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Study of Latin Increasing in American Schools

November 12, 2008 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
An increasing number of students are studying Latin, finding that it helps them gain admittance to colleges and understand English and foreign languages.

Latin Makes a Comeback

The study of Latin in elementary and high schools has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years, expanding from elite East Coast schools to all parts of the country. The number of students taking the National Latin Exam increased from 101,000 in 1998 to 134,000 in 2007, while the number of students taking the Advanced Placement Latin exam has nearly doubled to 8,654 over the past 10 years.

Latin’s popularity is due in part to a change in teaching styles, with an increased emphasis on speaking the language and learning about Greek and Roman civilization. Students are also drawn to Latin because of its use in the “Harry Potter” series and popular movies about the ancient world like “Gladiator.”

Additionally, many students take Latin because it looks impressive on their college applications. Latin “appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion,” writes The New York Times, citing Adam D. Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association.

Latin has many practical advantages, as well. Learning Latin vocabulary helps students recognize the meaning of English words and terms, which is especially useful for those who enter medical or legal fields. Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, told the Associated Press that approximately 60 percent of English vocabulary is derived from Latin.

It also improves the students’ grammar and understanding of other languages. The New York Times spoke to one high school sophomore who said that he’s “learned more about grammar in Latin class than in English class,” and a Minnesota senior told the AP that she takes Latin as a basis for learning other languages.

“It’s a basis of so many other languages I want to go into,” she said. “They cross a lot.”

Related Topic: Ireland’s ‘gaelscoileanna’

In Ireland, schools taught entirely in the Irish language, known as gaelscoileanna, are becoming increasingly popular. Like Latin students, gaelscoileanna students improve their command of English and other languages by learning an unfamiliar language.

“Pupils take advantage of language acquisition skills they pick up from being immersed in Irish at an early age,” says one gaelscoil principal. “That kicks in when they start learning to read and they transfer their reading skills from Irish to English.”

Reference: Learning Latin


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