As a Latin teacher, I frequently meet individuals around town who took some Latin in school. It comes up in conversation in places from the doctor’s office to the post office to Menards. Whether the person studied a year of Latin in college, two years in high school, or six years from middle school on, inevitably he or she tells me that Latin was valuable perhaps mostly for the culture, the vocabulary, and the grammar. They universally wish more schools still taught it, especially their own children’s or grandchildren’s schools.
Here at CMS, our elementary and AP students experience those same rewards in the Latin Program. As we near the end of our first year studying Latin, I want to share how the program works and some of our recent successes.
At the Elementary Level, a topic is usually introduced in a general way by learning some new vocabulary. Our most recent lesson was on houses. As we learn the new Latin words, students are also exposed to English words that derive from the Latin. For some students this means cementing words they have heard before such as culinary (from culina/kitchen) or horticulture (from hortus/garden). For other children these words are completely new and learning them along with the Latin expands their English immensely. The first week, the students usually have a work activity to practice the new vocabulary. In the lesson on houses, this meant matching sentences using words we have learned already with the correct rooms. (e.g hic dormio- I sleep here.)
In our second week with a topic, we often have a lesson to expand on the cultural and historical context of the vocabulary. Ancient Rome is not just the same as America today, a point that bears repeating. In our lessons, we focus on both the similarities and the differences. For instance, the Roman house structure with its atrium and courtyard are quite foreign to students, so we look at pictures and discuss geographic and cultural reasons for the Roman way of life. Inevitably, this leads to further questions and discussion. Any adult will tell you that learning about the culture of Ancient Rome was a large benefit of studying Latin and the part that stayed with them well after specific grammar knowledge may have faded.
At this point, the students are assigned a creative work to extend their mastery of the new lesson. In the house unit, students drew floorplans of ancient or modern homes labeling all the rooms in Latin. These types of projects allow students to use their own motivation to really take on a challenge. One group of students made a 3-D house from cardboard, another group made a game using a Roman house and homemade cards in Latin, still another student drew a medieval castle and labeled it in Latin.
Finally, we often have a game or activity to help students practice their language skills. In the house lesson, students listened carefully to sentences in Latin to move animals around a large Roman home according to the directions. Once a unit is finished, we periodically review to keep the vocabulary active in their minds and to build on the words we know as we move forward. This year, Elementary students have had lessons on greetings, colors, animals, nature, body parts, family, houses, and activities, which they will now combine in a year-end project writing a comic strip story.
At the Adolescent Program, the course runs a bit differently. We meet three days a week and have a textbook which follows a story of an Ancient Roman family completely in Latin. Students study Latin grammar more intensively which naturally leads to an analysis of English grammar.
Latin is a language which relies on case endings for meaning. This means knowing whether a word is a subject, direct object, indirect object, etc. is crucial for comprehension. In translating to and from Latin, students, even very good AP students, are often surprised to find that their knowledge of English grammar is not quite as solid as they had thought. Should that be “who” or “whom”? How do “whence”, “whither”, and “where” differ? How do you switch between active and passive? In English it is easy to get these answers correct intuitively, but the Latin forces students to really understand their own language and grammar.
Studying Latin at this level is challenging yet rewarding. Just as at the Elementary level, vocabulary development in English occurs organically as we learn Latin. Just today, we discussed how vestigium/footprint leads to vestiges and vestigial. Many “difficult” words in English come from mundane Latin words, and our AP students are in an optimal position to apply their knowledge of Latin to challenging words they encounter in reading English.
This week in the AP we celebrated wonderful news about our program. In March, our students all took the National Latin Exam as part of a contest for Latin students around the world. Almost 150,000 students sat for this exam which covers culture, reading, and grammar. On our level, Introduction to Latin for 7/8 grades, around 25,000 students competed. Although we did not begin our study of Latin until October, the students still performed exceptionally well! The national average correct was 30/40 but our AP students averaged far above that at 35.5/40 correct. We had many awards, and one student earned a perfect score on the exam. Congratulations to all our AP students for stellar work!
Next year our CMS Latin program will continue to grow and evolve. Now that most students have had a year of Latin, both the Elementary and AP programs will be further differentiated in order to benefit our students in new ways. If your children are asking for more Latin over the summer, reviewing their words to this point is always a good idea, but another excellent choice would be a visit to the upcoming Pompeii Exhibit at the STL Science Museum opening May 17. As a teacher, I find the story of Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii is always effective in creating interest and enthusiasm for Ancient Rome and its language!
Blog Post Written By: Mallory Hayes, Latin Teacher at CMS