What constitutes a dead language

School subject Latin: Long live the dead language!

The Johanneum is the oldest and most traditional school in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Behind the thick walls of the old red brick building from the 19th century, much emphasis has always been placed on ancient languages. At the humanistic grammar school, students learn Latin from the 5th grade onwards.

The Hamburg Johanneum is the oldest school in the Hanseatic city

"Many parents choose the Johanneum because they want their children to have a special education," says Anna Schünemann, who has been teaching Latin and German here for four years. She is critical of this elitist touch. Anna Schünemann emphasizes that Latin is more than just an extraordinary subject that parents expect their children to benefit from. She is a passionate Latin teacher, and she tries to convey this joy in the ancient language to her students as well.

Ovid is still relevant even after 2000 years

In order to bring the Roman times to life, Anna Schünemann discusses an image with her students that she projects onto the screen using an overhead projector. On it you can see Romans sitting on a grandstand. "Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae", Carla reads from her Latin exercise book. The translation is provided by a classmate: "You come to see and to be seen for yourself." The students eagerly discuss what these words of the famous Roman poet Ovid, who lived more than 2000 years ago, have to do with life today.

Teacher Anna Schünemann wants to give the students joy in the old language

Anna Schünemann tries again and again to make her lessons so vivid that the students have fun with them and are also interested in Roman culture. "When I was at school, it was all about language teaching," recalls the 33-year-old teacher. No wonder that she only found her love for this ancient language while studying. Anna Schünemann openly admits that she actually only chose Latin because she knew that Latin teachers were wanted, and she really wanted to become a teacher.

More and more Latin students

A reason that other school leavers have apparently also discovered. Because the number of Latin students has also been increasing at universities for about seven years. "This school boom seems to have carried over to the universities", observes Claudia Schindler. She heads the Institute for Greek and Latin Philology at the University of Hamburg. "The universities that have cut back on classical Latin studies and cut many jobs in the past few decades are suddenly faced with large numbers of students."

Not all students at the Johanneum learn Latin voluntarily

Whether reason or passion leads to Latin studies, the students have one thing in common: they choose the subject voluntarily. It usually looks different with the students. "My mother wanted me to learn Latin," Ruben admits. He laughs and his classmates grin in agreement. Ruben would have preferred to learn Italian. Carla also admits that her English is more fun than Latin. Your table neighbor Markus agrees that although very few in the class would use Latin later, the old language trains learning. "Latin is a very logical language and it helps you think clearly."

Latin is no longer an entrance ticket to studying

Many adult Latin advocates argue like this 14-year-old. In Germany, the value and benefits of Latin seem to be viewed more highly again. Quite different with the European neighbors. Except in Austria, the subject has almost disappeared from the timetable there, even Italian and French students hardly have to deal with the roots of their Romance mother tongue. At universities there seems to be an increasing consensus across borders. The Latinum is hardly needed anymore - neither in Germany nor abroad.

For Claudia Schindler, Latin is more than just a "dead" language

Claudia Schindler from the University of Hamburg, however, believes that Latin lessons also give students from immigrant families a learning advantage. She refers to a current study by the Berlin Humboldt University, which attests that the teaching subject Latin has a strong integrative power. "If you let Turkish students learn Latin, you also give them this analytical access to the language, and an analytical approach to the language helps them to learn other languages ​​again," emphasizes Schindler.

But for them and probably many other Latin lovers too, the old language is more than just the basis for other foreign languages, logical thinking or disciplined learning. "It's part of our culture, you get to the roots."