Imagine walking into a class of students and you hear them say, “Bonum mane” I bet you would feel lost. But that is just them saying “Good Morning” in Latin. Not to worry, you are not alone and we honestly do not see that happening if we are indeed referring to school students in Nigeria.

These days, it is quite rare to see someone studying the ancient Greek and Latin languages. Most people view Latin as an extinct and seemingly useless language and studying it as a waste of time and energy.

A lot of Nigerians can even claim to not know the language as it is not part of the over 500 languages spoken across the federation, neither does it rank among the top languages across the world.

In truth, Latin is now a dead languageHowever, a dead language is different from an extinct language. A language is dead when it is no longer the native language of any community but extinct when it has no living speaker.

But before that, it may surprise you to know that Latin used to be a dominant language in Italy and later on across the Western Roman Empire in the 6th- 9th century.

As the Roman Empire grew, conquering nations outside their boundaries, they took with them their Roman culture and language, imposing the language on the regions won over. However, as it spread, so also did new variants emerged.

It is said that these varieties evolved distinctly and they eventually became new languages. Hence, Latin though a dead language is relevant still as it gave rise to the five Romance languages namely; French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian that now control world economic and social affairs.

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
Coupled with Italian, Latin remains a vibrant language in use in Vatican City. Source: Unsplash

In Nigeria, Latin holds little relevance in the educational sector, more so as it is not even a source language of our lingua franca since English is not among the Romance languages. However, for someone who wishes to do some business overseas – in European countries, whether to study, work or enjoy their diverse culture, Latin could be a handy skill.

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Learn Latin to understand Europe

Most young Nigerians have dreams of touring the globe, if not relocating entirely. Well, if you have such plans, chances are that you are considering at least one major city on the European continent.  Paris, London, Russia, and yes, Italy (for foodies, winks) are European cities.

If you don’t want to be Johnny–just–come (JJC), a good knowledge of Latin will help you greatly. It would make it easier to grasp quickly their languages as they are just distinct variants of Latin. Their grammar and orthography bear close semblance to the Latin language.

The language will also help you understand the continent and on a broader scale the civilisation of the western world at large, this is because the foundation of civilisation finds its roots back in the Roman Empire and at that time, Latin was the dominant tongue.

It was the language of international correspondence, education, and science in Europe until the 18th century when it got overshadowed by the new languages.

Isaac Newton's statue.
Here is a statue of a scientist, representing Isaac Newton, posing with his famous work, Principia, which was written in Latin. Source: Dimitris Graffin.

You will get to understand better the Roman civilisation through its writers and philosophers. Some early literature on science and philosophy were written in Latin during the renaissance period.

Many Nigerians are unaware of this fact but truly even Isaac Newton had his popular work on the laws of motion and universal gravitation, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in 3 books — all written in Latin!

If you are the type to get interested in the arts, that is, if you fancy western literature, learning the Latin language will help you better appreciate the classics because you will be getting the real deal.

Ever heard about the Latin Golden and Silver Ages of Literature? Reading these classical works of literature in their original language – the expressions and wordplay intact. A rich experience, we tell you!

We have said that learning Latin would help you understand the Romance languages and we bet you now understand how it is so. It does not just end with these languages; Latin can also help you to master ENGLISH! Sounds unbelievable, right?

Study Latin to master English Vocabulary

While this may sound funny, it is indeed true that studying the Latin language can help you master better English skills. This is because about 60% of the English vocabulary is made up of Latin or Latin-derived words.  Barbara Holland in her memoir, When all the World was Young, described Latin to be “the scalpel in my hand for dissecting English.”

Latin-derived English words are infused with our everyday word usage. Words like:

Longa: to describe length. Long and longitude are derived from this word.

Pictura: the Latin word that depicts images. English modified word is our popular picture.

Prima: meaning first. We have English words like primary, prime derived from this.

Aqua: meaning water. It is the root word for English words like aquatics, aquarium, aqueous etc.

Lingua: this means language and is the root word for language, linguistics etc.

Mea: meaning me. The English “me” is derived from this.

