Why Teach Latin? Plus a peak into how we did it.

Teach your kids Latin because it is good for the brain.

Latin, like any foreign language, is amazing brain food. Learning a foreign language increases both grey and white matter, brain density, and neural connections.

Check the studies yourself, second-language learning is good for the brain.

“Learning another language is one of the most effective and practical ways to increase intelligence, keep your mind sharp, and buffer your brain against aging.”

Luz Palmero

Ok, so this probably is not news to you. But it only answers part of the question. We teach kids foreign language because it is good for the brain. But why Latin? Why not focus on a modern language? Perhaps a language that the parents already know, or one that might give them a later career advantage with the ability to be an interpreter?

I don’t think you need to throw Latin out the window just because you want your kid to learn a modern language. Sometimes two really is better than one. And no, you will not need to drown in foreign language studies just because you want to achieve fluency in more than one language. The truth is, language learning is easy for kids and learning Latin can help not only with their understanding and mastery of the English language, but will also serve as a solid base for any of the romance languages you might want them to learn.

Romance languages:

  • Spanish
  • French
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian

With over a billion people speaking a Romance language today is becomes hard to argue that Latin is an irrelevant study, as it is the ultimate mother of all Romance languages.

We may consider Latin a dead language, but her children are alive and well, and studying the mother’s ways always enlightens us with a deeper understanding of children.

Teach your kids Latin because it helps with English vocabulary.

This brings us to the practical, every day implications of studying Latin. With 80% of English words coming from the Latin language there is simply no better way to study English vocabulary than to pull out the Latin books. This percentage is even higher in the sciences, rising to 90%. Any kids interested in science or tech will only strengthen their future potential by adding Latin to their list of subjects.

Studying Latin becomes a secret weapon. Some people have a lot of new vocabulary to learn when they hit college level science courses. But our little Latin warriors recognize all those roots and derivatives, they know not only what the words mean but where they came from. This frees their brain to focus on the more complex concepts of the subjects they study, instead of getting tripped up by the new vocabulary.

Teach your kids Latin because it is one of the best ways to understand English grammar.

English grammar is a wee bit crazy. (No offense to the grammar lovers out there.) It is like trying to study a wild jungle. Do you know what helps scientists understand a wild jungle? Getting back to the basics. If they study trees, this helps them understand the jungle. If they study rivers, this helps them understand the jungle. If they study one animal in detail, this helps them understand many things about how the jungle ecosystem works.

Studying Latin gets us back to the basics of grammar. It makes more sense than English; the rules are clear. Although there are vast differences between Latin and English, just as a river wandering through the grasslands is a different beast than one rolling through a jungle, still, they are both rivers.

Understanding one river helps immensely in understanding another river. And it is easier for our brains to start with the more simple, straightforward river, and then take that basic understanding to tackle more complex river systems.

This is why studying Latin helps so immensely in the understanding of English grammar, because it is a basic grammar system.

Teach your kids Latin because it is a great base for learning any of the Romance Languages.

This brings us full circle back to the question of why choose Latin over Spanish? This is a common question. The underlying problem, I think, is our insistence that it is an either or choice. Many bad decisions are based on false juxtapositions, giving people two choices, when really, there are so many more than two, and those two are not, in reality, opposed to each other.

And I think the biggest reason we decide it has to be an either or choice is that we don’t understand how this one thing, this thing called Latin, creates such a solid foundation. We are not ‘adding’ work by adding this language.

No, we are making the study of other languages easier. We are making the mastery of their own first language easier. It is does not add up to more time. Your child will not need to study two languages for twelve years of their life to gain fluency.

Think bigger, your kids can study more than one language.

And think smaller, they don’t have to spend countless hours every year in order to make substantial gains in language learning.

Remember, kid’s brains are primed for language learning, it is much easier for them than it is for us.

Honestly, over the years, I have come to see Latin much like the arithmetic of learning languages. I don’t skip arithmetic with my kids just because they could use a calculator instead. Understanding the basic principles of arithmetic is essential to learning complex math, like Algebra, later. Giving them a solid foundation in basic math skills does not add to the amount of work they need to do, rather it opens the door of understanding so they can succeed when they get to the more complex work.

I’m not suggesting your child can’t master English without learning Latin. But I do want to share that my own children’s understanding of English seems to multiply when they start learning Latin. And when they are in a Latin year, I keep the study of English to a bare minimum to make space in the day. Yet they grow by leaps and bounds with their English skills during those years.

Teaching your kids Latin does not need to be hard.

Which brings us to common myths we believe about Latin, which make it seem hard. But after attempting many languages in our home, I assure you; it is a piece of cake. (If you want hard, go try Greek or Chinese, that’s hard.)

Common myths about teaching your kids Latin:

  • You need to know Latin to teach it.
  • Your kids will need to study Latin for 12 years.
  • Latin is boring.
  • Latin is hard.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these points and the reasons they are not true. Then you can make an informed decision about teaching your kids Latin.

You need to know Latin to teach it.

This may have been true 20 years ago. Before beautiful curriculum, designed by Latin experts, presented on video, could bring the Latin teachers into your own home for a nominal price.

But it is not true anymore. You don’t need to know any Latin. You just need to pick a curriculum that is all-inclusive. What this means is that the curriculum is doing the teaching, you are just facilitating. The programs I have used include video teaching, at every level, suited to the attention and abilities of the age group. They include age appropriate workbooks, activities, and quizzes. The teacher’s book will have the answer key and suggested scheduling.

