Rockbridge Academy Blog
Why Latin in the Grammar School
Latin is an important yet strange distinctive of a classical education. Why do classically educated students learn Latin, and why do they learn Latin in the grammar school?
The many benefits of Latin are documented. However, the main reason to study Latin, like any other language, is to be able to interact with those speaking that language. “But Latin is dead,” you say. “No one actually speaks Latin anymore.” Although Latin is not a commonly spoken language, there are writings in Latin in almost every field of study or interest. In fact, they can be found on six of the seven continents. Specifically, many of the writings that are foundational to Western Civilization and to that of the Christian church are found in Latin. Our goal at Rockbridge Academy is that our students be able to interact in the original language with some of these foundational Latin documents and authors. Our 9th grade students spend time reading and interacting with Cicero, Livy, Ovid, and Caesar, while our 10th grade students read from Vergil’s Aeneid and the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible.
The simple reason we are studying Latin in the grammar school is the same reason that we study math and reading in the grammar school. While the children are younger and their brains are ready to soak up and memorize, we train them in the basics or “grammar” of various subjects. The math they learn in grammar school prepares them for the algebra, economics, and calculus we hope they will study later. The Latin they study prepares them for reading foundational texts in their original languages. Just as the math our students learn in grammar school prepares them for chemistry and physics as well as math classes and for daily life skills such as balancing a checkbook, calculating a tip at a restaurant, or following and adjusting a recipe, the study of Latin also gives our students transferrable skills. The students gain deeper understanding and insight into the grammar of their own language, English, as they learn to translate between the two languages. The hundreds of Latin words the students learn give them knowledge of the roots of many Romance language-derived words in English. Certainly the study of Latin would be beneficial to subsequent language acquisition. For example, one speaks Latin without even knowing it when he asks the druggist for vitamins or asks the doctor questions about disease. The focus on detail and the use of context and basic reasoning skills that are developed and strengthened in Latin are skills that transfer into almost every other class and area of life. The upper grammar students receive training in basic reasoning skills that strengthen the logic skills of the developing dialectic student. The attention to context and application of reason skills based on a context are foundational to the study of literature and Biblical hermeneutics.
Nevertheless, asking your children to work at a subject you never took yourself can be intimidating. Denise Hollidge remembers, “It was hard for me to start out at Rockbridge with two of my four children already behind in learning Latin—a subject I knew nothing about. However, they all benefited, and my youngest children had the easiest time with Latin because they started younger.” Pastor and teacher Brian Lee says, “Not only is Latin easier to learn at this age, but it makes learning other subjects easier…Because Latin is more orderly and precise than English, it also prepares the mind for the next phases of learning: logic and rhetoric, or argumentation.” While you may feel inadequate to assist, you can give practical help in Latin to your grammar student by reviewing vocabulary lists with them. Most importantly, you can be positive about the idea and model enthusiasm about learning something new together as a family. Learning Latin together is a daily way of reminding ourselves that understanding the workings of language aids us all in worshipping the Word of God Incarnate. Learning Latin is an act of faith.