Latin, once the lingua franca of the civilized world, faded into obscurity centuries ago. With the exception of the Catholic Church, few employed the spoken language. The 1960’s proved bleak for this classical language, when the Church agreed to present Mass in the vernacular of its congregations. Interest in Latin revived somewhat in the 1970’s and 1980s with the back-to-basics movement in many schools. Now the language is making a resurgence in both middle and high schools across the county, as students read of Caesar, Cicero, and other Roman notables.
The New York Times reports that interest in the ancient language have erupted due to students’ attempts to improve their vocabulary for the college exams like the SAT’s or ACT’s . Some English teachers contend that Latin provides a foundation for English grammar. Or perhaps students have fallen under the spell of the language as a result of their exposure to the Latin words, phrases and incantations in the Harry Potter series. Whatever the reason, “The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998. While some modern languages, like Italian, have experienced a decrease in the number of students who take the Advanced Placement exam, the opposite is true of Latin; the number of students taking the Advanced Placement Latin exam has nearly doubled in the last decade. Spanish and French still lead the foreign language course totals, and more students are taking Chinese and Arabic. However, in some districts, the increase in Latin students has driven administrators to search for additional teachers, so they can offer more advanced levels or more sections.
According to the Times article, “The executive director of the American Philological Association at the University of Pennsylvania, which represents more than 3,000 members, including classics professors and Latin teachers, said that more high schools were recognizing the benefits of Latin. It builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion.” In addition to translation of classical documents, some teachers enliven the class with “livelier lessons that focus on culture, history and the daily life of the Romans. Porro ago Latin! (Long live Latin!)