The Latin 2 students are honing their communication skills.

How can learning a dead language sharpen one’s powers of communication? It turns out that Latin is alive and well with opportunities.

Latin is a treasure trove of English etymologies. It is a powerful springboard for studying any modern language, particularly Romance languages. It is perfectly suited for understanding English grammar. And, because Latin has such a complicated structure, it requires close and thoughtful reading in order to make precise and accurate translations.

Working individually or in teams of two, the Latin 2 students begin by translating original or adapted sentences from Latin into English. Not surprisingly, because these are students who love math, the students work the translations like puzzles and, like all puzzle solving, they each have their own approach to the finding the solution. Through peer instruction, we have put this variety of approaches to good use. The students take turns at the board demonstrating to their classmates their methods for translation.

One student recently went to the board and wrote out a word-by-word translation of Bis vincit qui se vincit in victoria: “Twice he conquers who himself conquers in victory.” But because Latin has a different word order, we had a nonsensical sentence, or a word puzzle, to figure out. She stepped back and, with the help of her classmates, rearranged the words to form a meaningful epigram, “He who conquers himself in victory conquers twice.” This was classic puzzle solving.

Another student had an entirely different approach. After writing out Simulatio delet veritatem, sine qua nomen amicitiae valere non potest, she explained to her classmates that she was going to start by bracketing off the relative clause so she could work on it later. She pointed to “simulatio,” and told the class that because it is in the nominative, it must be the subject. The next logical step, she explained, was to look for the verb. She was then well on her way.  Piece by piece she put the sentence together, and eventually arrived at the following translation: “Insincerity destroys the truth, without which the name of friendship cannot survive.”

The students eagerly volunteer to translate at the board, and they each bring a unique approach to translation. They are receptive to and supportive of each other in this process. This all makes for a lively time of peer instruction in our classroom with lots of laughter. As peer instructors, the students are learning how much their classmates appreciate humor; they are also learning that explaining their approaches to others requires them to give clear, methodical explanations. Through the process of sharing their knowledge and strategies with their peers, they make adjustments and deepen their own understanding. With peer instruction, I have seen the Latin 2 students improve their ability to communicate with clarity and understanding.

For these kids who love math, the puzzle solving paradigm paired with peer instruction makes Latin a powerful tool for honing their communication skills.

-- Ilyse Gordis