Mr. Skorup, one of our founding 5th grade teachers, left us at the end of the 2017-2018 school year to join the Peace Corps. In the last 6 months, he’s become an English teacher in Samoa, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I asked him if he’d give us an update, and here’s what he sent!
The Founders community believes in Latin education and all the beauty that the language offers for its own sake. But to many parents, teachers, and even students, Latin also functions as a useful foundation for learning popular contemporary languages such as Spanish, French, and Portuguese through their roots.
That said, most do not expect the utility of Latin’s influence on other, far more confined languages as well — languages which, two centuries ago, did not even have a written form. In Samoa, where I currently reside and teach English, the 19th-century European arrivals were classically educated clerics and scholars who brought not only their writing implements (beloved author Robert Louis Stevenson settled, died, and was buried here in the 1890s) but a comprehensive knowledge of Latin as well. Consequently, the Samoan system of vowels — the sequences _a, e, i, o, u_ and the long-marked _ā, ē, ī, ō, ū_ — looks and sounds identical to that of Latin! (As do the diphthongs, _ae, ei, oe, ui,_ etc.) Further consider that just these five vowels make up over half of all Samoan lettering (consonants can never be used consecutively nor at the end of any word), and thus with even the simplest knowledge of Latin pronunciation, one can quickly become competent in the basics of a language like this one and many others that incorporate elements of Latin script and its rules.
In addition, Latin-educated voyagers influenced Polynesian vocabulary sort of like the French did to English long ago. “Povi”, the Samoan word for “cow(s)”, comes from the Latin “bōs, bovis” which gave us the term “bovine” (there is no letter “b” in Samoan). Any item or idea that Anglophones either introduced or popularized on the islands is usually transliterated from English — including uses of the letter and sound “k”, which didn’t exist before. Examples include that beloved breakfast food, pancakes (“panikeke”), the sport of basketball (“pasiketi-polo”), and even basic words like “busy” (“pisi”). The playful exception to this trend is words that the Samoan people themselves compounded from more familiar words to describe some of the strange phenomena encountered over the years, such as the airplane (“va’alele”, literally “flying boat”!).
Samoa is a Commonwealth nation, and the teaching of English here is a high priority. In the Southern Hemisphere, my students are currently reviewing the letters and sounds of our alphabet (much larger than they’re used to). Next they will be picking up extra English vocabulary and parts of speech through the use of pictures and games. Gradually they learn to read, write, speak, and comprehend these words, the hopeful goal being to do the same with full sentences. A lot is possible in a year.
Because there is typically one per village, the school is a true meeting-house of the Polynesian community, much like the church. In Samoa, lacking many of the luxuries we in America take for granted also means doing without the same regular distractions. As a result, Samoan students widely see school (“a’oga”) as a fun and special place to go, and Samoans in general consider education to be a true privilege — not just a responsibility. Students nationwide wear uniforms (see pictures), and for the same reason as at Founders: to help their school look and function as a place for serious and orderly work. But especially given the famous “laid-back” nature of Polynesian life, it nonetheless helps to do that work with a big smile.
What lessons and inspiration we can draw from (and create within) each other every day! It’s a small world, after all.
From the South Pacific, “fa le soifua”: So long and good health.