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Latin – the mother tongue of Cicero, Caesar and your local Latin teacher – is a dead but living language. Its words resonate in many modern languages and in the specialized vocabulary of various fields. Is Latin a difficult or an easy language? Can Latin be learned?
This article is based on my own experiences of studying and teaching Latin. I have studied Latin in high school and university, so I can say that Latin can be learned and it is not necessarily very difficult. On the other hand, playing the violin is also not terribly difficult once you know how to play it.
The advantages of learning Latin are:
My impression of Latin is that it’s like a logic or math task. Word endings are combined with word roots and the meanings of sentences need to be solved like Sherlockus Holmeniensis. The pace is slow and enjoyable, because in Latin you don’t have to buy ice cream from a disgusted kiosk seller in Venice.
Latin resembles its daughter languages like Italian and Spanish. Words are inflected and one inflection contains several meanings. Here it differs from English:
If you are used to the fact that single words can contain multiple meanings, it is easier to start learning Latin.
Latin can also be an extremely frustrating language. Often the texts to be read are old and ambiguous. Translating sentences is like a logic problem: who does what, to whom, at what time…
Latin has many ways to condense complex meanings into a few words. Depending on the sentence, the same expressions can often be translated in different ways: someone did something, because someone did something, after doing something…
In Latin, there are many conjugations for verb conjugation, words have genders and there are several declensions. So the same root word can appear with very small changes and mean different things. This is familiar to speakers with highly inflected languages, but that doesn’t help when you don’t hear Latin on the TV and have a natural ear for it.
Latin texts mostly tell about a world that is no longer so familiar to us. Even if you understand the words and their inflections, you still may not understand what the sentence means.
The difficulty of language learning is mostly due to motivation. If you’re interested, even a difficult thing will be easy before long. If you have enthusiasm and dedication, you can definitely learn Latin.
Latin has been helpful in studying Romance languages and even Swedish. Many terms in specialized vocabularies feel opaque until you see which Latin parts they’re made of.
And even if you start studying and drop out, it doesn’t make you a worse person. Someone goes to ice hockey practice, someone reads about giant cones in the old Latin textbooks. Still, not everyone has to become NHL players or Latin-speaking newscasters (that used to be a thing here in Finland, believe it or not).
You can start with Latin e.g. at the open university, community college or online courses. When you search for “”Latin (your location)”” on the Internet, you will surely find the best places to start.
Alea iacta est, or something like that.