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What is the Best Foreign Language to Teach Children?
Picking the Right Language
When it becomes time for a child to learn another language, there is a lot of debate on what is the best choice. Many people say Spanish; others think Chinese will be the wave of the future. However, I have had the experience in my career in learning many different tongues, and I can tell you that by far the best choice is also one of the most unlikely ones: Latin!
Yes, it's dead, unless you count its use in Vatican City and Slovakia. However, with not only many other major languages based on it, but also for the insights it gives into grammar and logic, Latin wins hands down as the most useful choice for the future. Trying to pick a language based on what we think the future will be like is pointless, but for thousands of years academics have chosen Latin as the foundation for all future language learning for good reason. In addition, tens of thousands of historical documents are written in Latin, and so a good foundation will give anyone who wants to do any kind of historical research first-hand access to these important primary historical sources.
This is only a very basic and simple introduction. If you have a small child, or you just want to take baby steps into a new language, then this is the book for you. If you want to go further, you will definitely need other books and resources. This book comes with a website with downloadable audio files, too!
Grammar is Thought
Latin, with its seven cases for nouns, and its precise tenses and classes of verbs, brings structure and order to grammar in a way that other languages cannot. Learning Latin will improve a child's grammar skills in any other language, including English. In addition, the grammar will impose clarity upon her or his thought processes, and reading the classics in their original tongue will provide a good basis for working out logical problems by forcing the reader to solve the problems presented by each sentence (in Latin, one reads most sentences by starting at the ends and working towards the middle!). As the mind is forced to make logical choices presented by the complex grammar, it gets practice in recognizing similar, non-language logical problems.
Another benefit is that much of English rhetoric is based on forms inherited from Latin, and so students who are familiar with Latin rhetoric are more easily able to follow these rhetorical forms that are still in common use today.
The Foundation of Romance
Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian are all offshoots or descendants of Latin. By studying the root language, a student gets a significant advantage in studying any of the others, because the grammar and the roots of the words will already be familiar (and more simple) than trying to learn each independently. In addition, many other languages which are not Romance languages, such as German and Slavic-based languages, have grammars based on Latin. (German underwent a significant reform to make it more like Latin, which even resulted in families Latinizing previously German Christian names and surnames.)
The Past vs. the Future
No-one can know what the future will like be in twenty years. The rapidity of technological advances make picking future winners and losers pretty well impossible. But what we do know is the past, and history proves a useful guide: Hegel famously said that what we learn from history is that we don't learn anything from history; Santayana said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Many historical documents, in addition to classics like the Aeneid, Caesar's writings on the Gallic Wars, Pliny, and others, were written in Latin, because that remained the lingua franca of Europe for more than a thousand years after the fall of Rome in 476 A.D.
The Value of the Classics
Cicero, Seneca, Tacitus, Pliny, Vergil, Livy: these are Roman writers whose work is still influential and relevant, two thousand years after their deaths. Hundreds of texts still survive from the time of the height of Roman civilization under the Emperor Augustus, covering subjects such as poetry, history, religion, military tactics, logic, philosophy, science, foreign travel, and nature. Many of the Fathers of the Christian Church wrote in Latin as well. There are subtleties in each language that do not survive translation, and that is why it is important to read and understand writings in the original language.
If your child has any hopes of having a career in law, medicine, science, history, music, or religion, it is quite likely that Latin will be required in her or his studies at some point. By giving your child a head start in the language, you can be assured that while other students are struggling, your child may test out of the subject, or have a breeze during their language classes, and devote their time to studying the other subjects required for their degree.
Or, if your child has dreams of becoming an academic, author, reporter, or any other job which requires writing, their grammar skills will be polished and ready for the pros (pun intended). If your child wants a career in marketing, advertising, or public relations, their rhetorical skills will be far superior to those of people who did not have the advantage of learning Latin. And in any case, knowing how to write and communicate well, think logically, and persuade people will be useful in almost any profession.
Latin does not have to be all dry and boring; many popular books have been translated into Latin, such as Winnie the Pooh, the Harry Potter series, and many more favorites. Give some of these a try, and soon your child will be happily studying Latin in order not only to read the books, but also to lord it over some of her or his friends!
In addition, there are many sites on the Internet devoted to Latin, including being able to listen to the daily news. Many musical masterpieces written for the Roman Catholic Church are in Latin, and your child will get more enjoyment from these pieces because she or he knows what is being sung.