Benefits of Learning a “Dead” Language

Shefali Murti
3 min readOct 28, 2020

There always seems to be this weird/negative stigma around learning dead languages — specifically, Latin, as that is still a language offered in high schools and college. Learning Latin is generally viewed as boring, unnecessary, and outdated. A lot of people, or some of my peers, at least, tend to not see the usefulness in learning a language deemed “dead” — especially after the vocabulary section of the SAT was taken away (another product of thinking from banking education…). However, this did not stop me from choosing to learn Latin for the past seven years.

The Google definition of “dead language” is: “a language which is no longer in everyday spoken use, such as Latin” (Oxford Language). The fact that Latin is literally in this definition only further emphasizes the fact that Latin is so widely associated with being “dead.” Gloria Azaldua offers a slightly less specific definition of “dead language” when she says “for a language to remain alive it must be used” (How To Tame a Wild Tongue). A common thread among these views of languages being dead or alive seems to be that of usefulness. But if I’ve internalized anything over my years of learning Latin, it’s that learning this language could not have been more useful in aspects of my life I didn’t even realize it could. In my opinion, and using Azaldua’s claim, the fact that Latin is no longer an actively spoken native language should not stop it from being considered “alive.” It’s seemingly unsurmountable benefits — it’s usefulness — that I’ve noticed in my life makes it seem very much “alive” to me.

First and foremost, when taking Latin you are also taking a history class. Especially in upper divisional Latin courses, I read and analyzed ancient works of Cicero, Caesar, and Vergil: “The men who shaped Roman history [and] consequently shaped American history” (Why Learn a Dead Language?, Abby Jackson). Having the capacity to read and “decode” such important historical texts from classical scholars is not a skill everyone is able to have, and there is such inherent value of having this connection to history.

Latin also proves to be very useful to me when writing rhetorical and analytical essays. Most notably, I was able to complete both AP English exams with ease and success…although that is another banking education relation that Freire would promptly disapprove of. An in-depth internalization of so many rhetorical devices comes with translating latin speeches and poems, and it definitely gave/gives me a leg up when having to analyze English texts similarly.

Another more known benefit of learning Latin comes from the fact that it is the basis for English and most romance languages. Learning latin has not only greatly increased my English vocabulary and sense of grammatical structure, but it makes learning other romance languages so much easier (if I choose to do so).

Last but not least, Latin serves not only as a basis for not only other languages, but for many fields of study. Whether it be science, medicine, music, art, law, literature…knowing Latin can arguably give me a head start, or at least an innate/preliminary understanding of a lot of the terms/concepts in these fields. Perhaps choosing Latin was another way in which I am trying to give myself the broadest and strongest foundation for whatever I may do with my future — something of which I am very undecided about.

All these reasons, with so many more not listed, exemplify Latin’s intrinsic value. Latin’s usefulness remains very much intact, and I don’t regret making the choice to learn it so many years ago. Sure, Latin may be dead in the strict sense that it is no longer anybody’s first language, but “Latin lives in eternity” (The Language That Rose from the Dead, Paine); its historical, cultural, and linguistic importance remains relevant to modern day, and will continue to do so.

Works Cited:

Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”. Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987

Jackson, Abby. “Why Learn a Dead Language?”, Robinson Township Christian School , 2019,

Paine, Father Scott Randall. “The Language That Rose from the Dead.” Memoria Press, 26 July 2018,