Do you know how many languages are spoken worldwide? About 7,000.
So why should you learn Latin, a dead language, when the world offers an almost infinite choice of languages and dialects that are still spoken?
The “dead language argument” is often used by the anti-Latin faction as a reason not to learn Latin: it’s useless, anyway, so it’s better to learn a living foreign language.
Though it is true that Latin is a dead language (only spoken in the Vatican on certain occasions), the argument ignores many of Latin’s virtues, especially the advantage of learning Latin vocabulary.
Indeed, learning Latin and knowing how to speak Latin is of limited use in daily life.
However, Latin is the root of many modern languages – the Romance languages – which means that learning Latin vocabulary will help you understand words in French, Spanish or Italian. Also, a lot of Latin-based words have found their way into the English language in Medieval times through the Norman invaders under William the Conqueror.
Latin can also be viewed as an interdisciplinary language: anyone studying medicine at Cambridge or Oxford will tell you how useful their Latin course was; but also in biology, chemistry, archaeology, religious studies, mathematics and physics.
The logic of Latin grammar will help you deconstruct other languages and solve puzzles in a variety of disciplines.
To study Latin as a second language is also to contribute to your general culture. You don’t need a high IQ or go to a public school or even get good scores in your other coursework. Choosing the Latin language also means optimising your chances of going on to A-levels or being accepted to certain university courses.
The language of the Romans can be a good way to strengthen your spelling!
While English spelling was standardised by combining a variety of regional pronunciation and spellings, any words of Latin origin will be based on their root spelling.
To better understand the etymology of words, the meaning of certain terms (such as television, a combination of tele, “far” and visio, “see, watch”), and Latin phrases such as quid pro quo, et caetera, ibid or even alea jacta est, Latin classes are the way to go.
Many Latin phrases have made their way into the English language. Photo credit: Jeanne Menjoulet on Visualhunt
The same way, it can help you learn foreign languages like Italian or Spanish, as you will recognise certain words or phrases as derivative from Latin and can extrapolate from there.
So you see your Latin-English dictionary will come in handy for more than just the Latin translation on your GSCE exams. Your Latin dictionary can become a portal to other worlds.
So when choosing between Latin or geography for your GCSEs or A-levels, think about what pleases you most about travelling – the places, or the languages?
The classical Latin curriculum as taught for GSCE doesn’t just teach you the declension of Latin verbs or other grammatical rules. It also covers Roman culture and Latin literature, which heavily influenced our modern culture.
Your textbooks might have a segment on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and discussions of Roman politics and citizenship ideas.
Your Latin book will probably also include excerpts from Caesar’s De Bello Gallico or works by Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Pliny (the Elder and the Younger), Catullus, Caecilius Statius or other Roman authors. Whether poetry or fabulae, a dialogue or a treatise on agriculture, reading literary works in Latin will not only improve your grasp of grammar, but each Latin text will help you understand the ancient Romans and their place in history just a little bit better.
Of course, you can find many of the texts in translations – for example in an anthology from Oxford University Press in paperback or hardcover – but it is not the same as reading it in the original language.
Roman culture has influenced the modern European cultures, from literature to philosophy to architecture. Photo on Visual Hunt
This will help you better understand what your history textbooks had to say about the Roman Empire, but also give you a good grounding in the humanities. If you are thinking about studying history, philosophy, even psychology at any of the big Universities, you will find that knowing the great Roman authors and the medieval ecclesiastical texts written in Latin will be a great asset. Even a semester reading English literature will profit from knowing Latin poetry and its rules.
Learning Latin is not just useful when dealing with languages: it’s also a good way to learn logical and analytical thinking.
This makes it useful for scientific studies, even beyond those disciplines that use a lot of Latin words (like medicine).
The structure of the Latin language, from syntax to the subjunctive tense, requires a lot of discipline and logical thinking.
For example, an English sentence relies on word order to get the message across – generally subject + verb + indirect object + direct object (I gave the girl her present).
But in Latin, the function of a word is indicated by its case, so word order is not as important. Instead, you need to learn to recognise the cases of nouns just as well and you do the conjugation of English verbs. The declension of nouns and adjectives in the nominative and ablative must become as second nature to you as the imperative and infinitive tenses of “to teach”.
Learning Latin can help you better understand other subjects, especially those with Latin-based vocabulary, such as chemistry. Photo credit: Rob Swatski on Visual hunt
And while this is, of course, a case of learning the declensions by heart, you also need to apply what you learn in the classroom to a Roman essay on dice games. You need to identify the parts of speech in a text and automatically translate it into a sentence that makes sense.
In the same way, in many scientific or technical disciplines (such as engineering) you will be taking set formulae and equations and learning to identify and use them in context. In taking Latin for your GSCE, you will be acquiring key skills for your future profession.
We’re not just talking about the points you’ll get for your OCR Latin or your WJEC Certificate.
Knowing Roman history and the language of Rome can help you better grasp your other subjects.
In fact, taking Latin can help raise your average all across the board. So even if you’re not planning on taking the National Latin Exam or enrolling in a Cambridge Latin course, adding Latin to your GSCE syllabus is a good idea.
Learning Latin, whether you are working on your Latin pronunciation or looking over your vocabulary flash cards, is going to access a different part of your brain than learning physics or maths. Believe it or not, exercising your mind in another discipline can help it reboot, and when you get back to those pesky equations, you’ll often find that something has clicked.
So if your math homework is getting to be too much, try conjugating video in the imperfect, learn the Latin word for “privy”, recite your Latin verbs table or look through your grammar book.
Of course, the reverse is also true!
Use maths to take a break from translating Julius Caesar – or translate Caesar to take a break from maths! credit: Egisto Sani on Visualhunt.com
Just as learning Latin can help you consolidate your other coursework, if you’re having trouble with your Latin, take a break and do something completely different. If you are interested in art and design, sketch some cartoon characters for half an hour or go take a photograph of the sunset. If you like chemistry, learn the formula for formaldehyde. Re-setting your brain will help you get back to learning with a fresh mind.
Latin has a lot to offer, but if you are going for a GSCE you will be moving way past Latin for beginners. The grammar will be more complicated, the exams more demanding, the marking less lenient.
If you really like Latin but don’t have a natural gift for languages, you might want to consider tutoring. Finding a private Latin tutor is easy here on Superprof or similar pages, or you can try putting up a leaflet on a campus corkboard if you live near a Uni.
A private tutor can give you more time than your Latin teacher, who has to complete the curriculum by the end of the school year. Your tutor can see where your weaknesses are and set up a programme of exercises to help compensate. A tutor can also show you how to capitalise on your strengths so you become more confident – which will, in turn, make learning easier.
If you can’t afford a tutor or simply feel you need to practise some more, there are online Latin learning platforms. They can’t offer exercises tailored especially to you, but they can offer revision sheets or a quiz different from those in your textbooks to keep you sharp when learning noun declensions or constructing the passive.
To sum it up: