When we speak of the educational value of Latin, we mean the unique quality it has to develop the mind of a student, its inherent formative capacity. Latin is the language par excellence of logical order and systematic structure. Because, like Math, Latin is a cumulative subject (a subject where progress is like climbing a ladder, the higher rungs can never be reached until passing through the lower ones) it initiates the student into a true course whereby the characteristics of the language, logic, order and structure, are not only demanded of the student but formed in the student. As a highly inflected language (a language wherein the function of a word in a sentence is determined by its case, not its position), Latin requires the frequent use and training of the faculty of memory, a near absent point in modern attempts at education, in order to learn the many paradigms of the conjugations and cases. Still more, this inflected quality makes for a very free Latin syntax (the order of words in a sentence). Because of the syntactical freedom, students can not rely upon the sequence of words to ascertain meaning but must reason to discover the conceptual relation between words; this necessarily develops a logical mind.
It may be objected that the study of a modern language would serve the same ends while providing the added value of a language which the student could use in the context of today. However, this fails to appreciate that no modern language, helpful to formation though they are, approaches the mental and academic rigors which typify Latin. Latin is truly unique in its capacity to discipline the mind and fills the lacuna left by standard curricula. Nor does such an argument acknowledge that despite the frequent moniker, Latin is hardly a dead language—Latin is found everywhere as the Latin student well knows—and in fact is witnessing a phenomenal resurgence of interest and use.
Additionally, within the realm of its educational value, is that understanding of Latin provides unimpeded access to the literary works of many of the greatest thinkers of Western Civilization. The value of reading a work in its original tongue over a translation is well attested.
Because of Latin’s supreme functionality to express a thought clearly it became the obvious mater lingua of philosophy and of the queen of sciences, sacred theology. As such, the student who knows Latin well gains access to the written patrimony of the hallmark figures of the Catholic Faith and so can begin a spiritual dialogue with the likes of Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Benedict, Thomas and a host of others in the language in which they thought and prayed.
Even more importantly, Latin was and is the universal language of the universal Church and the normative language of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Knowledge of Latin provides an even more profound immersion in the mystical Divine Love poem that is the Mass. Students who learn to pray the Mass in Latin and understand why soon realize its inestimable value.
While practical value has never been the ultimate purpose or goal of a classical education and the study of Latin, its ‘real-world’ benefits nonetheless abound. Chief among these is the impact Latin has on the comprehension and correct use of English. Latin, whether directly or by means of other romance languages, notably French, forms the foundation for the great majority of English vocabulary. The English vocabulary based upon Latin is most usually polysyllabic words, that is, the words which form well-spoken speech. A study of Latin grammar leads the student to a fuller understanding of the mechanics of language and thereby greatly enhances the understanding of English. It is very difficult to ‘see’ grammar at work in one’s own language since it was learned naturally. This is why it is not uncommon to hear from those who have studied any foreign language statements like, “I never understood English until I studied…” It is also why books such as English Grammar for Students of German have become so popular. Yet, standing supreme is the inimitability of Latin as a highly inflected and regular language to develop one’s command of grammar and so to read, write and speak well.
Without elaboration, some other benefits are: Latin students have a great advantage in learning other foreign languages, studies have shown that Latin students tend to do better in Math and perform better on standardized tests, Latin students are equipped with the essential vocabulary of many professional fields such as medicine, law and science.
With all the acknowledged benefits of the study of the Latin language, it is all the more lamentable that over the past several decades it has fallen into disfavor, while at the same time educational standards and effectiveness have unquestionably diminished. At Immaculata Classical Academy we are grateful and pleased to be able to offer to your child a comprehensive study of such a worthy subject. It is our goal to not only retrieve this ‘lost tool of learning’ but instill in one child at a time an appreciation of and passionate interest for the language of civilization, the language of the Church.