By: Deaconess Lynnette Fredericksen
Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant is a familiar chant to most people who graduated from high school before 1957; but today some ask, “Why does St. Paul Lutheran School teach Latin, such an old, dead language, to the students?” This is a great question to ask in learning about what makes St. Paul Lutheran School a great school.
First, Latin is not a dead language. Many people around the world read books in Latin each day. Most of the classics in Latin are still in print. Latin was one of the most influential languages of all times and the basis of many modern languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian. New books are being translated into Latin today including Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, and Harry Potter.
Latin is important in the Christian Church. For almost 1500 years, Latin was the predominant language of the church. The beauty and richness of our liturgy has its roots deep in Latin. We still see remnants in our hymnal with terms such as Matins, Vespers, Agnus Dei, and Sanctus. We all sing Latin boldly when we sing, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in the Christmas hymn Angels We Have Heard on High.
The teaching of Latin is important for many reasons:
Latin teaches and improves English grammar: Study of grammar in one’s native language is difficult. We learn our native language from birth and bad habits are deeply ingrained. We do not even hear the grammatical errors of others, as many errors have become enculturated. For example, “Me and Susie” as the subject of the sentence does not even bother the ears of many. Latin is precise and logical. Latin is a disciplined language and its rules are concrete, never changing. It teaches students’ minds to think in a systematic manner. Parts of speech and cases in English are easier to understand once one has mastered them in Latin.
Latin improves and increases English vocabulary: Over 60% of English vocabulary comes from Latin, particularly the vocabulary associated with medicine, science and engineering. These words tend to be the more difficult, multi-syllable words. A thorough knowledge of Latin increases the student’s English vocabulary tremendously. Knowing the Latin derivative gives students one more tool to help in decoding words.
Latin improves reading ability and comprehension: Increased vocabulary and decoding skills automatically improves reading ability and comprehension. Latin students outperform their peers on SAT college entrance exams. For college bound seniors in 2011, those students who had taken Latin outscored their peers on the critical reading and writing portions of the SAT. (See page 8 of the College Board Total Group Profile Report)
Students will be able to read Roman classics in their original form. Translated copies of books can lose or have changed meanings to words based upon the translator’s set of virtues, background, or beliefs; and word interpretation. All translators bring their own “baggage” into the translation whether intentional or not. Students will be able to read classics in their original form as the authors intended.