Permian High School teacher Tim Gilley loves Latin and wants everyone to know its benefits.
Gilley, who is in his 23rd year of teaching at PHS and in the language, said he changed majors several times at Texas Tech University, but always took a Latin class winding up with it as his major and anthropology as a minor.
“People sometimes ask why Latin? It’s a dead language. It’s a tremendous help to your vocabulary. That’s the main thing. Sixty, 70 percent of English words come from Latin roots, so every time we learn a Latin word we learn five or 10 English words that come from it, so it makes you a better writer, better at vocabulary. … We don’t just do the language, we do the history and culture. We have a lot of fun,” Gilley said.
On standardized tests, Gilley said studies have been conducted that show Latin students do better statistically than those who take Spanish, French or German. He added that the other languages are great, too, but with ones that are spoken students don’t think as much about the roots of the words.
“In here (his class), it’s the academic language. It’s the language of scholarship and learning. You think about those word roots and what they give us in English. That’s how it makes you better on the English STAAR test and SAT test. Every time they’re translating a sentence, it’s problem solving; it’s logic. They have to take the words apart. It’s like a riddle. It trains your mind to be a better problem solver. That’s a skill,” Gilley said.
He noted that a lot of the country’s legal ideology comes from Roman law and Western philosophy started in Rome and Greece. Monuments in Washington, D.C., also were designed in the Roman style, he said.
Unfortunately, the numbers in his class have dwindled. He has 25 students in Latin I, 40 in Latin II and about eight in Latin III.
Languages Other Than English Coordinator Jessie Garcia said the district doesn’t have many Latin teachers. Gilley teaches other courses at times and Janette Miller is retired and teaches Latin part time at Odessa High School.
“They’re both going above and beyond,” Garcia said.
She said she thinks the numbers keep getting smaller because Spanish is offered in middle school and there are a lot of Spanish teachers. By the time students are out of middle school, they may have fulfilled their foreign language requirement and won’t consider Latin.
There are also other options such as French, German and American Sign Language, Garcia said.
Seventeen-year-old junior Justin Bronaugh, 16-year-old sophomore Kade Foster and 17-year-old junior Marcella Hensley have their own motivations for taking Latin.
Bronaugh is in his third year of taking Latin.
“I’ve always been really interested in mythology. I had also wanted to be a doctor. My parents told me that in medicine Latin is good, so I just decided to take this. I recently took the SAT and words that I normally would have had to use a dictionary to look up, I didn’t have to and then I feel like my vocabulary has been immensely raised just through this class,” Bronaugh said.
Foster is in his second year of Latin.
“Latin wasn’t my first choice,” he said. “I wanted to take computer science, but you needed a requirement for that that I didn’t have yet.”
Looking through the foreign language offerings, Foster said Latin struck him as potentially interesting. It was and he plans to take Latin III.
Hensley noted that there is a Latin Club of which she is the historian and Bronaugh is president. They develop fundraisers for the club and try to get the language noticed.
Hensley said she was originally enrolled in French, but was having a hard time with it. One of her teachers thought it would be better for her to take Latin to help her catch on to other languages.
She’s glad she did.
“I plan to become a creative writer or an actress when I grow up. I figure if I learn Latin, I can learn bigger words and expand my vocabulary a little bit,” Hensley said. She added that she hopes to take Latin in college and a Greek class if it’s available.
Gilley said there are competitions and one is coming up through the Texas State Junior Classical League next month in Dallas.