The Voice: Winter 2001

The Voice

Latin offered for the first time in ten years

by Cara Miedema DeHaan

For two years junior Nick Davelaar petitioned the registrar and the foreign language department to offer a Latin course. You could say that this fall he finally got his way.

But that Latin is once again being offered at Dordt_for the first time since 1990_wasn't quite all Davelaar's doing. The real impetus for the course arose last spring when Leendert Van Beek, one of Dordt's new foreign language professors, expressed an interest in teaching Latin. Dean of Humanities John Kok supported adding the course.

“We as a division had been lamenting the fact that we weren't preparing students better for graduate school,” said Kok. “Because Latin contains foundational elements of so many languages and hence also deepens one's use of the English language, this course is one way to do that.”

Van Beek studied Latin for six years in grammar school_ his teenage years. Besides having a general fascination for languages, he enjoyed learning Latin because it had relevance in the religious context as well as for English and Dutch vocabulary.

“Besides,” he said, “my Latin teacher made an impression on me. He took our class on a fourteen-day trip to Rome! We saw things we had read about in our textbooks and even witnessed the election of Pope John Paul II.”

Although Van Beek has not promised a similar trip to his students, he is nevertheless impressed with the work they accomplished. “I must say they're highly motivated,” he commented. “When I came, I was surprised by how much they already knew.” Van Beek is referring to the fact that, because of problems with his work visa, he was unable to move to the U.S. until October, and John Struyk came out of retirement to teach the first part of the course.

Van Beek structured the introductory Latin course to encourage students as they began to study the new language. He chose a textbook that is popular in the Netherlands and elsewhere for being a simple introduction to Latin, one that is often consulted for a quick review of the language.

As of last May, Davelaar was the only student signed up for Latin. But by the first week of classes, thanks to some encouragement from Kok during freshman orientation, enrollment was up to sixteen, making it the largest of Van Beek's language classes. Of the sixteen students who took Latin 101, four were history majors, while at least four were English majors. Other members of the class were majoring in elementary education, communication, psychology, business administration, and computer science.

Some of the Latin students are enrolled in pre-professional programs. For example, freshman Nevada DeLapp is a history pre-seminary major who took the course hoping that someday he would be able to read the Vulgate as well as older Bible commentaries written in Latin.

Elena Chelaidyuk, a sophomore from Kazakstan, knows Russian, Kazak, and a little German, so she definitely didn't need Latin to fulfill Dordt's language requirement. Instead, she said, “I see languages as a hobby for myself.” She enjoys seeing how language can illumine culture and history, a sensitivity that became more acute when she encountered American culture as a Kazakstan native.

As a newcomer to the English language, Chelaidyuk also appreciates the Latin influence on the English vocabulary. “For me, as a non-native speaker of English, learning Latin has really helped me with my [English] writing,” she said. She added that although she is an elementary education major, her goal is to get involved in politics, and she knew Latin would be helpful in law and government.

For all his petitioning, Davelaar, a pre-seminary English literature major, did not have a particularly pressing reason to demand the course. But he says that after taking one semester of Latin through the University of Iowa during his sophomore year of high school, he was eager to learn more. Learning Latin, he says, helps to develop one's

English vocabulary, since a large percentage of English words originate in Latin.

Davelaar also observed that Latin, which is highly inflected, trains people to think analytically, a benefit DeLapp also mentioned. At the heart of Davelaar's desire to take Latin, though, was a general love for languages. Someday, he hopes to use his language knowledge as a pastoral missionary on a different continent.

Corinne Huisman, chair of the foreign languages department, is pleased with the student interest in Latin. “There's been a growing interest in Latin on campus, as well as around the country over the past few years,” she said. “We in the department are very happy to be offering Latin.” It appears that the students are happy as well: most of Van Beek's Latin students are registered for the second-semester course.

Back to index