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Latin Makes a Comeback

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In danger of disappearing just a few years ago, Latin is now making a comeback in American classrooms. Read what both teachers and students have to say about the benefits of studying this ancient language. Included: More than a dozen great links to more information!


Latin Resources

Dr. Thomas J. Sienkewicz suggests the following resources for further reading:

*Minimus, written by Barbara Bell and published by Cambridge University Press, is an example of a Latin textbook for young students. Bell wrote the book, which focuses on grammar and vocabulary skills, for students between the ages of seven and ten.

*For more information about the development of standards for teaching Latin, see "Latin Teaching Standards: Process, Philosophy and Application," Thomas J. Sienkewicz et al., pp. 55-63, from The Classical Journal 95 (1999).

"Without Latin, I would not be as effective, as creative, or as articulate as a professional. Latin -- as well as Greek and the classics in general -- is essential to a true education as it provides a coherent matrix for learning and a context for all knowledge," says Duncan S. McPherson, a designer of computer games and software with Magic Lantern Playware in Monmouth, Illinois. Dr. Thomas J. Sienkewicz, McPherson's former professor, reported McPherson's comments to Education World.

Just a generation ago, Latin was in danger of disappearing from American classrooms. Lately, however, the ancient language has enjoyed a resurgence. Sienkewicz, who is Minnie Billings Capron Professor of Classics at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, and chair of the Committee for the Promotion of Latin (CPL) for the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), tells Education World that he sees three reasons for the renewed interest in teaching Latin.

"The first is the emphasis in Latin pedagogy on the structure of Latin, on grammatical features," Sienkewicz says. "This grammatical approach enables students not only to learn Latin but also to become more conscious of how their own language works.

"A second advantage of Latin," Sienkewicz continues, "is the strong influence the language has had on English vocabulary. One who knows the Latin verb duco ("to lead") plus a variety of Latin prepositions can more readily distinguish the meanings of English words such as induce, deduce, conduct, produce, [and] abduct. .

"A third important attraction of Latin," Sienkewicz concludes, "is the literature it produced. Many high school students who study the love poetry of Catullus or the powerful speeches of Cicero or the inspiring epic verse of Virgil become hooked on the language."


NEW TEACHING METHODS FOR AN OLD LANGUAGE

Sienkewicz says the teaching of Latin has changed over the last 20 to 30 years because of "the effort to bring Latin teaching into the mainstream of foreign language teaching. The first of these [changes] was the creation of national standards for the teaching of classical languages."

A second change, he says, is "the increase in the use of oral Latin in the classroom." Modeled after methods of teaching modern foreign languages, the purpose of oral Latin is "the reinforcement of reading and writing skills, which remain the primary emphasis in most Latin classrooms.

"A third significant change in Latin teaching," Sienkewicz adds, "is the increase in instruction of Latin in elementary and middle schools and the development of textbooks geared to younger students."

LATIN FOR YOUNG STUDENTS

One teacher of younger students is Anthony G. Pontone, Ph.D., a Latin teacher for more than 30 years. For the past 20 years, he has taught Latin at North Middle School and South Middle School in Great Neck, New York.

One benefit of the study of Latin, Pontone tells Education World, is that "it provides some intellectual discipline." Moreover, "in conjunction with discipline comes the knowledge of grammar. This is more necessary than ever because so little grammar is taught in our schools today."

"In addition," Pontone continues, "Latin literature is worth reading for its own sake -- it is one of the great literatures and [is] unsurpassed in beauty and scope."

Pontone acknowledges that he teaches Latin much differently than his high school teachers taught him. First, since he's teaching in middle school, he can't move as quickly through the material as his high school teachers did.

Second, he says, "unlike my own high school teachers, I put a great deal of emphasis on history and culture -- on the Romans themselves. I think the main difference is that I am a well-trained classicist and bring all my background to the classroom. I think my extensive background is put to good use even in a middle school classroom. I find that my students really appreciate having a teacher who, as one of them says, 'knows stuff.'"

Pontone goes on, "I think it important to emphasize that teaching Latin should never be the same as teaching a modern language. Latin teachers should be well trained as classicists and have good backgrounds in their subject.

"I don't think it should be made into a game," Pontone says. "Latin is serious business, and I find that even middle school students respond well to Latin taught as a serious discipline and not as a series of vocab building drills or toga banquets with roast chicken, grapes, and grape juice. The Romans were serious people, and they should be approached with respect and affection. Rome provides kids with wonderful intellectual opportunities that are challenging and serious. Latin class should be made interesting through a teacher's broad background and not with gimmicks."

