How I Came to Love Latin
By Alexander Harms
April 14, 2021
We all have our own passions. My passions lie strongly in the fields of math, science, and engineering. I love science so much that I even have the periodic table on the back of my door in my room. I often studied it and learned that some of the names of the elements are in Latin and that binomial nomenclature is in Latin. When it came time to choose a second language to speak and learn in high school, I chose Latin to further my understanding of science and nomenclature.
What I did not know at the time, however, was how much I would enjoy Latin by itself. Latin has helped me in my love of science and was even a joyful experience all on its own; however, I did struggle a bit while learning to speak Latin, and had to overcome my fear of speaking Latin out loud to truly embrace the language.
My love of Latin and my ability to speak and translate Latin has helped me often in my everyday life. It really took hold when I studied and questioned the Periodic table. I was amazed at how much Latin helped me in both my Chemistry and my Physics class. What I did not expect when I learned Latin was that although it is a “dead” language, it is used in so many places, even outside of science.
In fact, much of our laws are written in Latin. This is because the meaning of the words does not change due to it being a dead language; therefore, the meaning of the laws does not change either. In living languages, words are continuously changing and evolving in their meaning and definitions, which may cause a law written in a living language to suddenly change its meaning. For example, the word ass, for instance, began as meaning a mule, but then evolved to mean someone who is stubborn, then to pain, and then to mean a person’s backside.
I was blessed to have an amazing Latin teacher who was kind and enjoyable to be around. She helped to instill in me a love of the language. She helped me with translations and continues to be apart of my life. If not for my Latin teacher, my journey in learning Latin would have been dull, and I would have enjoyed it significantly less.
When I began Latin, I started translating Latin phrases.
Later, I also began to translate several myths. In all, I have translated dozens of Roman myths. I have even translated our family motto. My family has had a motto since before I was even born. Our motto is “Never give up, never surrender!” My mom once asked me, “What do you think our family motto means in Latin? Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our family motto written in Latin and displayed somewhere?”
I answered, “That would be neat. I can translate it for us.”
I translated our family motto, (“Never give up, never surrender!”) and the translation was as follows: “Numquam abscēde, numquam dēde!”
I even integrated Latin into my faith by getting a Christmas ornament written in Latin. The Christmas ornament said Happy Birthday of Christ. The translation in Latin is “Felicem Diem Nativitatis Christi.”
I enjoyed learning about Roman culture. I had learned terms in government that are in Latin. I also learned Roman numerals and numbers in Latin. In addition to theses, I learned Latin grammar, Latin pronouns, and Latin vocabulary. I even learned several songs in Latin. My favorite part was always learning how to sing the different songs in Latin.
Although I loved translating Latin, speaking Latin was a challenge for me. I was always extremely nervous before a speaking quiz. This often caused my Latin to be broken up and less fluent than my English. One way I tried to help myself was by taking deep breaths to help calm me down. One other way I helped myself was by first translating the phrases into Latin, printing them out, and reading them from the paper as opposed to from memory.
My grandmother was interested in my study of Latin as well. One time she said, “Speak to me in Latin.” People tend to put other people on the spot when they are learning a foreign language. I felt like a deer in the headlights. My mind began spinning.
What would I say, not to mention how speaking Latin is not my favorite thing? Eventually, I said, “Actually, you typically do not speak Latin. Latin is a dead language. You typically translate and write in Latin.”
She said, “Oh, you cannot speak it?”
I answered, “Actually, I can, but since there is no one around today that speaks Latin, with the exception of the Vatican, no one would know if I am saying it incorrectly.” Obviously, I was stalling.
After that she said, “Interesting.” I could tell she was disappointed that I would not speak to her in Latin. I realized that I needed to overcome my fear and speak in Latin.
In response to this, I said, “Here is a phrase that I know that you may like. Nimbi in caelo sunt.”
After that she asked me, “What does that mean?”
I answered, “It means, clouds are in the sky.” It may not have been a speech in Latin, but I knew the phrase well and was confident that I could properly speak it in Latin. Also, it was a conversational phrase that she could use in her own life. I had evolved from being afraid of speaking Latin, to teaching someone else how to speak Latin phrases. As a result, I began to speak Latin more fluently, and became more confident in the process.
In conclusion, Latin has helped me in my love of science and was even a joyful experience all on its own; however, I did struggle a bit while learning to speak Latin, and had to overcome my fear of speaking Latin out loud to truly embrace the language. All of these things helped to foster and grow my love for Latin. I began my journey towards Latin because of science, but as I got into it, my Latin teacher, mother and grandmother helped to motivate me to continue with Latin and even helped me to enjoy it that little bit more. This has changed how I have seen the world ever since. Now I see Latin everywhere I look in the world around me. If a person pays attention, I bet that they will begin to see Latin all around them as well.