Why Take Latin?

by VAUGHAN SHANLEY '15


In March, the Ohio Junior Classical Club (OJCL) of St. Ursula Academy gathered in the Ramada hotel in Columbus with hundreds of other Latin clubs to participate in the 63rd OJCL convention. Here, the students took part in testing, project competitions, and of course enjoyed meeting students from all over the state with a shared love of the language. Yes, there are the Latin nerds at convention who devote their lives to answering trivia questions about all things Roman, but there are also many people who fill a spectrum of different types of people—all of which enjoy learning Latin. So, why do all of these people learn this so called “dead” language?

At SUA, Ms. Hammond is the only person who teaches Latin. There are a total of 46 girls who take her class: 21 freshmen, 24 sophomores, and 1 junior. This is a much smaller number to those who take other languages. The numbers grow smaller each year because of the difficulty level of Latin, and also because grammar ends in Latin III. Basically, everything a student learns about Latin is learned in levels one through three. Upper level Latin works with prose and poetry, translating classic works such as Vergil. Junior Christine Ahrnsen, a Latin student at SUA, says that she took the language because “I like mythology, and I wanted to improve my grammar rules. Latin’s awesome!” However, there are many more reasons to take Latin that these.

Latin can help in school. The grammar in this language is highly complex, and many of the English grammar rules are derived from these principles. The National Review writer Dorothy Sayers said that “even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50%.” Learning even one year of Latin can make a difference in a student’s writing style. This is related to the grammar rules Latin teaches, but also because the grammatical framework used to construct sentences can be carried over to the English language. Most of the students at SUA say that it is easier to learn English grammar rules because of the rules learned in Latin.

SAT Scores. Yes, this is usually what Latin students reply when you ask them why they put themselves through the daily struggle of constructing impossible indicative sentences, but it really does make a difference in standardized testing. Learning where words have derived from makes it much easier to determine the definition of one of those obscure words that no one actually uses—except the creators of the SAT. Here is a profile of SAT test takers who outshined other language takers:

It’s a work out. So Latin probably won’t actually make your body get into better shape, but it will certainly affect your brain. Latin makes your brain work hard to translate each word, carefully dissecting each ending and trying to figure out how Cornelius ended up in a ditch, the story that SUA’s Latin I classes spend a few months translating. In other words, the struggle of learning the language gives your mind mental stamina. “Latin will train your brain to absorb, organize, and assimilate massive amounts of information as well as to perform multiple simultaneous calculations” writes Steven Jones.

On the surface, Latin may seem like a wasteful language because no one speaks it, but taking it affects a student more than any other language ever could. Latin is good for one’s performance in school, scores on standardized tests, and brain performance. So now it is understandable why people take the language and why so many of these people look forward to the OJCL convention each year.