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!
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."
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."
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."
"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."