Sunday, December 19, 2010

Appetitive: Why Everyone Should Learn Latin or Greek

America just does not teach grammar anymore. Even when I was in middle school and high school, we learned no grammar. English teachers seemed to expect that our grammatical understanding was intuitive; consequently errors in essays were dealt with individually not by providing any systematic understanding of English grammar.

Even in foreign language classes, at least at my school, the focus was placed on conversation-- usually extraordinarily inane conversation about buying food or asking for directions-- rather than grammar. Grammar days in the class came infrequently and were considered to be the "boring" days. I loved them. My conversational skills in French were minimal, but grammar was something I enjoyed.

The one place in my high school that grammar was taught systematically and well was in the Latin department (and later the adhoc Greek department). I did not take Latin in high school, but the few students who did had a better understanding of grammar in any language than the rest of us.

Today I taught my first grammar lesson to my current SAT prep class. Every student in the class takes Spanish in high school, which I admit is a useful skill, but none of them have training in English grammar or in either Latin or Greek. Although these students are bright and had an intuitive understanding of English grammar, they had no ability (even with their Spanish backgrounds) to associate different types of words or constructions with names. Even with no formal English grammar, students of Latin or Greek can easily identify parallels between languages and demonstrate a heightened ability to identify and correct errors.

I know I did not take Latin until college, but I wish that students began to learn Latin or Greek in middle school or earlier. It increases the ability to identify grammatical structures in English, as well as to learn other Indo-European languages and often increases knowledge of and interest in linguistics.

Just a thought for the day. Happy holidays, everyone.

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