Is Latin Easy?

Yes and No

Initial I in Latin
POP/Flickr/CC0 1.0

Some people pick which foreign language to study based on how easy it is— presumably thinking that an easier language will result in a better grade. No language is easy to learn, except perhaps those you learned as an infant, but languages you can immerse yourself in are easier than those you cannot. Unless you can attend a summer Latin immersion program, it will be hard to immerse yourself in Latin, however...

Latin is not necessarily any harder than any modern language and may be easier for some to learn than the daughter languages of Latin, like French or Italian.

Latin Is Easier

  1. With modern languages, there is a constantly evolving idiom. Evolution is not a problem with a so-called dead language.
  2. With modern languages, you need to learn to:

    - read,
    - speak, and
    - understand

    other people speaking it. With Latin, all you need to be able to do is read it.
  3. Latin has a pretty limited vocabulary.
  4. It only has five declensions and four conjugations. Russian and Finnish are worse.

Latin Is Not Easier

  1. Multiple Meanings
    On the minus side of the Latin ledger, the vocabulary of Latin is so compact that learning a "meaning" for a verb is unlikely to be enough. That verb may serve double or quadruple duty, so you need to learn a whole range of possible connotations.
    See the discussion of , which we translate as "wage war," but we wouldn't do so with only a very basic understanding of gero.
  1. Gender
    Like Romance languages, Latin has genders for nouns -- something we lack in English. This means something more to memorize in addition to the range of meanings.
  2. Agreement
    There is agreement between subjects and verbs, just as there is in English, but there are many more forms of the verbs in Latin. As in Romance languages, Latin also has agreement between nouns and adjectives.
  1. Verbal Subtleties
    Latin (and French) make more distinctions among tenses (like past and present) and moods (like indicative, subjunctive, and conditional).
  2. Word Order
    The trickiest part of Latin is that the order of the words is almost arbitrary. If you've studied German, you may have noticed verbs at the ends of sentences. In English we usually have the verb right after the subject and the object after that. This is referred to as SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) word order. In Latin, the subject is often unnecessary, since it is included in the verb, and the verb goes at the end of the sentence, more often than not. That means there may be a subject, and there probably is an object, and maybe there's a relative clause or two before you get to the main verb.

Neither Pro Nor Con: Do You Like Puzzles?

The information you need to translate Latin is usually present in the Latin passage. If you've spent your beginning courses memorizing all the paradigms, Latin should be do-able and a lot like a crossword puzzle. It's not easy, but if you're motivated to learn more about ancient history or you want to read the ancient literature, you definitely should give it a try.

The Answer: It Depends

If you're looking for an easy class to improve your grade point average in high school, Latin may or may not be a good bet.

It depends mostly on you, and how much time you're willing to devote to getting the basics down cold, but it also depends, in part, upon the curriculum and teacher.

Frequently Asked Questions