Latin Acquisition Challenges Students' Thought Process

by Assistant Director of Teaching & Learning Cheryl Despathy

Acquiring a new language, whether as an infant or as an older learner, occurs most effectively through comprehensible input. Comprehensible input means a language can be understood through listening and immersive experiences without necessarily first being well-versed on grammatical structures and an extensive vocabulary list. World language classes at Galloway focus on key skills in listening, speaking, writing, and reading. For Latin, a non-conversational language, students focus primarily on writing and reading, alongside a deep cultural examination of Latin-rooted people, events, and themes.  

In Middle Learning, teacher Leah Berryhil introduces students to Latin through original texts as well as the contextualization of culture and linguistics rooted in Latin. “Latin isn’t static," she explains. "We need to wrestle with ideas and ask tough questions like ‘Were the great leaders really great?' and ‘Why do we have some texts and not others available?’ while critically examining systems of privilege.”

Recently, 8th grade students researched and conducted debates on the greatness and significance of various Roman leaders. The debates, which were judged by guest panels of teachers, included speakers setting forth a case defending their side, asking cross-examination questions of opponents, and crafting impromptu rebuttals. Students argued about the standards of greatness in the modern-era of leaders as well as about the philosophical purposes of leadership, all while referencing specific actions and characteristics of historical Roman "greats."

A unique aspect of Latin is that translations of texts are not a one-to-one of vocabulary. Rather, students act as an analytical detective of authentic Latin works and culture to add context and determine the author’s real intention between words. Upper Learning teacher Matt Vieron uses the process of backwards design to construct learning goals and activities for the varied levels of Latin students that best fits individual students’ needs for comprehensible input from novice to an advanced senior, all centered on the same text. Dr. Vieron explains that when we think in a new language, it changes how we think. His ultimate goal for Latin students is that they “see the flexibility of expression in the arrangement of Latin in order to reflect on their expressions within English.”