Can a language ever truly be “dead”? “Discovering” any language, no matter how unique or unpopular, brings it back to life.
For many college-prep students, graduation requirements call for at least 2 consecutive years of language studies. Over the years, Spanish, French and sometimes German were staples. These days, as our world “shrinks” and Middle Eastern countries become more and more active and in the news, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish dialects are becoming increasingly prevalent in college language offerings, as are many widely-spoken Asian languages, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
These languages, along with a dizzying array of dialects, are alive and well, with literally millions of people speaking many of them as their primary, or at least secondary, tongue.
Is Latin A Dead Language?
What exactly defines a “dead language,” then?
Well, there is actually a bit of controversy over that term, with some linguists considering the primary characteristic a lack of living, native speakers (some also use the term “extinct” in this case), while others say that a dead language is known and used in written form, but is no longer commonly spoken. In addition, there are a large number of languages considered endangered , on their way to becoming extinct.
However they’re defined, most of them are not taught in schools anymore – except one.
Latin is commonly used as a prime example of both a dead and extinct language. Yet it is still taught in many high school classrooms across these United States, and in countless homeschools, too (including ours). So the question begs asking: “Why?”
Why Learn Latin
Why is a dead language still taught in schools?
While there are many reasons for this, these may be some of the most noteworthy:
- Latin is a basis for many Romance languages .
- Learning the “logic” of Latin, with its patterns and formats for plurals, tenses, and such provide a solid foundation for learning English grammar.
- Concepts and ideas that are foundational to our Western culture were introduced by many famous Roman (and Greek) teachers and philosophers.
There are many benefits to language study:
- Learning a foreign language enlarges our attitudes about those who are different than us.
- Learning any language opens doors and windows to new cultures, countries and peoples.
- Language learning is a discipline, and structured learning is a skill transferable to many other areas in life.
How to make language-learning come alive?
So if, even after all the discussion above, your child still rolls his or her eyes at language study, don’t get discouraged! There are ways to make this study meaningful and alive. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- If you homeschool – Approach your local high school or college language department and ask what resources they have that you might be able to utilize. Do they have an International Night or any cross-cultural activities? Will they have speakers or workshops that you and your child might be able to attend? Are there any native speakers here who might be willing to practice with your child (also allowing them the opportunity to practice their English)?
- Regardless of where your child is learning a foreign language – Do some sleuthing on your own to come up with resources in your community or online related to the language being studied. Of course, as with anything, peruse the Internet with caution, and make sure you’re comfortable with the content/site before letting your child loose on it! Look for games, flashcards, word searches, etc. to help them practice their skills – or develop your own. But also look for or create opportunities to engage with people from other cultures in your community. If that’s limited, bring together a bunch of other students and friends and host an International Day, where the results of learning foreign languages and other cultures are shared with each other.
- Examine your own attitude about language learning – Any language, no matter what you call it, becomes “dead” when we study it with the wrong attitude…when we forget the fact that people came up with it, and people speak it. Seek to “get behind” the language and include cultural studies, and you can make ANY language – no matter how linguists classify it – come alive again.