Latin undergoing a resurgence among students

‘Resquiescat in pace’ (rest in peace) no longer
seems an appropriate dismissal
Sunday, August 03, 2008

By KELLIANN VOLSARIO
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER
From Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Let’s go back in time to 753
B.C. to a newly founded city called Rome. Ovid and Virgil
have written some of the most highly regarded works of
literature and a massive empire is rising to power with its
language forming into one that would provide the basis for
the English and romance languages.

In recent years, Latin was thought to have fallen by the
wayside. As a hobby, it may be difficult to find
instruction, but academically the United States and New York
City schools are turning that thought upside down.

It has been said that students who are exposed to Latin
reap many benefits such as higher scores on the verbal
section of the SATs, better analytical skills, a larger
vocabulary and good foundation for other romance languages.
Dr. Ronnie Ancona, a professor for more than 20 years at
Hunter College, Manhattan, says the market for Latin is very
strong in the New York City area.

In addition to public schools offering Latin courses, brand
new institutions have been popping up. The Brooklyn Latin
School opened just two years ago, and is the only public
school to mandate four years of Latin, according to teacher
and former student of Dr. Ancona’s, Jonathan Yee.

Besides the usual classroom instruction, the school employs
a Latin nomenclature. The discupli (students) must address
all teachers as magister or magistra. Students ask for
atrium passes (hall passes) and to use the latrina (the
bathroom). “Oral Latin is very alive at our
school,” Yee said in an e-mail.

STEADY INCREASE

In a report released by the American Classical
League/National Junior Classical League National Latin Exam,
in 2008 more than 150,000 students applied to take the 31st
National Latin Exam, a number that has increased steadily
since its inception in 1977.

Specifically, New York is second in the list of states with
the greatest number (10,913) of students taking the 2008
exams. Massachusetts is first, with 12,214 students taking
the exams.

The increasing number of Latin students, therefore, creates
a greater demand for certified teachers. Dr. Ancona teaches
Latin for Hunter College’s master’s program in
Classics. Upon completion, students receive the degree and
New York certification to teach Latin.

Dr. Ancona recalled that since being hired in 1985 by the
college, the number of students in the program has
increased. She regularly receives e-mails from educators
seeking Latin teachers, and her students usually get
snatched up very quickly, sometimes even before they
graduate.

Two of her students recently accepted jobs at the new
Williamsburg Charter High School in Brooklyn, which opened
its doors in 2004. The school requires three years of a
foreign language and offers Latin and Italian.

Locally, Latin instruction is hard to come by in Staten
Island’s schools. However, on the college level, The
City University of New York has the largest Classics
department. The program is located in Hunter College with
eight full-time professors and a slew of adjunct professors.
Classes are also offered at Brooklyn College.

New York University also houses a Classics department,
offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas
such as Latin and Greek, classical civilization and classic
fine art.

Results of a 2006 survey released by the Modern Language
Association show that foreign-language study at U.S.
colleges and universities has increased significantly.
Overall, language enrollments rose 13 percent since 2002. On
the list of the most popular languages on college campuses,
Latin ranked No. 8, with a 7.9 percent increase since 2002.
That is faster than the overall 6.2 percent increase in the
number of college students during that period. Dr. Ancona
said her most recent class was the biggest yet, with 20
students.

Sherwin Little, the president of the American Classical
League at Indian High School in Cincinnati believes that the
new enrollment survey to be released in the fall will show
Latin closing in on German, the third most commonly taught
language after Spanish and French.

Interested in learning Latin? Don’t expect to find
lessons too easily. Berlitz, a worldwide language training
provider, offers instruction in more than 50 languages, does
not have a program for Latin. Clarel Roy, a representative
from the Rockefeller Center location says Latin is
“considered exotic,” due to the lack of people
looking for instruction, but if someone does want to learn
the language, Berlitz will assist in finding an instructor.

If anyone is looking for a lesson, Dr. Ancona jokingly
added that her students are always looking for tutoring
positions.

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