By Shirley Tay
One is a dead language. The other is the native tongue of over 10 million people worldwide.
But students are fighting to take classes in Latin, while low student enrolment has seen level two Swedish classes grind to a halt.
Both language classes were introduced by the Centre for Modern Languages (CML) last August, making NTU the first university in Singapore to offer them as language electives.
Strong demand for Latin
When Latin was first offered, only 24 students were allocated spaces in the class. 50 remained on the waitlist.
This semester, 22 out of the 64 students who applied were able to snag a spot in the class.
“It was a surprise because we didn’t expect anyone to want to learn a dead language,” said Dr Francesco Perono Cacciafoco, the 37-year-old Latin language coordinator.
Akshay Mamidi, 24, a final-year Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student, said, “In the past, Latin was the language of science. Being an engineer and scientist, I was attracted to the notion of learning Latin in order to read old scientific papers as they were intended to be written.”
He was one of those who successfully registered for the class this semester.
Despite the high student interest, the chairperson of publicity for CML, Ms Patricia Lorenz, said more classes for Latin are not in the works.
“The CML is unable to open new classes due to the lack of qualified Latin teachers in Singapore, and recruitment has been difficult,” she said.
In the meantime, CML is still on the lookout for more qualified Latin teachers, Ms Lorenz, 50, added.
Niki Eu, a third-year Linguistics and Multilingual Studies student who had taken up level one Latin last semester, was disappointed when she found out she would not be able to take a level two class.
“I wanted to take Latin as another way of getting in touch with English, because many English words have Latin roots. Now that I can’t take this course, I’m afraid I might regress, especially because Latin is a language that you don’t get to use everyday,” said 23-year-old Eu.
Enrolment issues for Swedish
The number of students who enrolled for the Swedish level two class was not what CML expected, either.
The level two class was shut down after only seven students enrolled. At least 10 to 12 students are required to keep the class open, said Ms Lorenz.
“Both groups of students I taught last semester were keen on continuing on to level two. This number has been much lower than what we expected,” said Mr Måns Hedberg, the 51-year-old Swedish language coordinator. He added that he had received positive feedback from over 95 per cent of his students who had taken the class last semester.
The Swedish level two class was scheduled to be from 12.30pm to 2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which was actually a good time slot, said Ms Lorenz.
“The reason for low enrolment might not be timetable clashes, but that there were too few level one classes to provide enough students for level two,” said Ms Lorenz.
Usually, three full level one classes are required to provide enough students to fill one level two class. There are only two level one classes ongoing at the moment.
First-year Psychology student Megan Ng, who was keen on learning Swedish to communicate with her Swedish cousins, was disappointed at the closure of the class.
Megan was born and raised in Singapore and did not have any background in Swedish.
“When I found out the class was closed, I texted my Swedish friends and family and started ranting to them. I didn’t want to miss out on all the inside jokes and the long Facebook posts by my Swedish relatives,” said 19-year-old Ng.
CML strongly encourages students to continue beyond the introductory class to fully reap the benefits of learning a language.
Two of Ms Lorenz’s German level four students were shortlisted for a grant from the Goethe-Institut, which would fully fund an immersion programme in Germany.
Said Ms Lorenz: “These opportunities will only open up when you progress to a higher level in the language.”