U.S. Study of "Dead" Latin Is Making a Comeback

Frank Devlin
Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call
June 14, 2001

Carol Ramsey smiles when her students use the so-called dead language to talk about the latest Ben Affleck movie. After all, students can say or write just about anything in her class—as long as it's in Latin.

Students even get credit for "hands-on" projects—including a Roman burial scene complete with tiny robed men sculpted from clay—that decorate Ramsey's classroom at Souderton Area High School in Pennsylvania.

It's all part of Ramsey's effort to put Latin in context for students, to make the language that once dominated the Western world more than vocabulary and grammar no one uses anymore.

Some days, Ramsey's students hear stories about ancient Rome. "You're learning a little history along with the grammar," said Chris Powis, a senior and Latin II student. "How the government worked. What schools were like."

That's exactly what the teacher wants. "I don't think you can teach Latin in a vacuum," Ramsey said. "If you can't make it relevant for today's students, they're not interested."

To highlight the connection to ancient times, Ramsey said, she and her class once discussed how the Greek myth about Pygmalion was the backbone of a recent movie with the decidedly non-classical sounding title She's All That.

Roots of English Language

Bringing the ancient language into modern times is part of a comeback of the dead language.

In the 1970s, it looked as though Latin might disappear from American high schools. In 1962, about 700,000 ninth- through 12th-grade students took Latin, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. By 1976, the number had fallen to 150,000.

But a comeback was on track by 1994, the last year for which the council has figures, when about 190,000 ninth- through 12th-graders took Latin.

While new teaching techniques are keeping students interested in Latin, the belief that Latin increases a student's chances of getting into a good college also is driving increased enrollments, teachers and students said.

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