I was taught 2 semesters of cold Spanish, but forgot most of it. Does learning Latin first make learning Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, etc. a whole lot faster or easier as some claim. They all stem from latin of course. Any studies on this?

  • 3
    @Oddthinking reopening, it's a common justification for teaching Latin in Italian high schools
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 11:33
  • 2
    One confounding factor is that Latin is often taught as a written language, with little emphasis on conversation. Speaking vs. comprehension exercise different processes in the brain. Another interesting question would be: Does learning Latin first dramatically improve the ability to comprehend more languages?
    – ESultanik
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 19:13
  • 1
    There are several valid answers depending on how you look at it. Learning any language helps with learning languages in the future, because of experience. The advantage of latin is not so much that it's the root of a lot of european languages, but that it's a fairly complex language, learning it opens your mind to abstract grammatical concepts. Personally I always found grammar hard to grasp before I studied latin, and had a much easier time learning languages afterwards. That said, it's not unique to latin.
    – Tobberoth
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 15:12
  • Having had five years of Latin, I don't think it helped me learning other languages at all. And most definitely not to the point where I saved five years of learning time. I would have been a lot better off learning a living language like Spanish or French in that time with a chance of actually meeting living people speaking the language, plus a chance to make myself understood in Italy, Portugal or Brazil. Sometimes being able to decipher what's written on a gravestone doesn't quite compensate.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:31
  • Related: Does knowing Latin help learning English?
    – unor
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


No, not according to this study. I wasn't able to find enough study on this to form a real basis for a literature review, but the outcome of the linked study was that, when teaching speakers of a non-latin based language spanish, those who learnt French first did better than those who learnt latin first.

The outcome is unsurprising in my opinion. Latin is indeed a base point for many languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese, but none of these languages actually inherited such an extensive grammar, tense-structure or verb transformational system. Latin is complicated, and more complicated than it's 'offspring' in use today.

Although Latin is still taught in many schools, and Universities, this is more an exercise in learning than in language (and IMO is somewhat tradition over education). The University I attended and subsequently worked for is very traditional, and viewed Latin or Classics study as an advantage, not because Latin was particularly useful - one can easily get by without it - but because excelling at Latin shows an ability to study a complicated thing successfully.

To conclude, at least according to the referenced study, learning latin may help learn latin based languages, but learning a latin based language would too - and slightly better as it seems.

  • 1
    Good answer. The people who get my sympathy are those trying to learn English, with all its borrowed words, numerous rules and exceptions, multiple meanings, and slang idioms. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 15:42
  • Yes, ironically, the two most widely spoken languages in the world, Chinese and English, are also both some of the most difficult to learn, and English being the most commonly spoken second language, puts a fair pressure on people who don't speak it. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:33
  • 1
    English is actually not that difficult to half-learn: you can make large numbers of errors and still be reasonably understood. Watching various English schoolboys doing a quick course in Italian, it seemed that those who had previously learned Spanish found it easiest, followed by those who had learned French, and then those who had leaned Latin.
    – Henry
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 22:23
  • 1
    @MikeDunlavey Most, if not all languages have borrowed words, rules, exceptions, slang and idioms. Nothing special about English here. IMO it's a very easy language to learn (I'm French), and I found it far easier than German and Italian.
    – Aeronth
    Commented Mar 8, 2014 at 21:20
  • 1
    @Mike Dunlavey, I actually always felt that English was quite easy to learn, definitely easier than French, a lot easier than Latin (I never met anyone speaking it fluently), about the same as Spanish. Dutch is just impossible to speak for me. What did take a while was quickly understanding the bad English that you find on the Internet at times, if English is the second or third language, and "there", "their" and "they're" are totally different words for you.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .