I REFUSE to teach my children Latin

If you've been a long time reader, you know that I have no fondness for Latin.  And I don't make any apologies for it.  I think it is a foolish, time wasting thing to teach a child who is SO capable of learning a language, a dead language.

Yes, I've read the articles about how it teaches proper grammar, etc.  I know it's part of numerous homeschool curricula packages, but don't forget that the people that publish these books aren't just doing it because they want your children to learn Latin…they make a living doing so.  Not that there is anything wrong with selling homeschool curricula as a business, just something we often forget when people try to convince us that teaching something their way is the BEST way.  And please note that I don't have any language curricula for sale.

Now, I don't have any "beef" with any publisher, so please don't take it that way.  I just don't understand why you would go through all the frustration (because I am pretty confident that 99% of homeschooling parents do NOT know Latin) to teach your child a language that he or she will never speak OVER a Latin based language.

"But Susan, what if my child decides to go to medical school and needs to know Latin because so much of medical terminology is Latin based?"

Yes…what if?  Most of our children won't follow those paths, but even those who do would have a great advantage if they knew a Latin based language WELL.  I've never heard of any business going "ga ga" over an applicant that knows Latin, but I have heard of young adults whose fluency in Spanish (or any other language, really) helped them edge above the others and land an amazing job.

So you know we're living in Costa Rica, right?  If not, you need to read my Big Dreams post.

My children have been immersed into a culture where they did not know much more Spanish than one can learn watching Dora the Explorer or Go! Diego Go!.  (And by the way, Dora and Diego teach kids ENGLISH here!  Freaks my oldest daughter out! LOL!)

My husband was a bit disappointed in their seeming lack of progress in learning Spanish.  That was until he sat down and started reading some stories to them in Spanish and they knew at least 80% of what he was saying.  And until one day, when our little 3 yr old was getting bit by ants and he screamed out "Armigas!" which in 3 yr old speak is  Spanish for ants.  Or when our oldest 3 could understand their great-aunt telling them something in Spanish because she doesn't speak English.

One of the BIG goals we've had for our children with our travels is to help them learn how to be comfortable with people who are very different from themselves AND be able to communicate with them in order to share the Gospel hope with them.  I'm not saying you should have these same goals for your children, but if you're a Christian family and believe Matthew 28:19 AND realize that the number of Spanish speaking people in the world is growing quite rapidly, it only makes sense that we should know how to communicate with them.

The world's top 3 languages at this point in history are Chinese/Mandarin, Spanish and English.  Note that Latin isn't in the top 3 or top 10 or even top100.  It is a dead language, but the benefits of Latin can still be received by learning Spanish or Italian or French or Portuguese.

But back to the aspiring medical student…that was me.  And in my undergraduate years, I took a Medical Terminology class…and got an "A" in it, thank you very much.  I had no previous knowledge of Latin, in the purest sense, but a very good handle on Spanish.  To say that knowing Spanish helped tremendously would be an understatement. 

It has helped me communicate with the people here in Costa Rica, a few in Panama and even someone in Spain.  I can speak easily with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, etc.  And I was able to write to our Compassion International child in Peru in his native tongue…and realized that some of the translations by Compassion International's staff of his letters to us were not entirely accurate.

Am I on a mission to get rid of all Latin curricula?  Maybe I am, but only because I realize how valuable fluency in a LIVING second language truly is.  Do YOU?  Can you and your children live out the Gospel message in Matthew 28:19 by learning and teaching them a dead language?  You forge relationships with others when you speak their language.

Have you been teaching your children Latin?  What made you decide to do it?  Or have you stuck with teaching your children Latin based languages like Spanish, French, Portuguese or Italian?  If you're a die hard Latin fan, convince me why I'm wrong!  Seriously! 


Leave your comments here:

  • Anonymous

    I love how you are so opinionated and unafraid to step on toes! Your reasoning is exactly why I chose to teach mainly Spanish for my kids’ foreign language. But I have to admit I love learning ANY language, so Latin was on my list of things that might be nice . . . just didn’t get to it.

    Some of my kids have wanted to study some other less commonly spoken languages, just because they wanted to do something different, so some have studied French, Russian, and last year my daughter studied Swahili and Malay (just some basic things like greetings, numbers, and a few words).

    I think the emphasis on Latin in some homeschooling circles is because of the “Classical” method which is interesting in itself, with the concept of different learning phases based on age groups– but this method does encourage learning of Latin.

    My guess is that in the Classical education method Latin is used as a mental exercise (so any other language could achieve the same purpose) and also might just be a nostalgia thing, because Latin– at certain times in history– was considered the language of scholars and scribes. If it worked for all those kids in the 19th century (and also for resaissance college students), why break with tradition?

    This issue kind of reminds me of the argument about why every student needs to take higher maths . . .

    I guess I’m kind of glad I know a little bit of Algebra– not that I’ve ever needed to use it, but just that I know how to create an equation if need be. But really, the only reason I remember any Algebra at all is that I’ve helped 7 of my kids learn it.

    But I’m kind of sorry for the kids that are pushed to know maths way beyond beginning Algebra, even though they aren’t interested in the least in a career in sciences. But colleges require this high level of math achievement. To so many kids it is nothing but a mental exercise. Sure, mental exercises can be useful– but why not put your efforts into doing something that fits better with your interests and likely career path?

