“Why do you think I teach this?” my Latin teacher asked the class today. “Because I like to torture teenagers with two-thousand-year-old dead languages?”
Most of the class, including myself, muttered, “Yes,” although I wouldn’t call it torture. I enjoy Latin mostly on the grounds of it being just that: a two-thousand-year-old dead language.
“No,” my teacher said. “I teach Latin because it will help you better understand English and your Spanish or French courses.”
He’s right. Learning Latin will indeed help you with your other languages, in both grammar and vocabulary. It’s unfortunate that public schools here in the United States don’t teach English grammar anymore; often, students my age learn the basics of their own language by studying another. That’s all well and good–students in the humanities should probably take a year or two of Latin. But what about everybody else?
Latin is certainly relevant in the sciences, medicine, and law. The frequent use of Latin terms in these professions leads me to think that this language of Ancient Rome is not quite as dead as we think it is. Even if you’re not in these fields yourself, it’s helpful to have a familiarity with these phrases. Think of all the times you’ve seen ad hoc or caveat emptor. And then there are all those mottos–semper fidelis, anyone?
Then again, Latin doesn’t have to be all boring practicality. To quote Liam, Head Phil (an extremely quotable person, I must say), “[T]he best way I’ve found to revive the Latin language is to use it in everyday conversation. It requires nothing more than normal literacy and just a tiny bit of memorization of the phrases in question.” See? Even if you’re not a straight-A Latin student, you can speak like a Roman every day! This page lists a few conversational basics to get you started. As for myself, “Salve! Quomodo tu vales?” has become my most frequently used greeting for friends. Pro Iuppiter is by far my favorite exclamation.
A few sites (I recommend this one and this one) offer more specific–and considerably more entertaining–Latin phrases for our enjoyment. Need a conversation starter? Simply say, “Hostes alienigeni me abduxerunt. Qui annus est?” At a school dance and want to invite someone to join you? “Visne saltare? Viam Latam Fungosam scio.”
Whether you look at it from an academic standpoint or just for the sake of fun, Latin is a good thing to know. Do you think Latin is useless and shouldn’t be taught, or would you speak it all day if you could? Let’s talk about it in the comments.