Case for classics debunked

29th June 2001 at 01:00

The claim of classicists that Latin is "good training for the mind" is being challenged by a German study.

Two Berlin psychologists have carried out research on learning Latin by following German schoolchildren in Bavaria - where Latin is still compulsory - before they made a modern language choice, two years into learning Latin and four years into learning Latin.

The results showed "not the slightest difference" on intelligence test scores and more specifically on verbal activities compared to those who had done no Latin but had learned a modern foreign language.

Other tests looking at the effects of learning Latin on mathematical, logical and deductive thinking, grammar, spelling, idiomatic usage, comprehension, and students' articulacy also showed little difference.

"Saying that Latin improves thinking ability just does not hold weight," said psychologist Elsbeth Stern of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

A follow-up study tested the thesis that Latin can help with learning other foreign languages. Stern and Ludwig Haag, a psychologist at the University of Erlangen in Nuremberg and former Latin teacher, looked at German university students studying Spanish from scratch.

Students with four or more years of French at school made fewer grammatical errors and fewer errors with Spanish vocabulary than those with four or more years of Latin.

"We have to consider that modern languages can fulfil the same purpose as Latin," said Dr Stern.

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