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Planning Retirement Online

Out of The Box - Learn Latin                           September 2008

This is our new regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try. 

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.



learn latinThis month….learn Latin!

A generation or two ago and Latin was only taught to certain sectors of the community. It was thought of as rather an exclusive subject useful only for people going onto higher education or possible into teaching.

In fact, Latin is a truly fascinating subject to study. It can help bring history alive, it can help bridge the gap between English and so many continental languages, it can even assist in your everyday speech and communication.  Learning Latin helps to stretch the brain and develop logical thinking – some people refer to Latin as the best problem-solving exercise around. Latin is a fantastic umbrella covering literature, philosophy and architecture. And of course, it is a great conversational piece. Tell people you are learning Latin and suddenly you have taken a step up on the interest platform. If you want to create a conversational piece, drop in an odd Latin phrase and see how your friends and colleagues react!  Latin is definitely experiencing a surge of popularity among people of all sorts of different ages and background. Many modern companies have incorporated Latin into their names – Audi means hark; Volvo means I roll and Sony is a derivative of Sonus, or sound. Zara, the fashion house, launched a new shoe store chain earlier this year called Uterque or both.

Keep your eyes open and you may well see a car with the sign in the back Sona si Latine loqueris  - honk if you speak Latin!

Earlier this year Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi claimed he spoke Latin well enough to engage Roman leader Julius Caesar in normal conversation, and certainly there is a fascination in learning a language that is no longer spoken but was the normal conversational language of such an important historical group of people.

People will tell you Latin is a dead language, and while that is true, it also lives on in so many modern languages.  A lot of English is Germanic, brought here by a group of dialects spoken by Angle and Saxon invaders who took up residence in Britain during the 4th and 5th centuries. Courtesy of one William the Conquerer and his marauding Norman knights, a curious form of Middle French attached itself like a limpet to the English tongue. French is partly a colloquial Latin, and so we came to have over a quarter of our words from a Latin origin. The benefit of this historical accident is that Latin vocabulary is an important tool in understanding English words. Understanding all the prefixes and suffixes from their Latin origins enhances our use of English.

Another fringe benefit of Latin study is when we go to Europe and can understand instantly bits and pieces from French, Spanish, Italian and Portugese. French can be boiled down to Latin where you forget to pronounce half the words, while Italian verbs are basically Latin without its myriad of conjugations. These cut-down languages are very much descendants of the local vulgar Latin dialect.

Returning back to English, Latin has another parallel benefit. One of the complaints about modern education is the poor grammar skills of students. Some students struggle with the idea of nouns and verbs. To learn Latin, you are taught to identify the basic parts of speech, plus understanding other aspects such as cases, conjugations, tenses and participles. These grammatical terms give students a serious grounding in the rules of English itself.

A final advantage from Latin study is the entree it offers into Roman civilisation. Latin gives the chance to see their ideas and beliefs without relying on modern translations. The Romans were so far ahead of their time in terms of knowledge and philosophy and their language is full of wonderful sayings and comment that are still so applicable to the modern age; for instance: dulce bellum inexpertis – war is sweet to those who have never fought. There is certainly a great deal we can all learn from Latin!

Latin is not that hard to learn or pronounce, it just takes perseverance. You can buy teach yourself books, there is a range of electronic teaching systems available and there may well be an evening class opening up in your area.

Why not start now – after all tempus fugit (time flies).

Rosetta Stone produces software for learning

Various copies of  N R R Oulton’s So You Really Want to Learn Latin are available on various book selling websites such as



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