Latin Vs. Spanish or French for High School Foreign Language

Updated on March 17, 2012
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
23 answers

Our two oldest are choosing their courses for Freshman year in high school. My son didn't take a foreign language in middle school because he's on an IEP and in the resource room one period a day. My SD didn't because she moved in halfway through 7th grade.

My SD wants to take Latin as her language. The problem that I have with this is that from what I understand, Latin is pretty tough and dry after the first year, and I want her to take 3 or 4 years of a language to meet the admissions preferences of competitive colleges. It's very hard to switch to a new language after Freshman year due to scheduling constraints at the high school, so if she struggles with this in Sophomore or Junior year, she'll be SOL with switching to French or Spanish. If she did it the other way around, she could take two or three years of French or Spanish first and then do Latin for a year after. I did take Latin and found it very useful, but I also took French before that. I have no idea what her foreign language proficiency would be. She is smart and gets good grades in general, but does struggle with some classes from time to time and hasn't made honor role yet this year, so it's not like she's a kid for whom doing well in school is totally effortless.

So what did you or your kids take? Any regrets or trouble with college admissions? Thank you!

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone - we're having her get an appointment with the language department head before deciding and I love the idea of looking at some materials on line. While I think the ideal scenario would be a year of Latin followed by 3 years of a modern language (I think everyone should take Latin, it would be great at the middle school level), the schedule structure at the high school makes it very hard to start a new language after 9th grade (and it's rare to start that late, most 9th grade students have 2 years of French or Spanish already). Unfortunately, she is making her decision right now based on absolutely nothing! I asked why she wanted to take Latin and her answer was "it seems cool." I asked what seemed cool and she said "I don't know." Further in the conversation it became clear that she didn't know it's not a spoken language. Sigh. And they wonder why we sometimes poke and prod and make them defend their knee-jerk decisions...

Anyway...thanks for your feedback and suggestions!

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answers from Portland on

I took Latin for 2 years in high school. Yeah, it's a dry dead language and for the life of me I would never be able to speak it. However, all romance languages get their roots from Latin. I believe it helped me on the vocabulary portion of my SAT's because I understood many of the roots.

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answers from Denver on

I am not the best judge of this but it seems like Spanish would be the most practical. I took French and think I used it once. Spanish is the 2nd most common language in America, so she may find that she will use that more. But I guess it depends on her long term goals.

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answers from Kansas City on

Latin is a dead language. She will be much more employable if she takes Spanish. Just my 2 cents.

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answers from Denver on

I took Latin, a couple of semesters of Greek, and French and Spanish (and did very well, but wow did I stink at math!). My college major ended up being in elementary education with a minor in English as a Second Language.

Here are some thoughts: Latin gives you a good foundation for learning vocabulary, especially scientific vocabulary, but it isn't fun. If you chooes French or Spanish, you can read a fun French book or watch a Spanish language soap opera, but Latin is a lot of words and sentence composition and declensions and all that. It's a lot of memorization and since it's not used anymore, you can't really put it into practice in conversation.

Spanish is very useful to know here in the US, and in Central and South America. French is useful to know in Europe and Africa.

Certain career choices can benefit from the foreign language choice. Does your SD talk about wanting to become a teacher, or a veterinarian, or an artist? Is she very social or more introspective? If she wants to be a teacher here in the US, knowing Spanish would be very useful. If she wants to be something in the scientific or medical field, Latin would be useful. If she wants to study music or art and travel throughout Europe, French would be useful.

Maybe you could look up some sample lessons online, for all three languages. Let her look at a sample curriculum and pages from the lesson. Or go to a bookstore and go browse in the foreign language section. Look at textbooks, and dictionaries and all the various help products (dictionaries, flash cards, etc). Maybe one will appeal to her more than others.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi, your friendly school counselor here.
I would advise she stick with ONE foreign language. College Admissions boards would rather see she excelled in one language and committed to it for several years, rather than bailed out when it got hard (2 or 3 years of Spanish) and jumped ship to level 1 of Latin. Whatever she starts with, she needs to stick with. She should choose the language she is most interested in, and the one she thinks she may pick up most easily (eg: in SoCal for many kids this is Spanish because we have a lot of pre-exposure to vocab and pronunciation due to the culture around here). It might also depend on the reputations of the programs at your HS. Do people avoid Spanish because the Spanish 3 teacher is tough and impossible? That sort of info you find by asking around your community.
Latin is useful, especially learning Latin roots and all that, but does the school offer 4 years of it?
Bottom line, she has to stick with what she starts with.

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answers from Dallas on

I have a 17yr old daughter who carefully planned her curriculum to reflect well to colleges. She started Spanish in the 7th grade and took it through first semester of her Jr year. She was in AP Spanish in 10th grade and 11th grade first semester.

Since she had plenty of credit in a foreign language preferred by good colleges, she opted to take AP Psychology this semester.

A lot of it depends on your child, their study habits and their grades. My daughter is very focused on college and has been for years... it is in her genes. She filled her schedule with mostly Honors and AP classes. It is also very important that colleges see community service, extra curricular activities as well.

