Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I’ve gotten used to the puzzled or curious looks that follow when I tell them that I teach Latin. There are usually a few questions or anecdotes about their experience with Latin in school. People are often surprised, but pleased, that Latin is still going strong and, in fact, growing in our schools in the 21st century. Why is this ancient language still so popular and studied today?
I think the most common reason is that our Western heritage is derived in large part from the Romans and Greeks, so we learn about ourselves even as we learn about them. In Latin, we don’t just learn the language, although that’s a big part of it, but we also study the Romans: who were they, what did they do every day, what did they believe, what was their military like, etc. Studying this culture that dominated the world for over a millennium allows us to understand human nature better and to learn where humanity has been in the past. Classical movies, books, and television shows are still very popular today (Percy Jackson, Gladiator, and I, Claudius, just to name a few) because the ancient world is such a rich and fascinating topic to explore.
The practical advantages to taking Latin are many. It tends to expand your English vocabulary immensely because over half of our English words are derived from Latin. SAT and ACT scores tend to rise, along with your writing skills and eloquence, because of your new vocabulary and grammatical knowledge. Students who may be thinking of entering medicine, law, any scientific field, pharmacy, etc. also benefit greatly because so much of the nomenclature in those fields are Latin words. Many Latin students also find other languages easy to pick up later in life because many languages, e.g. Spanish, Italian, French, are directly descended from Latin. All Ivy League schools and most major universities in the United States still have thriving Classics departments: because it is seen as a valuable field and colleges value it highly in the admissions process.
In July, I got to see the enthusiasm of Latin students from every corner of the country at the National Latin Convention in Indiana. Around 1,500 Latin students travel to a college campus every summer to bond with each other and compete in various academic and creative events. These Latin competitions drew me into Latin as a student and I think that our Latin students who attend this year will have the same great experience.
Holy Trinity’s Latin program had its most successful results ever this year at Latin competitions and our future is bright for continued growth and achievement. As the famous Roman poet Ovid once wrote: Rident stolidi verba Latina (Fools laugh at the Latin language).