Nancy Erickson teaches Latin at University Preparatory School in Redding, where all students are required to take at least one year of the language. The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation.
Q. It's been awhile since Latin was taught in public schools. Why is it now making a comeback?
I think one of the reasons maybe the competitiveness of getting into college. And there is approximately a 100- to 200-point boost in SAT scores if people have a Latin background. So students who are very motivated or maybe have planned to be in a profession, such as law or medicine, are looking ahead down the line. Parents are more aware of this; they're looking down the line knowing this is a subject that can help them achieve their goals.
Q. We shouldn't call it a dead language?
This language is much more alive than (people) realize. Sixty percent of all the English words that we have are based upon Latin. There's no other language that can boast that. There's no other culture, no other language that has as profound an influence on worldwide culture as Latin and the ancient Romans.
Q. What is it you hope your student learn from taking Latin?
If you think about in everyday life where you encounter things that might have some connection: obviously, your vocabulary. The whole structure of the English language, the way sentences are constructed, it's all based upon how Latin is constructed. So the help and the insight that you get into the study of English, I don't even think it can be measured. People who take Latin seem to be better writers and it also seems to instill in them more of a desire to become readers.
Q. UPrep also has Russian and Chinese classes. Is there competition to get students to take Latin?
In a way, you could say, 'yes, there is.' But that is one of (UPrep's) basic requirements; everyone takes Latin 1. And then from there, you have this amazing choice as to what you would like to do for your foreign language. So when I have students who are interested in language, I have quite a few of them who are taking two (different foreign language classes) and actually I've got a couple of them who are taking three.
Q. Latin mottos and maxims are everywhere. If you had to come up with one for Redding, what would it be?
A couple of our seniors came to me and said they were developing a senior motto and they wanted to put it into Latin. I think it was "We made history; we will change the future." I think that's a wonderful motto. In Latin, it's "Historiam Fecimus; Futuram Mutabimus."