By Edward Townes, M.Sc.
In modern times we tend to view mathematics as belonging to an academic discipline quite distinct from language. This was not always the case; indeed this view didn’t prevail until the very recent past. In the classical period, with some refinements and adjustments in the Renaissance period and 19th century, the gold standard was a Liberal Arts education. This education was designed to allow a free man to reach full expression of his potential. Whereas today much of our education is focused on learning the vocabulary of the world and specializing in a particular niche, the ancients saw education as an opportunity to teach the next generation how to be well-rounded and to give them the means to think and engage with whatever subject had their attention at any time. There are many reasons for this shift in the way we approach education, but for now I’d like to focus on the connection classical societies saw between the main disciplines of a Liberal Arts education and some of our more recent findings on that connection too. The following are four reasons why learning Latin will improve a student’s math skills:
- Latin and math have a number of structural similarities
Two of the core disciplines of a Liberal Arts education are grammar and logic. These are inextricably linked, the former being the structure of language, and the latter being the structure of ideas. Learning Latin and mathematics serves these two core disciplines, and they strengthen each other in tandem. The structure of the grammar in Latin and Ancient Greek has much more in common with the structure of mathematical logic than many modern languages.
- Learning the Latin language has been shown to improve one’s ability to learn the language of math
Mathematics is ultimately also a language – the language that the universe has been written in. As humans, all we do is create symbols to formalize that language so we can succinctly express the workings of the universe. Learning languages assists with the development of our brains to learn still more languages, including mathematics. Recent research is showing that learning second languages helps to quickly problem solve and understand new concepts in mathematics.
- Modern math originated in the ancient world
While we have adopted much from Central and Eastern Asia, the great majority of our understanding and terminology of mathematics and the natural sciences comes from the foundations of classical civilization in the Mediterranean. For this simple reason, learning about their language and culture allows us greater access to mathematics and the natural sciences. Sometimes in higher education the value of this can be lost, as we pursue our niches and neglect an appreciation for a broader view of the world, to our own detriment!
- Learning an ancient language can be an incredible help with learning advanced math
Finally, two slightly more obscure benefits I have experienced myself; that writing in Latin and Ancient Greek has improved my ability to write math closer to thinking speed; and that learning about counting systems other than the Arabic numerals we use today gives one the opportunity for a more profound understanding of numbers and set theory.
Today we tend to think of the subjects we learn at school and college as separate from each other, but the truth is that they are all linked together, both in terms of their cultural background and the deeper effects on the development of our brains. Perhaps we will end up being more enthused by one subject than another, or we may develop abilities in different subjects at different rates, but ultimately a well-rounded education that familiarizes the student with a wide range of subjects is self-reinforcing and will serve us better throughout our lives!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Professor Edward Townes was born and raised in England and holds a Master of Science in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College, London. He is also planning to very soon pursue a Ph.D. in Physics. Prof. Townes tutors math, science (biology, chemistry, and physics), and SAT Prep for Carmenta Online PhD Tutors.
Click here to see Prof. Townes full profile on the Carmenta Faculty Page.