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Veni, vidi, vici: How Latin can help students conquer the SAT

The verbal section of the SAT focuses on English words, but studying Latin and Greek can help students prepare for the test.

On this edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan Professor of English Anne Curzan discuss the origins of academic language in English.

Before the Renaissance, English was considered a rude and unworthy language compared to Latin and French. However, when perceptions of English changed the language needed to adapt.

“People decided English could and should be used for registers like scientific writing, medical writing and high literature,” Curzan explains. To handle these academic registers, English borrowed words from Latin and Greek.  

Since the SAT tests academic language, it also tests knowledge of Latinate words. Knowing Latin or one of its derivative Romance languages can help test takers identify the root of an English term, understand the word’s meaning and correctly answer the question.  

Curzan looks at a sample fill-in-the-blank SAT question: “Physical exercise often has a _______ effect, releasing emotional tension and refreshing the spirit.” All four possible responses — cathartic, pejorative, debilitating, tenacious or retentive — come from Latin or French. Being a Latin lover could help a student answer a question like this.

Has learning another language helped you improve your English vocabulary? Let us know by writing on ourFacebook wall or commenting on our website. 

-Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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