, you know that they are all unique learners. My youngest has struggled with reading and spelling for most of her life. I honestly didn’t know if Latin was even a pursuit we should tackle because there were “more important things” to master first.
Instead of avoiding Latin altogether with her, I just started her on the basics of Latin from an earlier age. She was copying declensions before she knew what a declension was. We worked slowly through vocabulary and made sure to memorize those Foundations Latin facts. When she arrived in Challenge A, learning Latin was an open door to her. The orderliness provided a framework her brain could work within, and she enjoyed applying the skills she’d learned to meaningful exercises.
Latin provides order in thinking as well as in life. When my kids translate a sentence, they’re required to prove their answers by identifying the gender, number, and case of every noun, and the person, number, voice, tense, and mood of each verb. They have to explain the rule that governs the prepositions or the intricacies of the ablative case. As they give a reason for the translation they provide, they understand the concept of principled living. In a world that offers so many vague reasons for choices they make, it is nice to practice basing your decisions on the orderliness of truth.
What if Latin had a purpose more spiritual than practical? The challenge of Latin provides a humbling course of study that has provided stability in difficult times through the goodness of its ordered nature. See how God can work even through a dead language.
This is not to say Latin has no practical benefits. If you’re looking for pragmatic proofs for the critics in your life, Martin Cothran offers great arguments, and Andrew Kern provides a compelling explanation of the essential nature of Latin studies for civilized thinking.
Why do you study Latin?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.