Some interesting (counterproductive?) comments by Stanley Lombardo in this AP piece making the rounds:

To Heidi TenPas, mom is sometimes "mater." And Tiffany Kwak might jokingly call a friend "pestis" or "furcifer."

Who said Latin class was a snore? Not these Free State High students. The two are among a growing number of teens turning to Latin for an academic challenge, a bit of fun, and an edge if they ever find themselves on a television quiz show.

In the process they gain entry to a new, yet familiar language, with words like mater, which means mother, and pestis and furcifer, which mean pest or scoundrel.

"Latin is definitely a cool thing to know and to learn," TenPas said.

The number of students studying Latin is on the rise, according to the National Latin Exam. This year 135,000 students took the exam. And the numbers have steadily climbed since the test first began in 1977 with 6,000 test-takers.

"The enrollment numbers have been stronger in the last couple years," said Ruth Gibbs, a Free State High Latin teacher. But that success is relative. About 60 students took Latin at Free State in the 2004-05 school year. And Gibbs said getting high numbers often was a struggle.

Students often chose to take Latin for practical reasons. They want to up their SAT scores. They want to be doctors or lawyers or scientists, and so they want to learn Latin terms. They want to improve their vocabularies. They want to impress people.

Latin has a highbrow image.

"It makes you look smarter or something," said Kwak, who along with TenPas, deciphered the words of Cicero on the doors of Kansas University's Campanile.

But there is a better impetus than learning terminology, said Stanley Lombardo, a Kansas University classics professor.

"These are not good reasons in my opinion to undertake the rigorous study of Latin," Lombardo said. "They are little pluses. That's all they are. The only really good reason to learn Latin is to be able to read classical authors."

Nothing compares to the experience of reading important literature in its original language, Lombardo said.

"Kids are kids," Lombardo said. "They don't really come to appreciate literary and philosophical texts until they're much older."

But getting to that stage takes time. Kwak and TenPas finally are reading original texts.

Latin suffered, in part, when higher education took a more practical turn - a move that sidelined Latin studies a bit, Lombardo said. But, he said, Latin remains a valued study.

And young people continue to find new benefits to exploring the language.

TenPas watched a recent "Jeopardy!" show. One category was dedicated to questions about Latin.

"If I was on 'Jeopardy!' that day, I would have won," she said.

"It makes you feel really good about yourself when you have this completely foreign thing in front of you and you can understand it," TenPas said.