Keeping Latin alive at Dulaney

Lily Hemmeter, Features Editor

I had a substitute teacher in my Latin IV class earlier this year who posed a thought-provoking question: what is the point of learning a dead language? I told him that we weren’t necessarily learning Latin to speak it to others, but rather to understand its cultural significance and influence on other languages. While I was assured by my response, his question inspired me to take a closer look at Dulaney High School’s Latin department.

Throughout my Latin education here at Dulaney, it has never felt like a dead language. This is likely a result of the passion Latin teachers Dawn Mitchell and Catherine Reed – who have been teaching Latin for 36 and 13 years respectively – have for the language. Mitchell’s goal as a teacher is less focused on the fluency of her pupils and more on their ability to find joy in learning.

Mitchell said, “I know this thing. I love this thing, and I think it ignites a spark in me, and I want you to see that spark as well.”

This “spark” is evidently what has drawn students to taking Latin year after year. With lessons on Roman mythology, ancient poetry and traditional holidays, rooms 202 and 204 are constantly filled with engaged students. 

Beyond the classroom, foundational knowledge of the Latin language has many practical applications. 

(Dulaney Griffin/Lily Hemmeter)

Reed said, “With respect to sciences, a lot of our derivatives like botanical derivatives and derivatives that have to do with scientific names come from Latin. A lot of medical terms–all the bones in the body–are Latin and Greek. So it gives you a leg up if you are looking to go into STEM.”

Many English words are derived from Latin, so understanding the language can improve vocabulary and literacy. On a broader scale, learning about classical Roman allusions is helpful considering they are frequently referenced in pop culture and literature.

In comparing Latin to other languages offered at Dulaney, Mitchell said, “It’s not better or worse, but people just think it’s very academic, so we’ve achieved something here in making a thing that the world thinks is really hard into something that regular people like you and me can do.”

When asked what she would tell a student who is thinking about taking Latin, Reed said, “Do it! You’re young and you have all this time and energy, do it. If you’re interested, do something. You can be an adult later. Do something human now.”

Despite its lack of native speakers, Latin is a lively and relevant language that deserves to be taught next to Spanish, French and Chinese in schools. The Dulaney High School Latin department is doing its part to keep this ancient language not only alive, but thriving.