Do you know the difference between an entomologist and an etymologist? Wilson Hill Latin and Greek students do, especially since they recently took the National Classical Etymology Exam.

The National Classical Etymology Exam is a national exam that tests students on their ability to understand English vocabulary words based on their understanding of Latin and Greek. Students compete with other students across the country, and those who do well on this exam are awarded medals by the National Junior Classical League. This year, Wilson Hill students earned 91 medals! But medals or not, understanding words well is its own reward, which is one reason classical languages hold a central place in a Wilson Hill education.

How Words Shape Ideas

Understanding words well is essential to understanding ideas, which is true for every subject, from astrophysics to zoology. (Notice the Greek roots there? Aster for star and zoion for animal.) Well over half of English words contain Greek and Latin roots, and that percentage grows larger as the English words grow longer. While it is impressive to be able to decipher complicated vocabulary words on the SAT or the NCEE, Wilson Hill students enjoy more significant benefits from studying Latin and Greek—benefits that strengthen their understanding across the curriculum.

WHA students study vocabulary in all their Wilson Hill classes, and not a week passes without Greek and Latin students studying etymology. Their vocabulary work helps students recognize that words have external definitions that extend across cultures and history, and this perspective profoundly affects how students understand ideas throughout their coursework. Contrast that approach to learning with today’s postmodern methods that too often require students to deconstruct texts—and the words they are made of—as part of a process that rejects objective truth and encourages students to create their own meaning.

Growing Appreciation for Classical Literature

Understanding words well is foundational to the loftier task of understanding literature, another primary emphasis in WHA’s Latin and Greek courses. Wilson Hill’s advanced Latin students present a Latin Poetry Recital each year where they showcase their abilities not only in translating Latin but also in discussing and enjoying the text as literature. Likewise, WHA Greek students present an annual Greek New Testament Night. Our Greek students study Ancient Greek, which encompasses that of Biblical (Koine) Greek. This means WHA students learn to read Homer and the New Testament in the original. The Greek New Testament presentations are especially meaningful, as WHA students research and present topics combining their Greek knowledge with their love for Scripture.

Learning to Love Classical Languages

Sharing how much WHA students learn to love classical languages, former Wilson Hill student Joanna Toft recently wrote to her former WHA Greek teacher Matt Colvin to describe her experience last summer at the Joint Association of Classical Teachers’ summer program for Greek students in England:

     Attending JACT was one of the best and most demanding experiences of my life. There were 300 students in the program, and almost all the non-beginners were either already enrolled or about to begin study at Oxford or Cambridge. … Due to the structure of high schools in England, the English students (even before entering university) had already completed an in-depth study of Classics, and it was a bit daunting at times to be with such advanced students. The program has three levels—beginning, intermediate, and advanced—and there are further gradations in each group. I was placed into a high intermediate level (as most of the advanced students were already at university). Five of the eight people in my group were already at Cambridge, but I managed to hold my own well while remaining aware of areas in which I could continue to improve and advance.

     We read excerpts from Herodotus, the Iliad, the New Testament, Oedipus Tyrannus, and Ajax. … The leaders also organized two plays—a comedy and a tragedy. I managed to snag a role in the chorus of Ajax, which we performed in the original Greek with meter on the last day of the course. This was one of the highlights of the program for me, though it required a lot of rehearsal time. … In short, I had a wonderful time and am so grateful for the rigorous and thorough grammar study that your class provided. This foundation was essential for my ability to keep up with everyone else.

 

Classical languages are alive and well at Wilson Hill! Our students still need to sit for the National Latin Vocabulary Exam, the National Latin Exam, and the National Greek Exam before we get our final 2023–2024 medal count. Even so, Wilson Hill students earned over 350 medals last year, which is impressive by any standard. Soon, we look forward to celebrating their enthusiasm for Latin and Greek and all they have learned and achieved this school year!