Benefits of Teaching Greek and Latin Vocabulary

I can hear it now. One student defiantly raises a hand as I introduce our Latin vocabulary. Before I can even begin explaining the benefits, the student asks, “Why are we learning about this in English class?” Next time you have a student asking why they need to study roots and vocabulary from Greek and Latin, have this list on hand.

1. Greek and Latin are foundational

You will be hard-pressed to find vocabulary without influence from Greek or Latin. The truth is, these “ancient” languages heavily influence our modern languages (particularly the Romantic ones). In fact, students who hope to learn other languages, especially Romantic ones, would do well to focus on building vocabulary in English rooted in Latin. Romance languages include French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish, and Latin influences about 80% of the vocabulary in all of these languages. That’s 800 million people whose language is built on Latin alone.

2. Greek and Latin are building blocks

English is not considered a Romantic language, but a Germanic one. A significant portion, however, comes from the romantic influences of Latin and Greek (which is its own branch of language entirely). Students who are learning English, or who need to improve their English skills would do well to learn vocabulary that comes from Greek and Latin roots. Each year students should learn from 2,000-3,000 new words each year to increase their reading vocabulary. If these languages influence 70-80% of our language, then we should put in the effort to teach students roots that they can use to build their vocabulary in the future. To read more about vocabulary instruction, you can find this interesting essay by Joan Sedita from Keys to Literacy here.

3. Greek and Latin are not dead

Indeed, Ancient Greek and Latin are not official languages. When a language has no native speakers, it technically qualifies as a “dead language”. However, all modern languages have been influenced in one way or the other by Greek and Latin. So although there are not native speakers, they are far from unused and unneeded. Beyond vocabulary skills, many students who pursue technical or scientific careers will find themselves working with Greek and Latin roots. Understanding vocabulary from the viewpoint of Greek and Latin is about as close to “universal” as you can get with languages.

And, if none of those reasons work, you can always share that learning Greek and Latin roots will improve their test scores in your class. You can only lead a horse to water.

If you’re stumped for a starting point in introducing Greek and Latin vocabulary to your classroom, check out my 20-week program for Greek and Latin Roots. You can find it here in my store, but be sure to check out my digital and print bundles for more options in your classroom.

Be sure to share your favorite and student-loved activities for teaching roots here in the comments or join me on Facebook and Instagram to continue the conversation.



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