by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Lee Jones writes for the Martin Center about a helpful reform for higher education.
In her fine opinion piece for the Martin Center, Megan Zogby bemoans the “Quixotic” requirement that North Carolina college and university students take between two and four courses in a language such as Spanish, French, or German. This requirement, Zogby asserts, “appears to have no meaningful effect on the language proficiency of college graduates.” What is more, the coursework “adds to [students’] tuition bill, but doesn’t teach them a new skill for their careers.”
Anyone who has struggled through Spanish 102, only to find it difficult to impossible to ask for directions to the restroom in a Latin American restaurant, can empathize with Zogby’s points. Why, she concludes, might colleges and universities not “admit the time has come for a change?”
I agree. Higher education institutions should roll back the requirements that students study a modern foreign language. In fact, they should roll their requirements all the way back to an original language of university instruction: Latin.
“But Latin is a dead language,” you may be thinking. “Nobody even speaks it anymore. Why should anyone have to pay to study a dead language for one or even two years?”
Again, I agree, in part. If I were the “decider,” I would require more than two years of Latin, beginning far sooner than postsecondary education. College may be too late for any but the most gifted or dedicated to acquire spoken or written fluency in a language.
Spoken fluency is hardly the point with a dead language, however, and college is definitely not too late for a student to gain the many other benefits that come from even beginning to study Latin.
While the English language is a notorious borrower from many of the languages encountered by the British Empire and American military forces, Latin has exerted, by far, the largest external influence on it. According to Dictionary.com, “About 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin.”