Your kids will need to study Latin for 12 years.

This myth is not one that people typically voice, but when you dig down into why they are thinking Latin will be too hard to add to their homeschool, this reveals itself as an underlying assumption. I have two kids reading original Latin texts, one has studied 3 years and the other 4 years. It just doesn’t take 12 years.

Let’s not stop ourselves from doing something awesome just because we overestimate the commitment. A little bit of Latin is infinitely more than zero Latin. So like any adventure, just start with a let’s do what we can attitude instead of a pretending we are staring at Mt. Everest, when it is just a friendly rolling hill.

Latin is boring.

I suppose some Latin teachers may be boring. And some Latin curriculum writers may be boring. But Latin is not the problem. Latin is just a language and like any language it can be taught in a fun, engaging way, or a dull, boring way. So pick interesting materials, but don’t blame the subject itself.

Latin is hard.

After years of teaching Latin, plus helping and watching as kids have tried learning many different languages, I have found Latin so much easier than any other language. I don’t know how it ever got a reputation of being hard. Perhaps too many boring professors made it seem difficult. And the myth just spun out of control from there.

Or maybe we just want learning to be easy, and when you learn a foreign language, you do have to work. You have to push your brain. You have to grow. And that feels uncomfortable.

Latin is the easiest language your kids can study. And it’s not always a bad thing to take the easy way out. At the same time, it will make them think, both using and strengthening that wonderful brain power. Kids who struggle with languages should study Latin. And colleges should quit insisting that it doesn’t count just because it is dead. Did you know many universities are beginning to accept computer programming as a foreign language while continuing to insist Latin doesn’t count?

Thankfully, we don’t need the blessing of universities to give our kids the gift of Latin.

How I teach my kids Latin.

In this section, I am going to share our personal journey with Latin. You will find out the resources I used and schedules I followed from early elementary all the way to high school. I think sharing my journey will help you find your way in the alternative world of Latin. I want to break down the wall of overwhelm that many people experience at the thought of teaching their kids Latin.

So welcome to my home. We first started teaching our kids Latin when my oldest was in third grade. We used the program Song School Latin (by Classical Academic Press) and our oldest boys, ages 6 & 8 studied together. Song School Latin is one of my favorite curriculum programs. It is one of the few programs that I came back to again and again, with every child. It is also more fun with two or three kids, so I highly recommend teaching siblings together if they are anywhere close in age. (Although the program is designed for ages K-2nd, my kids enjoyed it through 4th grade.)

Song School Latin takes about 15-20 minutes a day. We used it 4 days a week. Latin was one of the subjects we skipped on what I call ‘light school days’.

Check the studies yourself, singing is a great way to learn a foreign language.

We only did that for one year. Then Latin sort of languished by the side of the road for a few years. The next time I picked it up, we started back with Song School Latin 1, adding in several younger siblings, and including the older ones for the video and verbal review. I soon realized just how much my older kids (at the time 4th & 5th grades) remembered from their brief introduction to Latin a few years ago.

So the next year I moved the older ones onto the Latin for Children (level A) program, and ordered Song School Latin 2 for my younger four (ranging in age from K-4th).

We scheduled 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to complete Latin for Children, which worked well. Friday’s were for the quiz which would take maybe 10 minutes. If they scored 80% or more on the quiz, they were done for the week. If not, they corrected and studied the questions missed for the remaining 20 minutes.

The following year my oldest two completed Latin for Children level B, and my younger kids when on a Latin break, to study other things of interest.

(On a side note, my kids learned a lot of basic study skills from the Latin for Children program, just another great bonus.)

Then we all left Latin for a little while. And this is really important, because Latin does not have to be every year, or all the time, to be done well. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves before we even try to tackle something that sounds hard, like Latin, just because we have this crazy idea in our heads that if we are going to do it we have to throw 100% of our energy and enthusiasm and endurance at it.

So you can see a pattern was developing. My kids did two years of Latin in elementary grades. And then they did another two in middle school.

In high school, I give my kid’s choice of what language to study. (Colleges, however, like to see a modern language on that final transcript.) And you know what? They have all dabbled in other Languages, but they would really rather study Latin.

My oldest is in his second year of French and a senior in high school, he is studying French for the modern foreign language requirement that so many colleges have, and in the hopes of taking a CLEP in order to test out of the foreign language classes he will need to take in college. The foundation in Latin has helped him pick up French grammar very quickly.

My 9th and 10th grader are currently studying Latin with the Visual Latin curriculum (by Compass Classroom.) Armed with their previous 4 years of Latin, they are flying through the program and reading/translating three books, in the original Latin. This program takes them 1 hour a day, 4 days a week.

They will complete Visual Latin 2 by the end of the year. The only thing left, if they want to continue, is to find more books in Latin for them to read. (And they are both planning to continue and telling me which books they want to read in Latin. Harry Potter, and The Hobbit, in Latin, have already been added to our wishlist.)

That’s pretty awesome if you think about it. The truth is, Latin is one of the easiest languages to learn. It can ignite your child’s wonder and curiosity for other foreign languages. In our house we have dabbled in Spanish, French, German, Greek, and even a short attempt at Chinese. This was all at the request of the kids, not mom throwing stuff at them. And they always come full circle, back to that first love, Latin.

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