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Does Latin help one to think more logically?
Thread poster: wonita (X)

wonita (X)
Local time: 02:01
Mar 18, 2011

My younger daughter is now facing the choice of her second foreign language: Latin or French. Her school organized an information day for the parents, on which we were informed about the pros and cons of both languages. According to the Latin teacher, the biggest advantage to learn Latin is, that learning Latin will help a student to know how to learn, because Latin helps to develop your brain in a positive way, i.e. it brings order and structure in your thinking.

I’ve never learned Latin myself, and I am quite skeptical about her statement, because I don’t believe logical and strict grammatical rules will influence how one thinks, or math helps more in terms of logical thinking. Can anybody who has learned Latin at school give me some enlightenment about this? What’s your experience with Latin?

Thanks in advance.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
French to English
+ ...
Essentially an old wives' tale... Mar 18, 2011

I think the idea that specifically Latin, as opposed to other subjects, will *intrinsically* improve your logical reasoning is essentially an old wives' tale, with maybe a grain of truth if you accept certain caveats. If there is any truth in it, I think it's more as a statement about a teaching method than anything to do with the Latin language per se.

So firstly, there's nothing linguistically special about Latin per se and there's no proven reason to say that it (or indeed any language) is intrinsically "more logical" than any other language. Once upon a time, there were a number of major speech varieties spoken in what is now Italy, and one of those dialects happened to be "in the right place at the right time" (i.e. the capital at the time the Roman empire was expanding).

On the other hand, Latin has some special properties in terms of how it is often *taught* or presented compared to a modern language. Where features of the language that can be abstracted and presented in tables or as a list of rules, there is a tendency to do so, even though this in reality masks a lot of complexity, arbitrariness and exceptions that if we were studying it as a modern language, we would need to be more concerned with. This approach arguably works because the focus is on passive understanding, not active production of the language.

So the way to understand the Latin teacher's statement is probably something like this: "If you teach any subject at all by abstracting away and focussing on those elements of the subject that can be taught in a logic-focussed manner, then pupils are liable to improve their logical thinking skills. And we teach Latin in such a way."

So studying Latin might improve your logical reasoning. But so might studying chemistry or mathematics.

There is a lot of merit in studying Latin, but I would personally see it in other terms:
- it introduces you to a wealth of literature and social references, many of which are culturally important if you want to understand presentday literature. (It is worth remembering that a typical Latin course, once you go beyond a basic level, will be heavily literature-based.)
- like other languages, it introduces the notion of certain key ways in which languages can differ from English and from one another (e.g. absence of articles, overt case system, phonology where vowel quality isn't dependent on stress...) -- but on the other hand, various other modern languages will also introduce these notions
- Latin is remarkable in being an ancient language whose historical stages are very well preserved compared to pretty much any other language, so it provides a lot of information on how languages develop and allows theories of language development to be tested

But ultimately it depends on what your daughter fancies studying. Does she want to play the "detective" looking at the older form a language no longer spoken in that form, studying something that will give her various general notions that will be useful to feed into certain other subjects/studies, or does she want to study a language in its "living" form, that she will be able to use and witness directly before her eyes? Another thing you might consider: what resources does the school have to teach the modern language (e.g. availability of language assistants, exchange trips...) that she wouldn't have access to later on in life if she decided to pick up French?

P.S. I should add-- because this is another old wives' tale-- that the notion of "Latin will help you with your English" isn't such a persuasive argument. In reality, most of the Latin-derived elements of English actually came via French. So if Latin will help you with your English, so will French...

[Edited at 2011-03-18 17:33 GMT]


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
Flemish to English
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A try Mar 18, 2011

Latin is the mother of all Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Roumanian). Hence a knowledge of Latin is useful should your daughter want to study other Romance language (as well as Germanic languages : is the German "Deklinationssystem" (nominativ, akkusativ, datif, genitiv) not based on Latin.
The same system also occurs in Slavonic languages like Russian (7 causus).

If Latin is followed by French, the following year, I would choose Latin.

