“You should take Latin.” I have bombarded every student on every campus I have ever taught at with this phrase. So much so that normally students see me coming and instead of running away turn to meet me and see how long it takes for me to turn any conversation into an apologia for the Latin language. They think they are impervious to my wiles. They think they wont be the ones to give in. But they are wrong. Eventually many relent. Ultimately it’s the one who put up the biggest fight up front that tap out first. But what is my secret? How do I persuade? What follows is a written form of my most common tactics to the common accusations that Latin is useless because it is a dead language.
Oh, by the way, Latin is in fact a dead language. Listen to me, fellow Latin teachers. Don’t go down the road of trying to make it a spoken language again. Doing so is tedious and eviscerates Latin of one of its prime benefits.
My answer: You know what else is useless? Exercise. You go to a gym, lift weights repeatedly for no reason. At the end of the workout, you put the weights exactly where you got them. No work has been done. You didn’t load a truck or build a wall. You DID nothing. When you run, you get on a tread mill or follow a path and ultimately end up exactly where you started. You didn’t go on a journey. You WENT nowhere. So why did you do it? Because you valued training your body even when you accomplish no other visible work besides.
Latin is a bench-press for your brain. It helps you build mental muscle and intellectual stamina that enables you to train your brain to learn other things. I agree with Dorothy Sayers who said,”even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent.”
The fact that Latin is dead and not-spoken is an advantage. Spoken languages place a high priority on speaking quickly and simply. READING a dead language enable the focus to be on reading deeply sentences of increasing levels of complexity. A 3rd semester Spanish student is still having basic conversation. A 3rd semester Latin student is reading one of the classics of Western Literature like Vergil’s Aeneid.
So you should take Latin, for a lot of reasons, but start with because Latin will train your brain to absorb, organize, and assimilate massive amounts of information as well as to perform multiple simultaneous calculations.
In short, you should totally take Latin. It’s good for the brain…and the soul.