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How is Learning Latin in School?

By Brentyn, published on 06/07/2018 Blog > Academia > Latin > Classical Latin Taught in Schools

“I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn’t study Latin harder in school so that I could converse with those people.” Al Gore, Environmentalist and Politician

Many feel the same regret and many wish that there was a Latin option when they were in secondary school. This brings us to the question, how are ancient languages, especially Latin, taught nowadays in UK schools?

There have been many education reforms throughout the years and many have completely cut ancient languages from the curriculum and replaced them with other languages such as French and Spanish.

Latin was the language of the ancient Roman people and the lingua franca of the European elite until the 17th century and since many view it as “outdated”, the teaching of this “dead language” has fallen out of favour all over Europe and especially the United Kingdom. It is not viewed anymore as an important beacon to better understand French and the other Latin-based languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian.

Many students all across the UK are interested in learning Latin but in recent years have found that GCSE Latin is extremely hard work and if given the option to choose between learning German or another year of Latin they would opt for German.

With this being said, there has been much debate, recently, about the benefits and overall use of teaching Latin in secondary state schools. Many view ancient Languages as a symbol for the social elite to show off their skills and talents and that it is no longer needed in our modern world. Whereas others think that, although difficult to learn, is an essential bridge to learn more about languages that have strong Latin roots.

Superprof has decided to take part in this lively debate and let everyone know how learning Latin happens in schools today.

Learning Latin Before the GCSE Came into Effect

Learning Latin is not a new trend. This ancient language has been valued and taught for several centuries.

In the 16th century, Latin was extremely utilized being the dominant language of commerce, education, religion and government in most parts of Europe. However, during the start of the 17th century, Latin was losing popularity and the study of languages such as French, Italian and English became more important. Near the end of the 17th century, Latin diminished from being studied as a living language to a mere subject in the school curriculum. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Latin was no longer considered as important as the study of modern, spoken languages.

Latin needs to be fun Latin used to be taught in a very archaic way. Students had to write down and recite texts they didn’t really understand. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Along with mathematics, the sciences and English, Latin was a core subject taught in a variety of schools during the first half of the 20th century across the United Kingdom.

However, after the Modern Language General Certificate of Secondary Education in the 1980’s, Latin was slowly replaced by other languages that were ruled more important in many schools.

A fantastic article published by Cambridge titled, The 20th Century Transformation of Latin Teaching in the UK gives us insight into how Latin was previously taught in schools before the reform in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Some criticisms include:

  • Latin teaching had changed little from Victorian times and was purely linguistic,
  • The traditional method focused on writing translations from English to Latin and from Latin to English, and Latin prose composition,
  • Latin classes were only offered to the intellectually gifted and this left out many students from the modern secondary school system and this created a sense of elitism among the students.

This way of teaching Latin was unattractive to students and teachers alike and lead to an exodus of Latin in secondary schools. Many, given the choice, would opt out of Latin classes.

A classic old adage whispered by many bored students goes like this:

“Latin is a language as dead as dead can be. It killed the ancient Romans, now it’s killing me.”

Ouch! Sorry, Julius Caesar.

Because of the student’s disinterest, the reform took drastic measures and cut traditional Latin classes from many state schools and only left them for those attending a very select few private schools.

This left many schools without the Latin option and the ability to learn more about ancient languages.

How Ancient Latin Should Be Taught in Schools

Students, parents and educators alike all believe that British pupils are prejudiced towards Latin because of the archaic way it was taught in the past.

This is completely understandable; nobody wants to put a diligent effort forward if they feel it is something they will never use in their lives. Also, how boring is it to recite and copy Latin grammar from an ancient textbook?

These thoughts and prejudices are unfair because learning Latin can be so much fun and there are many useful reasons to learn Latin:

  • Latin provides a deeper understanding and fluency of the romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian etc.),
  • Half of the English vocabulary is made up of Latin words and roots,
  • A more satisfying study of ancient Roman history.

There is good news: Latin is making a comeback! In recent years, the education board and government officials alike have realized the importance of implementing Latin classes back into state schools.

The Department of Education has not only suggested reviving Latin in secondary schools, but also in primary schools. Professor Dennis Hayes, an expert from the University of Derby and Chair of the College of Education Research Committee, has stated in an article written by the Independent that:

“Latin and classics should be taught in every primary school and continued into secondary school with the addition of ancient Greek.”

Latin is coming to a classroom near you! Reports have shown that the number of non-selective state schools across the UK offering the subject has risen by more than six times in the past decade.

Now comes the question of many concerned parents, how will my 10-year old learn Latin and will he enjoy it? 

Students, especially younger ones, need to be taught in a stimulating and engaging way. Education World states that anything that stimulates a pupil’s mind will encourage them to take an interest and thus learn about the subject. This advice is applicable for all subjects taught in school, Latin included.

