Is Latin a dead language?At my school we have to take latin for at least 3 years. I feel like I'm wasting my time. Why dont they have us learn something we can actually use (spanish, french,...

Is Latin a dead language?

At my school we have to take latin for at least 3 years. I feel like I'm wasting my time. Why dont they have us learn something we can actually use (spanish, french, ect...)??? Isn't Latin a dead language? Why are they making us lean something we will never need to know once we graduate?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is ironic that the "dead" language of Latin proved to be so valuable that after discouraging people to major in Latin and the old Latin teachers retired there was a resurgence of respect for this great language as its absence was apparent.  Desperately, then, schools sought Latin teachers in the late 1980s, and colleges offered French and Spanish teachers the opportunity to obtain degrees in Latin at a minimum of cost or with scholarships.  Not many foreign language teachers gained this degree as it offered no pay increase.

One only measures what has been missed by those who have not had Latin if one has taken Latin and spent countless hours conjugating verbs and translating passages from Julius Caesar-"Veni, vidi, vici!" etc[et cetera=and the rest].  Once upon a time, there was an English professor who commented on how well some students knew how to begin sentences with participial phrases in the past (e.g. [exemplis gratis].  There was another English professor who commented on how well some students understood consistency of tenses in their writing, how adequate were their vocabularies.

Latin is not a dead language; anyone who knows a Romance language realizes that Latin lives on through French, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, and Romanian.  And, of course, it survives in the affixes and root word to which allusions have already been made by other posters.  True, it is not spoken; however, it is frequently used in the medical, legal and other fields already mentioned.  Indeed, the knowledge of Latin increases one's vocabulary, ones' sophistication of sentence structures, and one's awareness of the structure of verbs, and of many individual meanings. The laxness in the form of the most modern English may well be attributed to the very lack of Latin in people today.

A trip to Europe and its many cathedrals and other religiously significant locations will display more than enough Latin for you to be grateful for having taken such a profound language.  Bottom line:  Latin does, indeed, help a student with English.(Read Thomas Hardy's novels and see how the influence of Latin affected the beautiful structure of his sentences.)  In addition, it is the parent of all the Romance languages, so knowing some Latin assists in the learning of the other languages. Consummatum est.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I understand your feelings about Latin because it seems useless since it cannot be spoken today. We used to offer Latin at my school in addition to Spanish and French, but then our Latin teacher moved away, and we haven't been able to replace her. However, from a teacher's perspective, here's what I observed from my students who were taking Latin.

1. Those students began demonstrating better skills at understanding vocabulary in context because of all the Latin roots and stems that English relies on. Their study of Latin also encouraged them to use more precise vocabulary in their own writing.

2. My special education students who chose to take Latin began to feel more successful in studying a language--something that they did not feel when they studied Spanish or French because they were so worried about incorrectly pronouncing a word.

When our Latin teacher left, many students were disappointed because Latin was the first language class that they enjoyed.

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a spoken language, Latin is virtually dead. Students and teachers at my school where it is also a required course, however, do speak it. Latin lives, on the other hand, in much of the English language today in addition to having influenced other romance languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish. If you have a solid foundation in Latin, you have an excellent background that gives you a way to approach new words and often deduce their meanings based on their Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Secondly, an understanding of grammar in Latin carries over to a better understanding of how the English language functions, too. Mastery of your own language should be one of your goals, and Latin can help you reach that goal.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with my colleagues.  While there may be some sense of futility in learning a language which can never be spoken, that doesn't mean it can't be used.  Understanding Latin, particularly the roots, suffixes, and prefixes, will give you a head start in the medical, horticultural, veterinary, law, and biblical studies fields, and probably many others, as well.  I wish I had had the opportunity to learn Latin.  I helped a student with an independent study of Latin one year, and it was quite intriguing to me--though perhaps as a student I would not have found it so. 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

People don't usually speak Latin, which is why it is called "dead" sometimes.  However, Latin is the root of many languages that are "alive" including English.  Knowing Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes greatly increases your vocabulary skills.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Latin is indeed an ancient language that is spoken mostly in some religions and a lot of medical terms are Latin. One reason for studying Latin might be that it has an influence on many other languages.

goldenlight | Student

Doesn't it feel special to understand a language that is not known by many people?


Perhaps it is this learning that is preventing the 'death' of the language.

goldenlight | Student

Remember it has influenced many languages as with English for example; it still is in some sense alive in this respect.


It is also taught as a choice subject in some areas.