  • Carol Montgomery

    Applause! Well, spoken. After 24 years of homeschooling–without Latin–we still have a son who is a doctor…..a doctor of physics. We found that learning Latin and Greek roots helped with some vocabulary, but like you, we focused on Spanish. Two of the four children actually had DREAMS in Spanish while studying Spanish in college. (The other two didn’t pursue the language.)

    Real people speak real languages. What a thrill to be raising bilingual children. Drool. :)

    By the way, another “language” for parents to consider is sign. (It’s different in different nations, though.)

  • Family Travel Bucket List

    Funny you should mention signing…my children all know a bit of sign language and it came in handy just last week. Our girls were in a performance and were across the room from me and needed to say something, so we signed it! Everyone around us looked at us funny, as if they’d never seen anyone use sign language.

    I’ve found that ASL has been a very helpful tool while trying to teach the children Spanish. It adds another visual dimension to their foreign language learning when I can sign a word AND say it in Spanish. :)

  • http://www.mrshomeschool.com Mrs. Homeschool


    I am not a fan of all the rote memorization that goes along with the Classical method. Many of my friends (if not most) who homeschool have had their kids in Classical Conversations and it just seems too much like public/private school to me. Memorization has its place (for Scripture, multiplication and basic addition/subtraction facts, etc.), but I don’t force my kids to memorize something just to memorize it. I think that method tends to look at children as little computers to fill up with data. I prefer to teach my children how to LEARN and comprehend. Maybe I don’t have an accurate view of the Classical method, but from what I’ve seen, I prefer fostering a love of learning where big picture things are known, not just the names and dates. :)

    Oops…did that sound opinionated? Guess I take that Scripture about being either hot or cold seriously. LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sipes23 Peter Sipes

    As a Latin teacher, this is how I make my living. But you’re right. For anyone living in or around or near a large community of foreign language speakers, the conclusion, which you draw, is correct. Resoundingly so. However. (And here is my standard defense of Latin when vocabulary/grammar/writing advantages are cast aside—and frankly those are skills separate from Latin, whatever uses Latin may have in teaching them.) In order to know where you’re going, you must know where you came from. Latin is our heritage as Western Christians. From antiquity through the medieval era to the Renaissance, Latin was the intellectual language of the Christian West. Even after Latin’s second death in the Renaissance, people with serious educations (the American founders for Americans) were steeped in the Latin tradition. Latin is where we, collectively in the West, came from. My secondary argument is that Americans (and I see you’re living in Costa Rica, so this may be moot) live in a deeply monolingual world, which is a pity in its own right. Any foreign language will broaden a child’s education, so why not pick one that will enrich their understanding of their own culture? You’re shockingly fortunate to be living in a country where you and your children are able to learn a second language and culture by immersion. You’re doubly fortunate to not have to do it as a disadvantaged immigrant. Maligning Latin to people who may have marginal use for low-level Spanish isn’t useful. I am also painfully aware of how ungood many Latin curricula are, so I won’t build them up. I’d also tell someone who wants to learn Spanish to learn Spanish, not Latin—no matter how useful Latin may be toward learning Spanish. Yes, Latin is strangely popular among homeschoolers—I am delighted by that for reasons of light and heat at home—but it isn’t for everyone.

  • http://www.mrshomeschool.com Mrs. Homeschool

    There’s a sad, but very true joke among expatriates here. (For those who have never hear the word, expatriates are simply people living outside their country of origin, NOT people who aren’t patriots. We’re quite patriotic…hubby is a US Air Force vet.) The joke is:

    What are people called that speak 3 languages? Trilingual.
    What are people called that speak 2 languages? Bilingual.
    What are people called that speak 1 language? Americans.

    The world knows we’re (as in Americans) are SO focused on ourselves that we don’t bother learning another language…and force everyone else to learn ours. I LOVE the United States, but in our world that is becoming more global than most realize, a second language is invaluable.

    Thank you, Peter, for your thoughtful reply. I do agree that learning any language IS beneficial for ALL children, whether Spanish, Latin, Greek or, as Carol pointed out, Sign Language, simply because it expands their minds and teaches children to think a little differently. I wish you all the best with your Latin classes and are glad you can share your love and passion with others…and get paid to do so! :)

  • Naomi

    Love it! I teach “Latin” in the sense that we study prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc., but I don’t teach it for the sake of learning to speak Latin. We do it for vocab, spelling, grammar in English, and…… (drum roll, please)….. Spanish! Thank you for this post; I feel vindicated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sipes23 Peter Sipes

    I’ve heard and told that same joke. I laugh at it every time.

  • Classical School Teacher

    You are completely misunderstanding the purpose of learning Latin. With a Latin base, children will learn to speak and write better English. With a Latin base, children will learn to speak any other language more easily. With a Latin base, children will be better at Math. With a Latin base, children will become better problem solvers, critical thinkers, and abstract thinkers. We don’t teach Latin to teach students a “dead language” as you call it. We teach it because it’s the most effective way to teach a child to think in a process. The added bonus is that through Latin they learn English grammar, the grammar that will be necessary to master any other language, and necessary roots (SATs anyone?). Almost every student who learns Latin at my Classical School goes on to learn another language such as German, French, Spanish, Russian, or Mandarin/Chinese — the intent of beginning a Latin education in 3rd grade.

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