Spanish/Chinese vs. Latin/Greek

Learning a Classical Language has more than just a pay-off for intellectual cultivation.

Modern Languages Only

CONVENTIONAL: Classes such as Spanish and Chinese introduce students to a modern language. Conventional schools view language as a skill used to communicate, usually for commercial reasons, with people down the street or in our business world today. They rarely offer the seminal languages by which we understand Western Christian thought—Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

What you might see: Students often spend a limited time practicing a modern language with an emphasis on ordering from menus, reading common text, or basic communication.

  • Emphasis: When conventional schools study non-English languages, they focus on Spanish or sometimes Chinese or Arabic. Why? Because these are the languages we are most likely to engage in our day-to-day dealings and to be used by businesses. There’s nothing wrong with this, except that it ignores and often replaces a more substantial purpose.
  • Time/Coursework: Typically elective for 2-3 years in high school. Sometimes, a common language like Spanish is offered earlier.
  • Typically, foreign languages are reserved for high school. Usually, students do not achieve fluency at this level.
  • Even when practical value is achieved, the ability to understand ideas and culture through language, and the ability to more easily learn other languages, is not present.

The Bottom Line:

Although learning a language for commercial purposes may make it easier to order food or work in the global market, Tracy Lee Simmons says it best in his defense of Latin: “Do we wish merely to produce better skilled, smoothly cut cogs in the elaborate machine we now call the ‘global economy’? Have we finally determined that supertolerant neighbors and sexually adept, flawless drivers are all we can hope to be? Is this the juncture to which 3,000 years of civilized life have brought us?” Studying a modern language to merely be a modern worker, we believe, cannot lead to the fulfillment human beings were meant to derive from the study of languages.

Academic Language

CLASSICAL: Through Latin and Greek, students better understand Christianity, the West, and the basis of our own language. Because CCE schools find value in original texts and understanding historic cultures, we study classical languages to engage unfamiliar ideas and build the student’s language skills in English. The study of Latin is one of the best ways to learn modern languages and to develop language learning systems in one’s mind. Academic languages also have a hidden pay-off. Students who study Latin outperform students of all other languages, on average, on the SAT—and by a wide margin.

What you might see: Students spend longer with one language and learn it younger—typically starting Latin in the 3rd grade. They develop a much better command of language, and engage ancient cultures and ideas.

  • Emphasis: Classical students engage in languages that help them sharpen and deepen their minds.
  • Time/Coursework: We begin teaching Latin in grammar school (usually around 3rd grade). Students who begin earlier typically learn a language better. We continue with the traditional “academic languages” for about 6 years.
  • Latin is a unique language. First, it’s the language of theology and the West. So, the ideas of the church about God for 2000 years have largely been communicated in Latin. We believe Christians are part of a global historical community that fellowships with our brothers and sisters in Christ over 2000 years of history through the written word.
  • Secondly, it’s a base language for English and many other European languages. It has a structure and formality that makes it an excellent point of contrast with English. Just as this document’s “contrasting” approach helps you understand the real differences in education, even more so is Latin useful for helping students contrast all language, and English in particular.
  • Ancient Greek is studied as another seminal language in European thought and biblical understanding.

The Bottom Line:

Students of Latin and Greek are not studying a dead language. Latin, as has been proven piece after piece, permeates our cultural lexicon. The best stories to have ever been written are all originally contrived in a “dead” language. Our students get access to those texts in the study of the Classical languages. And, not surprisingly, there is a practical pay-off. Those who learn Latin, for instance, quickly see that Latin forms the basis of many modern languages spoken and practiced today—be it Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Italian.

The Results:

Learning a Classical Language has more than just a pay-off for intellectual cultivation. Students who learn Latin and Greek perform much better on standardized testing than those who would study a modern language absent a rigorous study of the roots of that language. It is no wonder that classical Christian students continue to outperform every counterpart in the vocabulary and reading sections of standardized tests.

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