Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Latin is Cool

I suppose this is the ultimate expression of "retro" - but the once-dead and once-despised Latin language has risen from the dead and is popular again. Schools have revived Latin having seen the tragic results of its being removed from school curricula a generation ago (illiteracy, grammatical ignorance, decreasing competence in composition, a loss of vocabulary, etc.).

When I was in high school, the last remnants of Latin were being phased out. It was being done away with in favor of more "relevant" courses. This also coincided with a lot of "novel" teaching methods and techniques from the "professional academicians" who knew that New is always better than Old. Remember "new math"? Remember "whole language"? Ever wonder why so many people under the age of 50 can't do long division; they struggle with things like "to," "too," and "two;" and their spelling is a train wreck?

Crawling out of the wreckage of the train wreck at some point, Latin started crawling back. Homeschool moms and Christian academies started teaching children one at a time or in small groups. Momentum has built up to the point where Latin is on the upswing again. Of course, Pope Benedict's liberation of the once-restricted Tridentine Mass has reintroduced Latin to Roman Catholics. Even those who don't attend Tridentine Masses will find that their Sunday services are peppered with more Latin hymns and liturgical responses than ever before.

Not only do Latin students outshine their non-Latin-studying peers in SAT scores, Latin students are better at grammar, vocabulary, foreign languages, critical thinking, and composition. Latin students who go on to study sciences, medicine, or theology also have a leg-up by having studied Latin. Latin students are more confident and have a better sense of their place in the world and in civilization.

I can see the difference in my own 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Latin students from the beginning of the year until now. In a very short time, they are reading natively (not simply translating), using passive and active verbs and several conjugations and declensions, and now have used all the cases - all within the context of a story, without burdensome memorization and drills, and without a ton of grammatical terminology. They are seeing English words all over the place that are vestiges of the Latin that they now study. I'm really proud of my students. The course I'm using, written by a Danish classicist named Hans Oerberg, is utterly ingenious. There is no English in the book at all (the "natural method"). It is as close to "immersion" as one can get with a "dead" language. You can find more information here. This text is used all over the world by grade school children all the way through university students.

Because of the resurgence of interest in the lingua latine around the orbis terrarum, you can now read an online Latin newspaper and even hear podcasts and YouTube shows in Latin. I have read that ATMs in Vatican City offer Latin as a language option. There is a Latin version of Wikipedia, and the Finnish Broadcasting Company, realizing that more people understand Latin than Finnish, actually broadcasts the news on shortwave radio and on the Internet in Latin. You can even listen to Latin Sermons by Pope St. Leo the Great read by the Vatican's chief Latinist, Fr. Reggie Foster (who is an American, by the way).

So, what comes around, goes around (Id quod circumiret, circumveniat), and Latin has suddenly become cool.

1 comment:

Der Bettler said...

Our Greek professor at CTS, Dr. Nordling, spent a summer with Fr. Foster learning Latin (he wrote an article about it in Logia called "A Lutheran Goes to Rome"). Fr. Foster claimed not to have made a Latin mistake for over ten years! Actually, there's indeed a resurgence even among seminarians to learn more Latin. Don't tell anyone, but the chapel choir sang the Victimae Paschali Laudes in Latin during the Divine Service last Wednesday. It was simply beautiful - there's nothing like being in touch with the Early Church through its own language.