The con of French : a totally illogical descriptive language with an illogical spelling, called orthographe. The most difficult of all Romance languages.

Math is a language of its own with its own syntax, which is present everywhere in daily life and helps to analyse problems and situations.

[Edited at 2011-03-18 17:45 GMT]


patyjs  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:01
Spanish to English
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Consider what she wants to study down the road. Mar 18, 2011

If her interest lies in the sciences then Latin would probably be a better choice. In fact, I remember Latin being a requirement if you wanted to study Chemistry at university, for example.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:01
English to Spanish
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Dead Mar 18, 2011

Latin is a dead language and though it does have academic value, it has no practical value. It is a waste of time. One can learn to learn just as well by learning something worthwhile such as a living language.

Saying that "learning Latin will help a student to know how to learn" is nothing but propaganda by self-serving academics who make their living by trying to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:01
Italian to English
Thinking logically Mar 18, 2011

As Neil says, Latin doesn't of itself improve your ability to think logically (solving problems, particularly mathematical ones, does that) but it does give you a comprehensive mental apparatus with which to analyse language, particularly if you add the study of literature and rhetoric to that of grammar.

Latin isn't much spoken these days and no one can claim to be a native speaker icon_wink.gif The big advantage of a modern language like French is that you can listen to it, learn its sounds and absorb its rhythms, all of which are likely to be rather different from your own native language. Obviously, how well you learn these will depend on how the language is taught.

Presumably your daughter is already studying English at school. Since she lives in Germany with a Chinese-speaking mum, she probably already has a pretty good grasp of both these languages, too (lucky girl!). As she mentally compares and contrasts the way her various languages express meaning, she will gain insights into all of them and Latin, like all ancient languages, has features which modern languages lack.

Finally, if your daughter wants to be a translator, Latin will be a great help. Practice is the best way to improve translation skills and she will get plenty of that while she's learning Latin!


Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 07:01
German to Serbian
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How the Latin is taught. Mar 18, 2011

I don't like the way how Latin is taught ( methodology) to young learners, I remember it from the time when I was 15. Lots of grammar drills to inexperienced learners.

Latin can be of help ( in later life and work) only to linguistically aware people who will use it to decipher certain meanings in their texts, as it's present in all subject fields and professions.

I have worked with people from different non-linguistic professions, and they all display difficulties using linguistic logic ( which is normal, as it's not their field). And they all had Latin terms/words in their university text books ( all possible branches). However, they memorize them visually, or by heart, but not linguistically.

As much as I agree that grammar principles and patterns resemble math, I think that the teacher was only promoting her own subject ( which is normal).

[Edited at 2011-03-18 21:52 GMT]


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 23:01
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
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No regrets about Latin Mar 18, 2011

That is a hard choice - I was fortunate enough to take both at the same time. The big pro of French of course is that it can be used today and is spoken in many countries. But I am very grateful to have learned Latin because I think it does teach you to analyze language and think logically, and it lays the groundwork, and/or serves as a source of comparison, for learning almost any other language. Not to mention that it gave me an appreciation of art, culture, and history at a very young age.

I especially appreciate it now that I am translating medical and legal texts, because even though I may not know the meaning of a term, I am usually able to at least make a good guess and then it is easy to look for sources of confirmation.

It depends a lot on what your daughter's plans are and where she may be pursuing her higher education. If she is interested in studying languages, either one would be a good place to start - although I would still recommend starting with Latin and learning French later. And something to keep in mind: in some countries Latin is (or at least it was when I was in school) a pre-requisite for certain fields, such as medicine, law and the humanities, so taking that could increase her options for the future.

For what it's worth: I think math also teaches you logical thinking but it is abstract thinking, whereas Latin teaches you concrete thinking - they are different sides of the same coin. Both are useful but some people are better at one, some at the other, and some lucky people are good at both. But that is a whole different topic....


