In the past several centuries, millions of people have learned Latin and used it effectively to write and speak with one another, in spite of the fact that none has been able to claim it as his native tongue. For nearly two and a half millennia the Latin language has been the vehicle for much of the thought and writing important to Western Civilization. Not only was Latin used in the classical period by writers like Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Livy, Horace, and Ovid and in later antiquity by writers like Martial, Petronius, Tacitus, Juvenal, St. Augustine and Ammianus Marcellinus, but from the Middle Ages through at least the Seventeenth Century Latin was the chief international language, the language of the educated, the language of science and philosophy, and the language of the Catholic Church. Although, under the influence of the Age of Revolution and the subsequent Modernism and anticlericalism, the use of Latin gradually waned in the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Centuries, Latin continued to be the main language of discourse in many European universities into the early Twentieth Century, it was the official language of some parliaments until the middle of the Eighteenth Century (e. g. Hungary until 1848) and it remained the language of the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960s. In general, in the middle part of the Twentieth Century, Latin continued to be taught, but almost exclusively as a written language. Students were not instructed or encouraged to express their own thoughts in Latin. Latin instruction became inceasingly more dry and abstracted from life. Eventually, enrollments began to drop drastically.
In the 1980s and 1990s, some Latin instructors, realizing that their teaching methods were killing the study of this wonderful and important language, began to learn from their colleagues who teach modern languages and from live Latin circles and associations, discovering that learning is best when it is meaningful, personal, and natural. They began to teach students to speak and write about their own interests. As one would have expected, preliminary results show that those who speak Latin tend to learn better, read better, and proceed farther with their study of Latin. The challenge now is for teachers themselves to learn to speak Latin fluently, since of course the more fluently the language instructor speaks, the better able he or she is to teach using the spoken method.
The concept of 'living' and 'dead' languages is founded on a misconception of what languages are. Languages are communication systems. There cannot be anything intrinsically dead about a communication system. Hence, the question whether Latin is dead or living is simply a question of how people treat it. In colleges and universities today, Latin studies are competing with other disciplines for students, funding and public respect, and have consistently been losing ground to languages perceived as more 'relevant' to the needs of a society driven by the spoken word. The cultural inheritance we have received from the Classical world the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, conveyed to us in the Latin language, is rapidly being eroded away. To turn the situation around, Latin students will need to obtain the same level of proficiency in their language as modern language students do in theirs.
There are also now many who want to revive the use of Latin as an international language of scholarship, as well as those who envision another Renaissance not only of classical learning but also of new literature in Latin.