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What I’ve Learned from Taking Intro Latin

I'm a pre-med student at Stony Brook. Super fun, right? Maybe not so much. My life while school is in session consists of late nights, more homework than can reasonably be completed each week, and stacks of books to study that would make your head spin (it makes mine spin all the time). My course load is already ridiculous, and I completed my language requirement already in high school - so why would I choose to enroll in an introductory Latin course on top of all of that?

I originally decided to try out Latin because my younger sister was coming to Stony Brook as well, and one of her minors (Classical Civilizations) requires at least one semester of Latin. I figured we could help each other, and the “dead” language might even offer me some assistance with learning Latin anatomical names in Human Anatomy. When my sister couldn’t fit the class into her schedule this semester, I contemplated dropping it but decided to give it a go anyway. I never expected what I would get out of it.

As it turns out, the American public school system (and from what I understand, the private schools, as well) is not big into teacher grammar - not effectively, at least. If any one of my English teachers in grades one through twelve ever even mentioned the phrase “direct object,” I do not remember it. While the definitions of nouns, verbs, and adjectives were drilled into our heads, the other, more nuanced parts of grammar went largely ignored. When it came to the SAT reading and writing, therefore, my only saving grace was that I had read copious amounts of books as a child - books that, for the most part, were written during a time that English grammar was still emphasized and treated as significant in schools and by tutors. I knew what sounded correct, even if I was not consciously aware of all of the rules and definitions.

In the Latin language, it is impossible to speak or write without proficiency in grammar. Because it is an inflected language, and not one whose sentences are deciphered based on word order, one must recognize the form in which each noun is written and, like a puzzle, piece together the parts of the sentence based on the parts of speech in order to translate to a coherent sentence in English. I had thought my knowledge of grammar in English was above average - and I might have even been correct - but it has been forced to improve in the five weeks since I started this class.

Latin might be a “dead” language (if you actually look around you and at the origins of the words we speak every day, it is clear that this is not exactly true) but learning it can help to improve one’s grasp of the English language, which is very much alive and changing today.

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