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Your daughter's own preferences are important Mar 18, 2011

When I started secondary school (a long time ago - 1942), the system was that the whole class learned Latin in the first year, and from the second year on, some learned Latin and some learned German. The ones who did best in Latin had to continue with that and the others took German. I did quite well in Latin in the first year, so I had to continue with it, though I would much have preferred to learn German, in spite of, or maybe even because of, the fact that we were fighting a war against Germany at the time. From the second year onward, my Latin results were alway very poor.
However, later in life I felt glad that I had a basic grounding in Latin, because of its cultural importance in European history, and its associations with the languages and literature of other countries.


United States
Member (2009)
German to English
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The only justifications for learning Latin... Mar 18, 2011

...are a passion for the classics, or for learning for its own sake. But I think life's too short to learn dead languages when there are so many living ones on offer.


Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:01
Dutch to English
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Not an old wives' tale Mar 18, 2011

Latin teaches you to think differently about language essentially. It is not only the base for the Romance languages, but a great foundation for any other language. Grammar has no secrets for you any more once you have done Latin. You have done declension, proper conjugation, implicit tenses (a suffix = a tense in some cases), you have done incredible sentence structure.

Although I didn't do it for a terribly long time, that was due to a bad teacher in the first year (too fast), but my class mates had real trouble with the cases in German because they could not for the life of them comprehend what a case was. It also proved great in learning Russian as that's more up the older road of concept (forget articles, composed tenses and everything. Just do case or do one verb and that's it, you have just made a present perfect).

I am not sure though how Latin would help other disciplines. French you can learn later, but learning it you will not acquire more knowledge than the one language.


Benno Groeneveld  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:01
English to Dutch
+ ...
Why limit the choice Mar 19, 2011

to either French OR Latin.

Back in the Old Days in the Old Country (the Netherlands) we learned a whole bunch of languages at the same time. In six (or in my case seven) years (I was held back one year). During my final exam, at the end of my highschool education, I could translated Homer from Ancient Greek, Livy from Latin, plus editorials in Le Monde, The Times of London and newspapers in Germany. And I had also a decent grounding in chemistry, biology, math, and physics.

These days I have forgotten the math and the other exact subjects. But I am bi-lingual Dutch English and I can still make myself understood in French and German (and read the local newspapers). My Latin is almost gone, and I can still read Greek, I just don't know what the words mean any more.

And we did all that way before computers (or even calculators). If we could do that way back when, why don't schools, even in the Old Country, changed their requirements? Because the children have become softer and need to be cuddled and not overburdened?

Or was everything simply better in the Old Days?

[Edited at 2011-03-19 03:09 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-03-19 03:09 GMT]


Anna Haxen  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:01
Member (2005)
English to Danish
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Latin is definitely not a waste of time Mar 19, 2011

And it may be ancient, but it certainly isn't dead. I agree completely that having a basic knowledge of Latin is a huge help to a linguist and to a natural scientist. I studied biology, and having learnt Latin gave me a clear advantage over students who hadn't, when it came to learning and memorizing scientific terms. Wish I'd taken ancient Greek, too. Both are very useful in scientific/medical translation.

I don't know if learning Latin can actually turn you into a logical thinker. It may be the other way round. Latin may simply be easier and more fun to learn if you're a logical thinker. Finally, I don't believe there can be "cons" to learning any language. I've never heard anyone who knew a language say they wished they didn't.


Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
I strongly agree Mar 19, 2011

Neil Coffey wrote:
In reality, most of the Latin-derived elements of English actually came via French. So if Latin will help you with your English, so will French...

Couldn't say it better..


Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:01
Italian to English
Life's too short? Mar 19, 2011

philgoddard wrote:

The only justifications for learning Latin...

...are a passion for the classics, or for learning for its own sake.

Those sound like great reasons to me!

But I think life's too short to learn dead languages when there are so many living ones on offer.

Not everyone agrees with you. The early 19th-century classical scholar, Richard Porson, said "life is too short to learn German" but he was joking.

Life isn't too short to learn another language, ancient or modern. It just feels that way sometimes icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2011-03-19 08:56 GMT]

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