Alba: this means white and is the root word for albinism, albino etc.

Gratis: meaning kindness in Latin, this word is used in English as free of charge, at no cost.

Video: literally "I see" in Latin, the word is used in English to describe any film, short clip or an old VHS cassette.

This list is not all that there is and if you search a bit more, you are bound to find more of them. Knowing the Latin origin of English words will help you improve your spelling.

Study Latin to ace all exams

My friend is a linguist — a linguist studies languages. He is always approaching problems from a language point of view and I would always argue with him that language is not the solution to every problem. Now though, I think he has a point there, Latin can help you solve your examination problems better.

When it comes to taking language courses, whether in the university or for the fun of it, knowledge of Latin would help greatly if you are studying any of the Romance languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese or even Romanian. It will help you score high in other subjects even.

Students who learn a finely structured and sophisticated language like Latin in school often record, overall, better results in all the other subjects they study.

The fact is that learning a language, any language, increase the cognitive skills of the learner. The brains become more "flexible" as it constantly translates what you see, hear and sometimes say, in the other language(s) you are fluent in.

If students benefit that much from learning just any language, you can imagine what learning a sophisticated language like Latin could do.

And if you are in the sciences, studying scientific subjects like mathematics, physics, or biology, learning the Latin language will put you ahead, as the largest chunk of all English scientific words originates from Latin and Greek.

Get an interesting guide to learning Latin.

Yaba College of Technology School of Design
Nigeria's first higher institution, the Yaba College of Technology, uses a Latin motto, 'Labore et Veritate'. Source: YabatechCITM

How studying Latin helps your Future Career

While Latin is considered a dead language, it is still being taught in several parts of the world as an elective subject in some schools and, perhaps, a mandatory subject if you desire to pursue some courses.

Nevertheless, it is true that having Latin in your profile today stands you out and will make for favourable consideration of your application, whether for study or work.

Telling anyone that you're skilled in Latin hints to them that you must have a broader worldview, a knack for learning, and the gut to take on challenges. So if you are considering studying abroad, you can take up a Latin class now.

Not just that, there are a few jobs where knowledge of Latin comes in handy, even in this present time:

Computer science: With the development of technology across the globe, most young people, even in third world countries like Nigeria, are now considering career paths in the computer sciences.

It proves to be an excellent path for those who have studied Latin because it helps learning any other language a lot easier and helps you take on the challenges of learning computer programming languages.

Medicine: A lot of medical terminologies are written in Latin. When you have a background in Latin, you will find these terms easier to remember and memorise. This will immensely influence your grades positively.

Law: Remember, it is not just the sciences; Latin is useful even in the arts. If you have dreams of becoming a legal professional someday, Latin is your go-to language. Most of the law jargons are in Latin, talk about terms like alibi, quid pro quo etc. It won’t hurt to learn the language now.

Religion:  Latin may be a dead language, but it is still relevant in some religious communities. It is still used in the Roman Catholic churches across the world, Nigeria inclusive. Prayers and creeds are said partly in this ancient language in the churches among the faithful. Perhaps you wish to be a reverend father, learning Latin will prove to be helpful.

It is also not uncommon to see educational institutions and organisations write their motto in the Latin language. It is a common practice among citadels of higher learning to use Latin phrases for the motto.

This is because Latin still conveys erudition and sort of connects them to a grand tradition of education. Examples of the mottos are “Labore et Veritate” for Yaba College of Technology and the University of Ilorin’s “Probitas doctrina”.

Here's the origin of the Latin language.

In summary, Latin will allow you:

  • To improve your worldview.
  • To learn about the ancient Roman civilisation, the cradle of European culture.
  • To become a better English speaker.
  • To improve your grades.
  • To learn other European languages with relative ease.
  • To grow a sharp mind.

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Muhammad

A Nigerian freelance SEO Writer-cum-Editor and 2019 Writing Fellow of ALWF who blends creativity with rich content to produce sterling copy — persuasive, informative, or expository. He loves nature and trains in Karate, and he loves to help others grow — individuals and brands.