An ancient language is alive and well at The Bear Creek School (TBCS), which provides a classical curriculum through a Christian world view.
Starting in fourth grade, Latin is presented there in two, 30-minute enrichment sessions per week. Seventh and eighth grade students receive Latin instruction daily, “equivalent to the first year of high-school Latin,” noted Dr. Earl Nelson, chair of the Latin department at TBCS. And in ninth grade and up, language electives include Spanish, French or Latin.
Why bother learning Latin, which some might claim is a “dead language?” And how does TBCS’ comprehensive Latin curriculum differ from public schools’ units on classical root words?
Moving beyond basic etymology, “They see the words in the context of actual language and how we, as English speakers, use that in everyday use or in scientific applications — and there is more emphasis on grammar,” explained Kari Ceaicovschi, who also teaches Latin at TBCS.
Students who actively use the words will remember them, said Nelson — and those who go on to study French or Spanish quickly see how integral Latin was in the development of other languages.
But more than encouraging students to become world travelers or foreign diplomats, “primarily we’re looking at stepping up English literacy,” Nelson emphasized. “Latin-based vocabulary has added to more than 60 percent of English and the language of learning in all fields.”
Much of the professional jargon in psychology, medicine and law comes from Latin. Being able to decipher these words leads to “a big bump in SAT verbal scores,” Nelson pointed out.
Latin also requires grammar literacy that once was pounded into high school students’ memories, but now has fallen by the wayside, especially in the U.S.
“To correctly identify parts of speech without hesitation … opens the door to more learning and reading of complex sentences,” Nelson stated.
Although these and other educators grasp the value of learning Latin, how do they convince young students that it’s relevant in our society?
Ceaicovschi said she challenges middle schoolers to think outside of the textbook.
Using Latin, she asks questions like, “Who has their book out? Raise your hand if your book is out,” and “Who has a dog? What color is your dog?”
And they don’t just want to just converse in Latin, “they want to text to Latin,” Ceaicovschi remarked, with a smile.
The funny thing is that the teachers also are challenged to figure out words to discuss current events or local restaurant menus. After all, it’s not like Julius Caesar hung out at Red Robin.
“So we’ve had to look up the newfangled word for hamburger,” said Nelson.
In case you’re wondering, it’s “isicium Hamburgense.”
Regionally, there’s a program called the Junior Classical League, in which students build models, create posters and perform Latin speeches to brush up on their fluency, said Ceaicovschi.
“Some kids do that of their own volition, as independent study,” Nelson continued. And kids who take Latin at the AP level invariably tell him, “I’m ahead of the game, ahead of my peers in English. … I get it much faster than they do or I don’t need it explained to me.”
Nelson coined the term “Grammar Ninjas” to refer to such students.
In the end, studying Latin goes far beyond TBCS’ connection to the culture of the early Christians but “seems to train people’s minds, make them more articulate, more critical,” he concluded.
The main campus of The Bear Creek School is located at 8905 208th Ave. NE in Redmond. For more information, call (425) 898-1720 or visit www.tbcs.org.