International students tackle their third language: Latin

“Salvete, omnes!”

That’s how teacher Jane Batarseh starts her class. Although all eight students in Latin I are learning a foreign language, some—freshmen Hermione Gu and Stephanie Chen and sophomore Johnson Ma—are learning two.

Fluent in Mandarin, Gu, Chen and Ma must master both English and Latin simultaneously

“I can’t exactly pronounce Latin, so the class is hard right now,” said Gu, a Shanghai native. Although Gu hasn’t studied Latin before, Batarseh estimates that 50 percent of the grammar is English, which Gu, Chen and Ma have all studied.

Even though grammar is a large part of Batarseh’s teaching, it isn’t the only focus.

“There is more to discuss than just teaching Latin. It’s really about blending two cultures. That’s where the richness of being an international student and having an ‘immersion’ experience comes from,” Batarseh said.

That blend of cultures Gu now experiences here in America is palpable, especially in her interactions with teachers.

“Everyone is friendlier here,” Gu said. “You can talk with the teacher, and there isn’t as much work.”

The international students also bring a bit of their own culture to America.

“They call me ‘Dear Teacher.’ They are so sweet,” Batarseh said.  According to Chen, Chinese teachers are treated with gratitude and politeness. “Teachers in China are more strict than here,”  Gu said.

Even though Batarseh has previously taught Latin to other international students, teaching Latin to Gu, Chen and Ma presents a different challenge because they haven’t had very much exposure to American culture.

“I’m explaining Latin culture via American culture, and sometimes bits and pieces get ‘lost in translation,’” Batarseh said.

Another part of the immersion experience is learning the conversational language, a place where Gu, Chen and Ma have a slight disadvantage.

“Colloquial English is a bit challenging for them, but they all work extremely hard and they write very well,” Batarseh said.

Their written component is so strong that Batarseh has reworked her Latin I class, focusing more on writing and less on rapid oral exercises.

While having so many international students in her class is a new experience, teaching English to others is a job that Batarseh often has.

“My family has so many immigrants that I am always teaching someone something in English,” she said.

Even though Latin presents a challenge at the moment, Batarseh guarantees that in the long run, learning Latin will help her Chinese students..

“With Latin being the root of so many languages, and the grammar structure being so close to English, it will definitely help,” she said.

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