Games Kids Love Children can learn Latin but they need to be engaged and stimulated. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Sitting at a desk all day reciting Latin proverbs is not the way to go! Student’s needs to get up, move around, play games in order to stay permanently interested.

If the student is not interested in the subject they are being taught and they do not feel stimulated then learning will not take place.

Another key factor is the teacher. If the teacher is unenthusiastic and bored with teaching the Latin verbs, grammar and the six cases, the student will feel the same and not learn anything useful. The best teachers are the ones who inspire and say, Carpe Diem! 

Teaching Resources

Games are always recommended when teaching student’s about grammar and vocabulary. Latin can prove to be very difficult and if the students feel that what they are learning is not useful they will get discouraged and their interest in the subject will fade. Therefore, games need to be played!

Latin Alive! has some great teaching resources to use in the classroom. There are five highly entertaining and recommended games that teach Latin vocabulary to primary school students:

  • Latin Hangman (played like regular hangman except with Latin vocabulary),
  • Spelling Bee (no explanation required, played like normal Spelling Bee. Has student’s work on listening skills),
  • Around the World (check out the link above),
  • Pictionary (a classic game known all around the world!),
  • VINCO (like BINGO but with a V and a C).

Latin classes should be taught in an interactive and entertaining way. These Superprof suggestions are not just for Latin teachers based in the UK but for educators all around the world who want to revive the lingua latina in style!

The GCSE Latin Option

 In order to train ourselves to read classical Latin texts or try to speak the language of Julius Caesar we need to have a mastery of our own mother tongue. 

English grammar classes during primary and secondary school are of the utmost importance and should be taken seriously. It is our mother tongue after all! Latin should be viewed equally because it is an essential bridge to learning more about latin-based languages.

In 1988 the GSCEs were introduced in order to establish a national qualification for those who decided to leave school at age 16. The British government has initiated many reforms since the GSCEs first appeared in the 80’s but the core subjects have remained the same.

Ancient languages or “Classics” are among the core subjects. “Classics” is a term used within the UK school curriculum and refers to the study of languages, literature, material culture and history of the ancient world and its civilizations. In this option, students can choose between topics such as:

  • Latin,
  • Classical Greek,
  • Classical Civilization,
  • Ancient History.

All four of the classical subjects are appropriate and available for students to study at both primary and secondary levels. That means that students from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4 have these options at their disposal. The “Classics” come highly recommended if given the option to study them. There are many exam boards who have done a great job creating a Latin curriculum that is fun and educational.

Books to Learn Latin The GCSE Latin option may be considered the most difficult but it might be the most rewarding. (Source: Visual Hunt)

OCR Latin Option

The GSCE Latin option is available in various schools and exam boards across the UK. The numbers have been rising in recent years due to renewed interest like we mentioned before.

The OCR exam board offers a very interesting GCSE qualification with Latin (9-1). It is taught at a GCSE level and is designed to help students develop their knowledge and understanding of the grammar, vocabulary and syntax of the Latin language. The pupil is also taught to read ancient literature and determine the values and morals of the Roman society through the study of original texts.

The course overview is separated into various sections:

  • Language (section 1): compulsory and worth a total of 100 marks or 50% of the grade. During this component, students build their knowledge of vocabulary and linguistic structures. The student should be familiarized with the DVL (defined vocabulary list) and RGL (restricted grammar list).
  • Prose literature and verse literature (sections 2-5): pupils study a set text or group of texts that is between 110-120 lines in length and changes every two years. The first set text for 2018, based on the OCR exam board, is titled Family Life and Relationships. 
  • Literature and culture: an optional but very interesting and useful section. During this component, students are given ancient source materials that cover two themes of civilization and culture.

By taking GCSE Latin you improve your culture and your knowledge of ancient history. While taking this option you will read texts from Roman authors and poets such as Ovid, Pliny (the Elder and the Younger), Virgil and Catullus.

Also learning about the Roman empire and the emperor’s who made it glorious is so much more rewarding and satisfying when you are learning the language Cicero and Julius Caesar spoke. The GCSE option is so great because it combines ancient history and Latin vocabulary in a very harmonious way.

There will always be much controversy and debate as to whether teaching Latin in school is necessary. Some are even against the well structured GCSE Latin option at a secondary level because it is the hardest. It is at least two levels harder than the average subjects. Parent’s want their children to succeed (completely understandable!) and they may persuade them to take an easier option where they are guaranteed success.

However, remember a challenge can reap great results and make you feel more fulfilled. If you feel that you are having difficulties passing the Latin option hire a private tutor from Superprof to give you the extra remedial help you need!

The lingua latina can be learnt and the benefits are worth way more than the sacrifices!

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