Why is Latin Hard to Learn and How the Language Has Rocked My world

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’d know that one of my super goals was to learn how to become fluent in the Latin language. Well, I’m glad to say that after about a year and a half I am still struggling with it. Why the heck am I glad? Well, because even though it’s because even though Latin is such a hard language to learn, through it I have learned more about my own language than I did through over 16+ years of schooling.

Now don’t stop reading just because I said that Latin is hard. Honestly, I have never had so much fun and so many surprises learning a language.

Latin is so mechanical and so explicit in its language that I’ve been forced to learn new things about my own language (and others) that I never would have learned otherwise.

That’s right… Latin has taught me so much about how language works universally that all of the struggle is worth it.

Now, why is Latin hard to learn? Read the rest of the article to find out.

I’m Behind on My Goal (There I Said It)

My goal was to have at least the first part of my Latin studies done by the end of January (there are 8 parts in total, each with about 40 lessons). I misjudged – mainly due to recent lessons that had 26 quizzes and exams total per each freaking lesson. Each of those quizzes are about 40 or so questions too so that didn’t help speed-wise.

Those quizzes were mainly for verbs, which are a pain in the #$% to remember.

Anyway, I am hoping that my next few lessons are less difficult so that I can get back on track. (Even if I do fall way behind, it is still a good example as to why you need to set clear goals).

Why is Latin Hard to Learn

Why Is Latin Hard to Learn?

Why is Latin hard to learn? Well, there are a number of reasons but for the sake of time I will only go over a couple that I think are relevant to Western thinkers (predominantly Americans). Here are the top reasons why Latin can be difficult for most people:

1. Latin requires work (It’s not for the lazy)

The #1 answer to the question “why is Latin hard to learn” is that is requires a lot of work. *Gasp* “You mean that I, as an American, can’t learn Latin in 48 hours and in 6 easy lessons?”

Nope, you can’t learn Latin easily. In fact, if you truly want to learn the language it’s going to take years.

Yes there are Latin immersion programs and groups out there, but here’s the deal – if you want to TRULY learn Latin, I mean that you want to be able to read, write, and understand poetry and oratory – then an immersion course isn’t going to cut it.

2. True Latin requires a Mastery of Grammar

Why is Latin so hard to learn especially for older folks? It’s because true mastery of Latin requires a mastery of grammar, and mastery of grammar takes a lot of memorization. Here is just a snippet of what you learn in grammar through the language:

  1. The eight parts of speech (classical) – noun, pronoun, verb, participle, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection.
  2. The six things that happen to a noun substantive – gender, number, case, declension, figure and kind.
  3. the seven things that happen to a noun adjective – gender, number, case, declension, figure, kind, and comparison.
  4. Subject in a sentence versus an object or indirect object.

and so on (these are off the top of my head mind you)…

The thing is, with Latin these grammar concepts are VERY important to know and understand in order to master the language. Take the below sentence for example:

Deus amat mundum

In English this means “God loves the world.” Simple, right? Yup… simple…

Well, let’s take a look at the Latin…

Deus = the singular nominative case of the substantive noun for “God”. We use the nominative case because God is the subject of the sentence.

Amat = the third-person, singular, active, indicative, present tense of the Latin verb for the word love.

Mundum = the singular accusative case of the substantive noun for “world”. We use the accusative case because it is direct object of the sentence.

Whew… that’s a lot of grammar… But check out what happens when we change things up a bit and use passive voice.

Mundus amatur a Deo (The world is loved by God)

 

What the heck!? All of the words changed because of one little change? Yup… let’s see what happened:

Mundus = Nominative case for “the world” now since it is the subject of the sentence.

Amatur = The passive voice of the indicative, singular, present verb.

Deo = The accusative form of God since he is now the direct object.

So the key takeaway is that words change depending on how they are used in the sentence. It can be confusing, but it’s elegantly mechanical and a perfect way to learn how language works. In fact, that’s why schoolchildren were taught Latin in elementary school – namely to learn the art of language.

#3 Latin is a Less Used Language Conversationally

Is Latin hard to learn? Heck yeah it is, but it’s not impossible. Is Latin harder than Spanish? The answer is yes… and no.

Latin is harder to learn than most western languages because it isn’t used much anymore. It’s hard to hear what the language sounds like. It’s not like you can walk into your local deli and practice your Latin with Cicero the baker. It can be a hard language to learn simply because you don’t have the opportunity often to practice it and develop it.

Don’t worry, It’s Doable and Worth It

The big thing to understand is that Latin is more difficult for us than it is for little kids. Why is Latin hard to learn for adults? It’s hard for us because we are used to knowing our own language without much effort and it sucks having to memorize a bunch of new things. Is it Latin hard to learn in college? Hell yeah it is… but that’s why it was always taught in elementary school because wise men knew that we would soak it all up when we were young.

Is Latin easy to learn? Heck no, but learning is is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and Latin is not so tough if you go into it knowing that you are going to have to work for it.

Anyway, all this to say… Latin has been rocking my world and is making me really work to meet my goals. 😉

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1 Comment

  • simon andriyan

    Reply Reply October 20, 2015

    i totaly agree with you!!! i learned Latin in my minor seminary for four years and i feel i’ve learned nothing. yet, after left minor seminary for more than 10 years, i challenge myself to study Latin again. fortunately, i join a Chatolic choir in my town that singing liturgical-Latin-songs, mostly in polyphonic forms, for this recent 2 years . i found that your article is very inspiring. yes, Latin is very difficult to learn but i find so much fun learning this language. also, i fell lucky that i had a chance studying Latin during my minor seminary formation. i realize i cannot complete my learning to understanding all Latin poetry or oratory but i think i can help other members of my choir to understand the words in liturgical-Lating-songs better. i apologize if made grammatical mistake in my writing because English is not mother tongue. but sure, i am very glad finding your inspiring article.

    regards,
    simon – indonesia

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