Is Latin Hard To Learn? And Is It Worth It?


All languages are hard to learn, and the learning process can sometimes take years. Yet, admittedly there are some languages that are easier to learn than others. The biggest contributing factor on why any particular language is hard, is if the speaking population is small or negligible. With Latin being considered a dead language, is it hard to learn?

Latin is a hard language to learn, and the main cause for this is because it is a dead language. This means that few people speak the language, making it not commonly used outside of texts. As well, the language itself is hard to learn, despite it being the root of many others.

There is more to it however, since there is the aspect of how it might or might not be beneficial to learn (and how this affects the generally commonality of the language). Though Latin does have some niche’s where it can be worth the effort to learn, most who attempt it consider it difficult. So, why is Latin hard to learn?

Why Learning Latin Hard?

Most languages can be difficult to learn, and this can be from a variety of different causes, whether it’s the grammar or the different pronunciation. Yet, some are relatively more strenuous than others, though the way we determine this is mainly subjective.

Keeping in mind that some languages can be “harder” than others and some say that Latin is one of the “hard” ones. I myself made the point of saying that Latin is hard, so the next question would be why is it hard?

Latin is hard to learn since there are no large populations that speak it. This negatively effects both the difficultly and motives of language learning. Less people speaking a language, means less resources with which to learn it. This affects its practicality, thus affecting the motivational aspect.

The main difficulties of learning Latin has actually little to due with the details of the language itself. Since the main incentive to learn any language is from a community perspective. The problem with Latin is that it has no community. There are some very small groups that try to revive the language but unfortunately for them they’re in the fringe.

The Community Aspect Of Language Learning

Though many try, you can not learn a language by yourself entirely. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.

The best way attain any language is through a community. This can take the form of just a speaking partner either in person or online, or by being a part of a country that has the language in common usage.

So, languages that are spoken by more people, and with the help of your community (whatever form that might take), is what makes any language easier to learn.

There are all sorts of examples of communities helping to learn a language.

For instance, in Norway, English is a popular second language. As such through common media and school, English is introduced to young Norwegians. This facilitates a community that encourages the learning of English.

I go into more details with English in Norway in my article, How Common Is Spoken English In Norway?.

This is just one of many ways that a community can be the main factor in learning a language.

Why Motivation Is Necessary In Language Learning

By motivation, I mean ‘the why‘. Why do you want to learn a language? There are many different motives, but most are related to and come from community.

The most compelling examples are:

  • Religion
  • Culture
  • Travel
  • Business
  • Education

If you focus on noticing the similarities between them all, you will see that they all have to due with interacting with someone else, at least in some capacity. Humans by nature are social creatures.

As was discuss in this study, from the American Psychological Association, humans greatest strength are other humans. Our motives, and our ways of learning languages, are at there best when in relation to other people through community.

Is Latin Worth It To Learn?

Knowing a language is hard to learn doesn’t necessarily mean it is not worth learning, that is determined by other factors. Whether it is educational or career wise, there are plenty of avenues that a language can used in. To relate this with our topic, is Latin worth it to learn?

Latin can be worth learning if chosen for the right reasons. If you’re entering the medical field or in some way connected to the Catholic Church, it can be a benefit. The main reason to learn Latin is academic, since Latin in medicine and Catholicism tends to be more written than spoken.

A lot of the average considerations people make when deciding to learn any particular language does not apply with Latin because it is a dead language. Yet, putting those aside for a moment, then what are some other purposes of learning Latin that we can still find?

The Prevalence Of Latin In The Medical Field

If interested in the medical field, then Latin is must for many. Yet, just how prevalent is Latin in medicine and the medical career?

According to this research from the Journal of Medical Case Reports, Latin is broadly needed in academic papers and reports. This is due to Latin being used to communicate with of other medical professionals. To properly communicate, Latin terminology is paramount because medicine is made up of Latin terminology.

Since the many medicines and procedures utilize terminology in Latin, then the language becomes necessary to the overall work environment.

This is why Latin is both so prevalent in the medical field, and why those who wish to work in a medical environment would benefit greatly from having some knowledge of Latin.

Latin In The Catholic Church

The other instance where Latin is used predominately would be in the Catholic Church. In Catholicism, Latin is consider to be a sacred language, and as such it is used in sacramental rites. Additionally, the only official bible of the Church just so happens to the first Bible officially compiled in the vernacular of the common people: the Latin Vulgate.

The Latin Mass in its current unified form has been around for at least 500 years, when it became popular and “standardize” so-to speak by Pope St Pius V in 1570. Before then, though there were various forms of the liturgy, it was normally all in Latin.

The Mass is the service (though better known as a sacrament) Catholics practice on Sundays. Only Priests can “say” the Mass, and it is the continuation of the sacrifice of Christ through the Eucharist.