So far, Duke and Baylor have been talking to her and according to them, she is right on track to go where ever she wants to go. She has all applications ready to go and all we have to do is wait on the transcript in September to be processed.

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answers from Lynchburg on

Hi JB-

my oldest three...for whatever reason took german!

I 'encouraged' latin...because I felt it would be more useful...but NO! lol

The next kiddo took french...the next spanish...and the next kiddos french!

***I think they ALL did it to SPITE me!!!***


All the 'olders' have gotten in to and/or completed college...I assume the 'youngers' will as well...

Best Luck!

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answers from Norfolk on

Love this question! I had to choose between the same three languages in 7th grade. I chose French because in my infinite wisdom at 12, I decided I'd rather go to France than Mexico, or learn a dead language. I continued to take it through HS and college and even got a degree in French. I traveled abroad and now I NEVER use it. Except at the occasional French restaurant to excite my husband. :)

In retrospect, I would have taken Spanish. There are ample opportunities to use it. My son is now in a Kindergarten Spanish immersion program. It is definitely the most useful language to learn. Plus, Spain is beautiful!!!

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answers from Colorado Springs on

I took Latin and have taught my children Latin in our homeschool. I think it is the most useful language to learn/teach because so many of our words have their roots from Latin. This will help with both comprehending foreign languages and understanding vocabulary words in life and on SATs, etc. We were driving around in Italy with our children, and my then-10 year old was able to translate some of the Italian because he knew the Latin roots. I was astonished that he was able to discern the language from his Latin exposure. And, I honestly don't think that the upper levels are that hard if they have a good teacher.

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answers from Austin on

Any 3 of them are great and each would look great if she takes at least 3 years.

Have you spoken to any other parents of High school kids about what the classes are like in the foreign language dept at your childs high school?

At our daughters High school there was only 1 french instructor. The Latin classes were tough and tended to be the kids on the science track.. Spanish, of course being in Texas was the most chosen language.. But We did ask around which dept seemed to be the best organized and with the most (percentage) of kids passing the AP Exam their senior years.

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answers from Washington DC on

I took them all, starting with 4 yrs of French in HS. My sister took Spanish in HS. I'm not sure what she did in college. I don't recall it being required to take 2 years in HS, but it was recommended at the time, so you had a lot of freshmen and juniors in French 1.

I would have her think about her preferences (you won't stick with what you don't like) and then also what her future goals are. For example, if you are anywhere near a particular population, it might serve her well to know one language or the other. Just having a language can help, regardless of her future fluency.

I got to college, lost my uncle my Sophomore year, and withdrew from Intermediate French II. Then I tried Latin to start over (sorry, hated it). Following that, I took Spanish where, since I had no background, I could start at Elementary Spanish 1, take that and ES2 and complete my language requirement. My major was English with a writing concentration.

It's unlikely that her path is set in stone. My SD took Spanish in elementary and middle school and changed to French in HS.

Had I do-over, I wouldn't have taken on Latin and taken something else sooner. My roommate, who took Latin with me, did better and she also took it because she wanted to be a doctor and was a Biology major. It made more sense for her.

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answers from Seattle on

I speak Spanish fluently and have found it to be quite useful. Is taking a foreign language a requirement in high school? I know TONS of people that took languages in high school and college and don't speak a lick as adults!

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answers from Boston on

IMHO, Spanish is the language to take. It has many similarities to Latin and can be helpful for English vocabulary, the SATs and more. It's the 2nd language of this country and the most visible in stores, public buildings, TV, music, etc. There are free Spanish-language newspapers that kids can use to help identify vocabulary, a fun alternative to their basic curriculum. This is the language they are most likely to be able to use in daily life. Let her know how many celebrities are Latino - it might make her interested!

I took it through high school and college, and have used it in every single job I've had. It's the easiest to keep up with. Unlike French (which I also took), it is phonetic and easiest to pronounce once you learn a few basic rules. So a lot more time can be spent on fun activities, writing, expressing oneself, and so on rather than learning a lot of pronunciation irregularities.

I think a child should be encouraged to take what interests them, but I have to say my son took Spanish and had fun, while my daughter took Latin and never used it so its relevance made her lose interest in classes.

From a college standpoint, it doesn't matter what language one takes, BUT there are more internships or volunteer opportunities for a living language (and certainly Spanish more than French), and that's the sort of thing that looks really good on the activity resume a teenager adds to her college application.

I think your idea of having her take Spanish makes the most sense and then, if she really loves languages and wants to add or switch, the Latin will be available.

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answers from Washington DC on

I had Latin and some Greek and it helped me with learning French and English, I can even fake my way through Italian and Spanish. No regrets at all.

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answers from Boston on

I took both Latin and French in high school. I don't think Latin is difficult unless you have poor study habits, it is just a lot of memorization. If you don't study you don't do well, but it isn't actually hard and I didn't find it was an enormous amount of work, she just needs to do it regularly. It is so useful. I actually found it got more interesting after year one because we did a lot of translating. It is very helpful for the SATs. So taking Latin now might be good for her, rather than delaying until senior year.

