How a Dead Language Breathes New Life into Students’ Skills

(The following language article was first published in Liberty Classical Academy’s Winter/Spring 2004 newsletter):

Call someone a “miser” and you’ve just spoken it. Say you’re “perturbed” and  you’ve done it again. If Latin is truly the dead language that some claim, why does it live on in the English you and I speak everyday?

Far from dead, Latin possesses incredible power to boost student performance, and research proves it. Convinced by the evidence, Liberty Classical Academy includes Latin in its core curriculum for grades 4 – 10.

How, then, does Latin work its magic? Findings point to student improvement in four general areas:

 

English Language:

 

Well over half of English words come from Latin. One analysis showed that 12 Latin and 2 Greek roots, along with 20 frequently used prefixes, created an estimated 100,000 English words! What’s more, the basic structure of English borrows heavily from Latin’s system of conjugation.

It’s difficult to overstate the results. One study reported that in 1981 the average verbal score for Latin students on the SAT was nearly 150 points higher than those of non-Latin students. A study in Philadelphia showed 4th – 6th graders with Latin placed a full year higher on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Still more studies find higher GPAs in Latin students, both in high school and college.

History itself bolsters Latin’s argument. In 1957, the Soviet launch of Sputnik and the race into space prompted American schools to abandon Latin for more math and science. From 1962 – 1976, Latin enrollment plummeted from 702,000 to150,000. Simultaneously, average SAT verbal scores dropped 33 points from 1957 – 1973, and college remedial English courses increased.

 

Higher-Order Thinking:

 

Experts say the complex Latin system of conjugation and declension requires higher-order thinking such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. One study noted “Latin represents a verbal analogue to the teaching of mathematics as accumulatively organized subject area.”

No wonder that it impacts math performance. In yet another study, students with 4 years of foreign language instruction outscored other students on the SAT’s math portion by 155 points. Of the individual foreign languages tracked, Latin and Russian students scored the highest.

These thinking skills, as well as familiarity with Latin vocabulary and grammar, ease Latin students’ acquisition of other foreign languages, especially the Romance languages of French and Spanish. Further, students with Latin understand the Latin-infused technical languages of the sciences.

 

Cultural and Historical Awareness:

 

As students learn Latin – and are exposed to its Greco-Roman roots – their minds are opened. They’re confronted with the debt Westerners owe to an ancient, far-off culture, both for the words they speak and the ideas they think. As Douglas Wilson, founder of the ACCS writes, “An essential part of the classical mind is an awareness of, and gratitude for, the heritage of Western civilization.”

No, Latin is not dead, nor is it simply a grade booster – it is a powerful mind expander.
Sources: “Efficacy of Latin Studies in the Information Age,” Alicy DeVane; “Classical Education:
Towards the Revival of American Schooling,” Gene Veith, Jr., and Andrew Kern.

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