It was an act of bringing the Church together by Pope St Pius V, since they were in the midst of the Protestant Reformation, or Protestant Revolution (the name depends on if you ask a Catholic or Protestant).

Not only dealing with the Protestants, Pope St Pius V had to deal with hostile Islamic attacks against the western world. The “Last Crusade” (Lepanto, the ship battle in defense of Muslim aggression, is commonly referred to as the last crusade) in defense of the Muslim’s Jihad was also part of the reason for the standardized Latin Mass.

With the introduction of the new rite in the 1960s however, a Mass known as Novus Ordo in the vernacular in each country has become standardize. Yet, the old Latin rite still remains today with many different parishes keeping it alive.

If interested in other topics related language learning, then read some of my others!

Is Latin Useless?

There are uses for Latin in specific scenarios, but pretty much in most situations Latin is not used whatsoever. Does this mean Latin is useless?

Latin is not very useful. Most people can’t speak Latin, even on a beginner level. The vast majority of those who are familiar with the language, can only read it. Even with these few who actually speak and read Latin, this still remains a small fraction of the world’s population.

Latin has been a very important language for centuries, but everything must to come an end. Though it’s kept alive in Catholicism and medicine, it certainly will not be used by the average person. Why is that the case?

The Problem With Dead Languages

Dead languages are languages that are not spoken by any but very tiny segments of a current population. That doesn’t mean there is no one person in the world speaking it, but rather that those who do are in the extreme minority.

The problems with these dead language are obvious. Since no one is speaking the language, it makes it more than a challenge to learn. Learning one completely in all its forms becomes close to impossible.

You will have less resources, and lack the most important thing in language learning, a speaking partner. All this applies to Latin, and that is the biggest reason why it is not useful, because no one speaks it!

The Problem With Niche Languages

Some try to make the argument that Latin is not a dead language, and instead that it’s still very much alive in small communities. Assuming that is true, the same problems with dead languages are still true with small speaking communities.

There are just too few people that speak it. This doesn’t merely refer to less resources in learning the language. It also has to do with the incentives of language learning in general.

All the things we do are for some sort of benefit (nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s something good), and the problem with niche languages (and dead languages) is that the normal incentives like travel, culture, or business don’t apply.

That makes Latin not very useful, since it does not fulfill the normal roles second languages (third, fourth, etc…) usually have.

Latin Vs Spanish

Latin is said to have influenced many different languages that are commonly spoken today. How do these languages differ from Latin now? Well, Spanish is considered a derivative language of Latin, and just so happens to be one the most commonly spoken language in the world. So, this being a great comparison to make, how do Latin and Spanish differ?

Spanish is derived from Latin, though it does not mean that they are the same. They are not mutually intelligible though some portions can be understood using the other. Latin and Spanish’s relationship would be akin to Old English and Modern English: similar, yet strikingly different.

There is more to it however since Spanish does have many roots from Latin. As is stated in this article, Spanish has nearly 75% of it’s words with Latin roots. Not only that, like many different romance languages, they share grammar rules with Latin.

Romance Languages And Latin

The Romance Languages are derived from Latin, but a lot of people are not familiar with why that is the case.

Spain, France, Portugal, and other places all were taken over by the ancient Roman Empire before they were the nations we know today. As such they ended up having to speak Latin, the lingua franca of Rome.

When the Roman Empire slowly dissolved (most say when destroyed by the barbarians, but that is arguable), it was broken up. This caused all the generals take parts of the empire for themselves. Thus, from these generals we started to get Kings, dukes, etc. from Roman military rank names.

Along with the rise of Kings and their kingdoms, came the countries of Spain, France and others.

In these regions under Rome, they were forced to speak Latin. After the fall (or dissolving of the Roman Empire, depending on who you ask), the Latin slowly morphed into the languages present today.

This is just one of many different facts related to the history of the Latin language. And, how Latin relates to Spanish.

Can Spanish Speakers Understand Latin?

The answer to this question applies to all the romances languages as well. Can Spanish speakers understand Latin?

Spanish speakers cannot really understand Latin despite the seminal origins Spanish has with it. This does not mean that certain words or phrases will be completely unintelligible. Spanish speakers may have an easier time learning Latin, but can’t fully understand it without study.

Some try and say that they can understand each other to some degree, yet for the most part the average Spanish, French, and even Italian speakers won’t understand much, if any, Latin.

The Final Talking Point On Is Latin Hard…

Latin is hard for numerous reasons, apart from it’s grammar and pronunciation. The fact that it’s a dead language makes it hard enough. Few people speak them and this turns into a motivation issue.

Unfortunately for Latin, it suffers from all these problems. However, there are small communities that still attempt to keep Latin alive, along with the Medical profession and the Catholic Church. They utilizing the language in different ways, but contribute to its lingering status none the less.

For other article related to language learning, check some of my others out!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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