“Veni, vidi, vici”, bragged the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar in a stylish letter to his Roman friends, after he and his force of 20,000 marched against the Pharnaces and defeated him in the Battle of Zela, or modern Zile, in what is today the Tokat province of northern Turkey. The phrase means roughly “I came, I saw, I conquered” and has been impressing the scholarly community since the time it was spoken with its cadence and air of brevity. Historians and scholars are not alone when resorting to the power of Latin phrases. Many have opted to using Latin to impress friends and family or simply to discover surprising insights and little-known facts about politics, literature, science, and the marvels of the natural world.
Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. All of the Romance languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, are directly descended from this native tongue. Our own English language is heavily influenced by roots from the Latin Language and as many as 80 percent of our language can be traced to Latin.
Today, Ecclesiastical Latin is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican. With so much influence on our own language coming from Latin, it is surprising that students are not encouraged to study it in high school and college.
Starting from the Middle Ages until the 20th century, Latin along with rhetoric, and grammar was the prefered curriculum for most prestigious schools.
Though considered a dead language, to immerse oneself in classical studies Latin is a must today, besides, Latin education can help immensely with English grammar as it provides a historical foundation for students’ education.
It is a misconception to believe that Latin is primarily used for the purpose of translating ancient literature. In high school all students are required to select a foreign language and many choose Spanish or French as their first choice. However, to make a choice to differ from the crowd and take the less familiar road, or as Robert Frost once said, “the road less traveled”, an aspiring scholar should consider the language of the Roman Empire as that can be a great choice too.
Latin is not really taught conversationally and is not a language you can hope to use exchanging a daily dose of ‘what’s up’ small talk. But if you are curious and daring, and if you don’t shy away from being different, taking Latin classes will teach you a great deal about law, government, medicine, science, philosophy, architecture, and the arts. What is more important, taking Latin, even for just two years, creates the perfect foundation for becoming proficient in any language. Anyone with such foundation will be able to break down and analyze grammar and parts of speech, which is the main foundation for learning any language. Mastering Latin roots can be invaluable skill when it comes to learning English vocabulary. After the second year of studying the language, students can expect achieved proficiency in reading and translating. With a solid background in Latin, one can major in Classical Studies, wherein the primary study is on aspects of Ancient Greek and Roman History and Culture. Headed for law, medicine, or pre-med majors? Having a knowledge of the Latin language has obvious benefits for all law and medical students since in these disciplines students will be able to better learn technical terminology, most of which is comprised of Latin words and phrases. Classical studies majors often go on to earn Master’s degrees and Doctoral degrees either in Art, History or Archaeology, where knowledge of the Latin language helps with research, and some student chose to devote their graduate studies to the language itself, where they can go on to teach Latin in high schools or earn a place as a professor of Classical Studies at a college or university.
Teaching the Latin language in high school can be challenging. Most students take foreign languages just to satisfy the requirements for graduation, not for the enjoyment of learning a new language. Unfortunately, they often take easier languages such as Spanish or French. And since Latin is not taught conversationally, learning it can be considered a tedious series of memorization of vocabulary words and noun and verb suffixes. Latin has six grammatical cases, which means the noun or adjective changes its ending based on its position in a sentence and based on how the verb or preposition is affecting it in that sentence. Since the Romance languages are directly descended from Latin, the vocabulary and grammar is similar and easily transferable, which makes speaking languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan, if not almost immediately at least fairly easy to grasp. Therefore, studying Latin is like studying six languages at once, effortlessly. But, as I said earlier, you should consider yourself curious and motivated learner to embark on taking Latin. The rewards are immense at the end of the journey. For example, for anyone who strives to speak and write English with clarity, learning Latin can help immensely. Thanks to learning Latin, many of my students at VoicED are able to understand and dissect the Latin derived words in English and look at their roots. It feels great when you know exactly what words such as erudite, cornucopia, and puerile mean. Latin helps not just with improving English vocabulary but also with finding some degree of influence form Latin vocabulary to high-level and high-brow topics, besides, it is the ultimate gateway to any European language.
There are numerous ways in which Latin teachers can make learning the language interesting and not just a matter of memorizing verb conjugation and noun declension charts. Using modern technology to teach an ancient language might seem unlikely but there are many resources available online to assist the Latin teacher in his or her pursuits. Many websites offer charts, tutorials, and games to not only help the teacher, but also to help engage the students. Combining learning Latin with learning Internet skills is a perfect way to bridge the gap between ancient and modern.
Another way to make learning the Latin language interesting is by incorporating Roman history and Mythology into the subject. By bringing history and myth into the study of the Latin language, students will understand the origins of the language, as well as understand the impact the language and the history of Rome has had on our modern world. Games can be played and plays can be put on, utilizing Roman mythological stories and literature, and in this way students can learn everything from Roman military strategy to Roman engineering, Roman cooking, and to how Roman people dressed and behived.
Learning Latin can be an enriching experience, one that is guaranteed to bring out the language enthusiast in anyone, not to mention the added bonus of making the learner culturally literate. To be able to understand the meaning of Latin expressions such as “Sic semper tyrannis”, “A mari usque ad mare”, or my favorite “Veni, vidi, vici” or to be able to read Erasmus’ Praise of Folly in origin and fully enjoy the satire is a sweet experience.
As a high school Latin teacher, it can be frustrating that the language is misunderstood and underappreciated. But, by using modern technology and creative teaching methods, language can be brought to life, and students will not only learn a new language but will have a clear understanding of English grammar and gain a new foundation that will open up their options as they enter college.
“Sapere Aude! Dare to Know!”