Spanish is of course useful if she plans to do a field that would deal with a lot of people who speak it, but otherwise no more useful than anything else. Other languages would be more useful on a resume for many jobs (or for grad school requirements). I took Spanish after college and found it easy to pick up, already knowing French. I plan to start Latin and French at a young age with my daughter.

If she is motivated to do Latin, that makes more sense than making her take another language she is not interested in doing.

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answers from Roanoke on

I took Spanish, and it was very easy to learn as a second language, and quite useful, even here in the US. My husband's family is Mexican, so it's helped me big time there as well. :)

I studied diction and languages as a voice major as well (Italian, Latin, Spanish, German, French). Latin is also useful because it is the base for much of our language, and gives a real understanding of where our words come from.

I think if she is interested in academics and is a word nerd (like me), go for Latin. If she wants to take a language to get an A and use later on in life socially and in public, go for Spanish. Good luck!

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answers from Louisville on

I took French, and I've never used it except occasionally when reading something that has misc. phrases thrown in. Even though I took years of it, I can tell you, I wouldn't do well going to a French-speaking country, and I made all A's. Spanish would be the most useful in terms of real life application. There is an increasing need for bilingual employees, and my understanding from friends and family who've experienced it, is that it's a huge plus on the resume (my brother-in-law was able to start a very successful law practice right after passing the bar specializing in immigration law because of his Spanish, and a good friend of mine is a bilingual manager in a company and gets compensated quite nicely for the skill). I am currently teaching my kids Latin (and learning it with them). I am finding that it's practical use when reading and deciphering words is terrific, so I wouldn't necessarily knock Latin as a language choice either.

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answers from Savannah on

Latin is not a bad language to learn: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, they are rooted in Latin. If it were me, I'd take 1 or 2 years of Latin, then move to Spanish the next 2-3 years of high school. My aunt is in the language department of UT and that's what she had my cousin (who is 14) do---Latin for a base, then Spanish, now she's working on German so she can branch out from Romance to Germanic languages. (But seriously, the Romance languages are the one you'll come across in normal life, and both my aunt and my sister in law agree on that). My sister in law is the HEAD of the language department at Westminster in London (fluent in 14 languages, and speaks "a little" of several more).
My personal reasoning is that I could get a foundation that would assist me with other languages, including Spanish, but then focus on Spanish because there are many states here that have growing populations of Spanish speaking families (this is not political, this is real life). In TX, when they were hiring teachers, even though teaching would obviously be done in English, they were specifically looking for bilingual applicants for the teaching jobs, to have good communication with the students' families. It's a language that even here in SC this could be a bonus in getting a job. Knowing Spanish helped me with my very limited Italian (I tried to learn Italian for 3 months leading up to a 2 week vacation). I got abysmally lost one day and Italy is one nation where not everyone is going to have a working knowledge of English. I would use as much Italian as possible, and when I didn't know the words, I politely and humbly switched over to Spanish. They were much more patient and listened to my Spanish and got the basic gist of what I was asking about, and they helped me, but when I tried to get help in English (they weren't patient with that at all). And for French....bah. You can go to France, Belgium, or a couple African nations and islands. But with Spanish, not including the great areas of the USA and territories like Puerto Rico, you can travel Central America, all over South America (even if they speak Portuguese in Brazil you can have some rudimentary language skills to help), islands, several neat places in Europe (Portugal, Romania was also listed as a romance language where some Latin and Spanish may assist...and I LOVE Spain and Italy for vacation any day!).

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answers from Minneapolis on

I grew up in a Spanish speaking country and moved to the U.S. when I was 9. In HS we had the choice of either French or Spanish and of course since I was fluent in Spanish I took French. I found it very easy since it was so similar to spanish. Not sure about Latin though since I've never taken it.

Personally I think the English language was difficult to learn.

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answers from Detroit on

I would probably just let her take what she wants to take. I wanted to take French when I was in high school but my parents made me take Spanish instead, thinking it would be more useful. As it turns out, I never stuck with it, only took the minimal requirements, and still don't speak any of it to this day. Yes, my parents were right, but it didn't matter as much to me at the time. Maybe I would have stuck with French because I would have actually wanted to take it. Latin will probably be helpful in almost any other languages she decides to study later on, and also understanding medical terminology, if she decides to study medicine in any capacity.

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answers from Tulsa on

I took French, but looking back, I wish I had taken Spanish. I do have a solid base in French, which comes in semi-helpful since my job has me working with people in South Louisiana, but Spanish is becoming more prevalent in the US. Being bi-lingual is a big plus for the resume, especially for Spanish speaking people. I wish I had the basics for Spanish because I think it would be easier for me to pick it now rather than trying to learn from scratch.

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answers from Burlington on

Spanish. I took 2 years of French (harder to learn) and then 2 years of Spanish, definitely seemed to make more sense, and despite occasional trips to Canada I have found Spanish to be more helpful. Wished I had taken more.

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