Richland academy takes on resurrecting 'lingua mortua'

Daniel Sanders leaned over his textbook and read a sentence aloud about the Roman heroine Cloelia.

"Romani virtutem Cloe... Clo... what?" he said, stumbling over the unfamiliar name.

His teacher helped him sound it out. Daniel kept reading.

The 13-year-old is one of a few Tri-City home school students learning Latin in a supplemental class through Coram Deo Academy, which meets in Richland.

The ancient tongue is considered dead because no one speaks it as a native language. But Daniel and his classmates said their Latin lessons are adding to their education.

"It's a challenge sometimes. But it's fun to work on it," said Jessica Van Dyken, 14.

"If you're going to take a different language or English grammar, I'd suggest (also studying) Latin," Daniel said. "It helps."

There's research to back that up. Studies have shown that students who take Latin perform better on standardized tests. It also helps with critical thinking and understanding Western literature and history, experts said.

"(Greek and Roman) traditions lie at the heart of Western culture, so it behooves us to understand them," said Dana L. Burgess, chairman of the Classics Department at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

Even so, Latin instruction has faded in secondary schools across the country over the past several decades. There seems little room for it in the packed schedules of students who must meet standards in core subjects such as reading and math.

It's also hard to find teachers qualified in Latin, educators said.

The Coram Deo classes are among the very small number available for students in the Mid-Columbia. The Language House in south Richland, which offers instruction in everything from Spanish to Mandarin for home school students, also has a Latin option.

The classes will be open to the public based on interest starting this summer.

In Ephrata, students at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School get a little Latin almost every day, said Principal Jon Lane.

A priest from the parish teaches students prayers and other phrases. He started a Latin club at the school last year.

"It's part of a well-rounded education," Lane said. "Latin is the root of many of the words we use. It's useful if you have some understanding."

In fact, about 45 percent of words in the English dictionary come from Latin, said Stephen A. Berard, a professor of world languages at Wenatchee Valley College.

Berard sees Latin as more than an ancient tongue useful in understanding literature and history. He teaches it as a spoken language and organizes activities for Latin speakers throughout the Northwest.

"People have gone a couple decades now without Latin being all that important to their education. They don't realize how much it could continue to enlighten their lives and our society," Berard said.

When people ask him whether it's still relevant, whether the modern world even could be described in such an old language, Berard has a ready answer.

The word "computer," he reminds them, has Latin roots.

In the Coram Deo class last week, Daniel and the other teens went over their homework and practiced vocabulary words. They translated Latin verbs into English.

They finished up the hour playing hangman in the foreign tongue.

Their teacher, Emeth Hesed, grew up in Tokyo and also knows Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew and Greek.

She'd like to see more students learn other languages, especially classical ones, because of the insight they provide, she said.

"I think a language is dead if you don't use it," Hesed said after class was done. "But (Latin) is alive in the classroom."