TESTIMONIALS

McPherson, Sienkewicz's former student, appears to agree with Pontone:

"For me, the study of Latin was focused in three arenas: the language, the literature, and the history. The language helped me to become a more articulate person, with a deeper understanding of how to manipulate language and to better communicate my ideas. ....The literature helped to broaden my imagination. Additionally, because I was exposed to epic poetry, myth, satire, and early novels, I am better able to understand literature in general, to see the interconnectedness of story themes across time and how they relate to the human condition, and to understand what artistic frameworks in literature foster greater productive creativity. The history helped me to understand my place in time, the eternal challenges that face humanity, the heritage that modern culture owes to the past."

Another of Sienkewicz's former students, Kelly DiDonato, is a reference librarian for Lake Villa District Library in Lake Villa, Illinois.

"As a reference librarian, I draw on my knowledge of Latin frequently. I often get calls from people who have come across a word in a book but don't know what it means. Either I can figure out the meaning from breaking down the Latin roots of the word, or I can find it more easily in the dictionary because Latin has given me a better grasp of English spelling. Latin is also invaluable when patrons are inquiring about medical conditions with lengthy names. I feel like I can better appreciate the English language because of Latin. For example, the word conspiracy takes on deeper shades of meaning for me because I can mentally break it down into con -- 'with or together' [and] spir -- 'to breathe.' So conspiracy is literally "breathing together." Thanks to Latin, I can better appreciate the richness of the language in the books that surround me."

THE RESURGENCE OF LATIN: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • The Mouse That Conjugated
    This is a review of Minimus, a Latin textbook for primary grades.
  • The New Case for Latin
    This article from Time (December 2, 2000) discusses the benefits for students who study Latin.
  • The Latin Advantage
    This page, on the Web site of the publisher of a Latin teaching series, includes details about how the study of Latin improves SAT scores, reading achievement, vocabulary skills, and math problem-solving skills. It includes links to other articles about the benefits of Latin to students and a teacher resources aimed at instructors of cultural studies, mythology, ancient history, literature, and other humanities courses.
  • Language of Caesars is Reborn: Sterling Heights Academy Teaches Latin
    This article from the Detroit News (January 10, 2001) describes a K-5 charter school that uses an interactive computer program to teach Latin to all students.
  • Net helps resuscitate a "dead" language
    This article from CNET's News.com describes how the Internet is contributing to the resurgence of Latin.
  • Latin Back from Near-Extinction in Ontario
    This article in the Ottawa Citizen (October 22, 2000) describes the decision of a teacher's college in Ontario to hire a professor to instruct potential Latin teachers. The renewal of this teacher-training program will produce new high school Latin teachers to replace retiring ones.
  • 'Dead' Language Shows New Life
    This article from The Record of Bergen, New Jersey (March 19, 1999), describes the popularity of Latin with students in local high schools.
  • As Interest Grows, Area Educators Hope Latin Programs Can Continue
    This article from the Dallas Morning News (May 31, 2000) describes the resurgence of Latin and the resulting need for Latin teachers.
  • Eager Students Keep Latin Alive
    This article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (June 3, 2000) describes how the teaching of high school Latin began to change in the 1970s to make studying the language more appealing to students.
  • National Committee for Latin and Greek
    This Web site includes lots of information about the benefits of studying Latin as well as resources for classics teachers.
  • Why Your Kids Should Learn Latin
    This page, from About.com's Ancient/Classical History section, introduces a four-part series on the benefits of studying Latin.
  • Why Study Classics?
    This page, also from About.com's Ancient/Classical History section, contains links to many articles answering the question "Why study classics?"
  • Latin Language Site
    The home page of the Latin language section on About.com contains lots of material about the study of Latin.
  • The American Classical League
    Membership in this organization, headquartered at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is open to anyone "committed to the preservation and advancement of our classical inheritance from Greece and Rome." Includes teacher placement page, an extensive list of links to teaching resources, and information about the National Latin Exam, National Greek Exam, and National Mythology Exam.
  • National Junior Classical League
    This organization for classical clubs in junior and senior high schools is headquartered at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
  • The Classical Association of the Middle West and South Homepage
    This is the home page of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), an organization of university, college, secondary, and elementary teachers of classics. The organization headquarters is at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.



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