What I Tell Kids about Latin

or, Quod Parvulis de Lingua Latina Dico

(The following is how I introduce classrooms of students in local elementary schools to my weekly series of Latin lessons on the first day. I teach Latin grammar, vocabulary, translation, and derivatives as well as Roman history. All in 45 minutes!)

Ever since I was eight years old I have really loved secret codes, mysterious alphabets, and hidden messages. I discovered something amazing in my encyclopedia one day: pictures that were really letters!

They were ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I was so excited. Immediately I began writing a message for my father to read when he came home from work. This was the greatest!

My mom got me whole books about codes and ciphers, now that it was my new obsession. I found and liked that Pigpen Cipher they say was used in the Civil War:

and of course I did the easy 1=A, 2=B, 3=C code often to write messages to my sisters. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I found the best code of all. It is called Latin, and when I learned to decipher it, I discovered that everything around us right now is in this secret code.

Latin is in thousands and thousands of words we use: for example, “animal” and “circus” are literally Latin words, with exactly the same spelling and meaning that we use. And other words of ours, especially the longer ones, are constructed of Latin parts, like “submarine”–sub=under, mare=the sea, and “education”–educare=to lead out of (ignorance).

Latin is on the signs you see around you. Is there an exit sign in this room? Yes, look! “Exit” is the Latin word for “he or she goes out.” And this symbol “&” is a letter “e” and a letter “t” scribbled together; “et” is the Latin word for “and.” Makes sense, right?

We hear and see phrases in Latin every day. Latin is used by your relatives in the military: Semper Fi is short for “Semper Fidelis” which means “always faithful.” The boy scouts and the Coast Guard say “Semper Paratus” which means “Always prepared.” If you look at a dollar bill you can see the great seal of the United States with “E pluribus unum” on it in the banner in the eagle’s mouth. That phrase means, “Out of many, one” because many states unite to form our one country.

So many people have names that are Latin. Do you? Does a family member? Olivia, Victoria, Lucy, Deana, Emily, Marcus, Vincent, Oliver, Lucas, Miles, Adrian…(More here and here!) And if your dog is named Stella, Leo, Fido, or Rex–its name is Latin too.

Your whole school day is in Latin: If you wake up in September (or any month) to go to school, you might see the Principal and the Secretary before class begins. You will be with the other students in your grade, maybe taking a trip on the bus together, having recess, and studying some books from the library before you are finally dismissed.

So Latin is everywhere, are you convinced? You can see it too if you learn how to decode it. Want to give it a try? Okay, here we go….

2 thoughts on “What I Tell Kids about Latin

Add yours

    1. A series like…the text of each weekly lesson that I do? That post was pretty much verbatim what I said to each class of kids this year, the 3rd Graders and the 5th Graders. It has always been well-received! 🙂


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