Does Latin Really Help You Learn Other Languages?

If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably had at least one encounter with Latin during your school years. Often Latin is considered a compulsory subject and many an educator has waxed poetic about how important it is to know this particular dead language. Supposedly, having a solid knowledge of Latin can make learning almost any Romance language easier, whether it be Spanish, French, or Italian, but is this really the truth? Are there real benefits to knowing how to speak Latin, or is it simply an empty pursuit used to fill up the wasted hours of our youth? Read on to find out a few of the pros of knowing Latin, and discover if this language is really all its made out to be.  Who knows? By the end of this article you may be ready to dust off that old Latin textbook and brush up on the skills you learned way back in high-school!

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Caesar non supra grammaticos. (The Emperor is not above the grammarians.)

Before we start delving into how Latin can help you learn a foreign language, consider first the influence it has on your native tongue. Many of the words we use in our day-to-day lives are derived from Latin. Words like memo, alibi, and agenda all come from the Latin language and are used in everyday English. Even more interesting to note is that you probably are already speaking Latin and don’t even know it! If you’ve ever used phrases like alter ego (other self), vice versa (position turned), or quid pro quo (this for that), then you my friend are speaking Latin. When you start learning where these words and phrases came from and how they became a part of the English tongue, you develop a greater appreciation for your own native language. This also goes to prove that all those naysayers who told you you’d never use Latin in real life were utterly and completely wrong.

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Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. (Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.)

Just as English derives many words from the Latin tongue, so do most of the languages spoken across Europe and South America. But does that necessarily mean knowing Latin will make your quest to become multilingual any easier? Well, many languages share Latin root words, so you would probably find it easier to hazard an educated guess as to what a word in Spanish or French might be even if you’ve never learned them before. And just as Spanish can pave the way for, say, learning Portuguese, Latin can create pathways to multiple tongues giving you a wider reach in your language learning. Knowledge of Latin root words also allows a deeper understanding of the language you are studying.

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Vitanda est improba siren desidia. (One must avoid that wicked temptress, Laziness.)

Still, if we’re being completely honest here, Latin won’t give you that much of a boost over your language learning peers. While it can be a useful tool, it’s dangerous to rely too much on it and assume that you won’t need to work as hard at learning a new language. Latin is wonderful precisely because it lets you look at the Romance languages through a wider scope and understand how they are all connected. But, I hate to break it to you, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to study as hard as everyone else. Learning a language takes dedication and discipline and if you don’t apply either it won’t matter whether you know Latin or not because you simply won’t get anywhere.

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Whether you’re a scholar, a hobbyist, or a part-time language aficionado, there really are no cons to knowing how to speak Latin. You can use it as a cool party trick, employ it to study languages on a deeper level, or apply it if you’re studying medicine or law (both of which use a LOT of Latin). It’s up to you to decide how you want to utilise your Latin languages skills and whether or not they will benefit you in your language learning pursuits. Regardless of how you choose to put it to use, there’s no denying that Latin is a fun and fascinating language to know!

Do you know Latin? If so, do you feel it makes it easier to learn other languages? Share your learning experience with us!