The teaching of language and foreign language
That the Word of God is swaddled in language gives us good reason to study and to know all that our language touches upon. Yet, the Scriptures were written in languages foreign to us, flowing forth the Gospel into our ears, and hearts, and tongues by translation. We study language and foreign language so that we may never lose the tools of translation, communication and rhetoric, so that the words of the Gospel may not be obscured to us nor failed to be preached to bring life to our neighbor, however foreign.
The foundational skills taught in the core disciplines of reading and writing begin with the teaching of the structures of our own language. This trains the mind to think, so that knowledge can be used, processed, and then communicated. The process begins with the structures of our own language: phonics, grammar, syntax, and rhetoric. Similarly, foreign language study trains the mind in thinking, beginning with the structures of another language’s phonics, grammar, syntax, and rhetoric.
To study a foreign language, something “other” and different than our own language, forces comparisons and contrasts. It forces the mind to think: “what is the same and what is different between these two things?” That simple process teaches us how to learn, and it develops careful analytical skills which may be applied outside of language learning, even in mathematics.
The choice to teach Latin as a foreign language complements our teaching of other subject areas. Learning Latin has practical benefits. Because 50% of common English words come from Latin, learning Latin develops our English vocabulary. By doing so, reading, writing, and spelling are easier. Knowing Latin phrases and allusions help make reading good literature easier. In writing, the student may take more care in word choice, sentence structure and argument as well as the beauty of the rhetoric in English, because Latin has provided a knowledge-base from which the student may choose. Further, Latin provides a foundational literacy to understanding other modern European languages. It is the basis for Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese. It is akin to German. Having learned how to study one foreign language makes subsequent foreign language easier.
Alongside formal language study, Latin teaches our culture and history. The “American idea” of 1776 is rooted in Rome. Roman history provides an historical background to the Scriptures. It is easy to contrast the values and virtues of the men of Rome to that of the God-man Jesus Christ. Thus, Latin touches upon many subjects.
Latin provides an example of how a language, viewed as vulgar by preceding cultures, was turned in service to the Church, through the preaching of the Gospel and the translation of Scripture. The unbridled tongue became a confessing tongue for the liturgy and music of the Divine Service, as well as the dominant language for Church scholarship, even subsequent to the Reformation. The Scriptures, in English, provides an example of how the Church salts the culture. Biblical phrases—“a house divided against itself cannot stand,” ”a leopard cannot change his spots,” “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”— shape our own language.
While students begin their foreign language study by chanting Latin verb forms: “amo, amas, amat,” they finish by reading Martin Luther’s Catechismus Minor, the Small Catechism in Latin. In doing so, the student applies Latin grammar and vocabulary previously taught and notes the differences of what has been “learned by heart” in English. Thus, the Catechism and the Word of God become more richly communicated so that the heart may continually receive the Gospel and believe the Word.