that these studies don’t show causation, but
only correlation. But correlation is all we
ever have. The only way we can show causation is by correlation. And besides, if it is because smart students study Latin, then why
do they study Latin anyway?
But I think there is something else going
on here, something beyond mere vocabulary that causes Latin students to do well.
And it is shown by looking at the other languages that seem to help students.
If you look at the other languages that
seem to boost scores, you notice an interesting thing. Almost without exception,
they are inflected languages. An inflected
language is a language in which the grammar of nouns and adjectives is explicit and
complex. You determine, for example, the
subject of a sentence in an inflected language, not by where it is in the sentence (as
in English, Spanish, and French), but by the
ending on the noun. This requires the student of the language to memorize noun and
adjective declensions—all the possible endings—in addition to verb conjugations one
finds in all languages. You see the grammar
in the words themselves.
In other words, an inflected language is
more complex than non-inflected languages. To put it bluntly, an inflected language
is much more grammatically demanding. It
forces you to learn grammar.
Students who study inflected languages
such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German consistently outperform students who
study only modern languages. The only exception to this seems to be French.
One year, the top three languages in the
critical reading portion of the SAT were
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Remember that
when someone questions the value of learn-
ing a so-called “dead” language.
What does the study of an inflected
language do for a student? It teaches him
grammar—not just the grammar of his own
language, but the grammar of all languages.
It is very hard to study grammar in English for an English-speaking student, partly
because it is his own language and he tends
to see right through his own grammar. He
already speaks it and writes it by the time he
gets to the analytic study of grammar.
Studying a foreign language forces the
student to look upon grammar objectively,
with no preconceptions. And it is particularly difficult for English students studying
grammar in English to study the grammar
of nouns and adjectives, since they do not
change their form, and consequently, the
student cannot see their grammatical structure. We try to help these students see the
noun cases through the use of sentence diagrams, but it takes a tremendous amount of
An inflected foreign language not only
enables the student to see grammar objectively, but it shows the grammar of nouns
and adjectives in an explicit and structured
If you study Latin,
or German, there
is simply no way
to avoid learning
grammar. It accosts
you at every step.