Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Re-introducing Latin to the school curriculum

There was an article in the Telegraph on 27th December about governments plans to re-introduce Latin to the school curriculum. The full article is here. Here`s an extract.

Ministers believe it is an "important subject" and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.

Less than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.

However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language.

She said it was "an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils' learning of modern languages". She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was "considering the place of Latin".


PeterHWright said...

There is much to be said for a classical education, now the preserve of the privileged few, when it should be available to the many.

It is a matter of fact that a great body of modern European languages - French, Italian, Spanish - descend from Latin. So too, does modern grammar and syntax.

If you want to learn a foreign language, or understand your own language better, then learn Latin !

Fr Michael Brown said...

Peter, you may enjoy this from the
viafacilis blog. (

Learn Latin
"But Latin isn't a modern language."
"It's also dead."
"Also true."
"So, word one: Frisp."
"Frisp? Never heard of it."'

Which are all recognized languages of the European Union.

We also refer to them as Romance Languages."
"So the structural basis of these languages is Latin.
Learn Latin, and you exponentially increase your capability of learning a Romance Language."

"Okay, but what about the other EU languages? Latin can't help with those, can it?"
"Actually, it can."
"Many of the languages of the EU are inflected."
"No, 'inflected'. A language that is inflected establishes meaning by changing the forms of its words, particularly nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. The form of the words shows their function in a sentence."
"And Latin is also inflected.
Learn Latin, and you exponentially increase your capability of learning a non-Romance language."

"But it's still not spoken, right?"
"So how does that address the "listening, speaking, reading, and writing" part of the paragraph?"

"In terms of listening and speaking, it doesn't."
"But isn't that a problem?"
"Actually, it's a solution in conundrum's clothing."
"You'd better explain."
"Sure. When students learn a foreign language, it often happens that their proficiencies - speaking and listening - mask their deficiencies - reading and writing."
"So they can't read or write."
"And how would you rate the literacy of someone who can't read or write?"
"There is a technical term for it. A person who cannot read or write his own language is 'illiterate'."
"So much for national literacy."
"You said it."
"But how does Latin help deal with this problem?"
"Which problem?"
"The literacy problem."
"With which language?"
"Better start with foreign languages."
"Fair enough. You have to ask why students find reading and writing difficult in the first instance."
"Okay, consider it asked."
"They find reading and writing difficult because they have done very little of those exercises with their own language. To really read and to really write, you have to more than inherently know a language; you have to understand it. You have to understand how words relate, how they fit together to make sentences, ideas, concepts, etc. You have to have done time, so to speak, working with the nuts and bolts of language - its grammar, its syntax, its vocabulary. To write it out long-hand, type it, chant it, play with it. Become friends with it. Writing is the tactile recording of literacy. Reading allows you to see how others go through that experience. Literacy is, in effect, the expertise with which you deliberately handle your own language. So if you are going to master another language, you will have to spend some serious time with your own."

"But why Latin then?"
"Because when students learn Latin, they cannot hide behind a good ear and convincing accent. They must focus on the other two aspects: reading and writing. Latin forces them to account for everything. That, in turn, forces them to account for everything in English. Which reenforces what they are doing with language in Latin. It becomes a benevolent cycle, feeding on itself."

"So, you're saying that Latin is good because it addresses reading and writing almost exclusively?"
"Basically, yes."
"So it makes students hyper-aware of their choice of words, and why they are saying what they are saying?"
"Yes. It turns a potentially passive exercise into an active one. It requires that they develop critical tools of linguistic discernment."

"And the student who takes Latin will be ready to study a modern language in all aspects?"
"Yes. They will be happy to be speaking a foreign language, but it will not be so completely different in terms of vocabulary or structure. They will have already been there. They will be jazzed up about going forward in their study of language."

"And this same student will have done a tremendous amount with the building blocks of English, too? All that grammar and vocabulary?"

"But doesn't that take care of two major concerns of the government?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there's the national literacy recommendations, and there's the modern language entitlement, too."


"Wouldn't a serious study of Latin help students, particularly at Key Stage 2, make significant strides in both these areas?"

"Let me get this straight. You're saying that you think that the study of Latin at...?"
"Key Stage 2."
"What's that mean in American English?"
"Ages 7 to 11."
"Oh, right. Okay, so you're saying that you think that the study of Latin, particularly CAGSE's Latin, at Key Stage 2 will facilitate both a growing mastery of English and set the stage for the thorough learning of Modern Languages? As required by the UK government?"


"I couldn't have said it any better. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Anonymous said...

Here's a northern state school still making the effort with Latin.

PeterHWright said...

Thank you, Father.

That's brilliant ! It is very entertaining reading. And I couldn't with it agree more.

Proficiency in a foreign language these days seems to mean fluency in speaking and listening. This, in my opinion, is due to modern teaching methods, using the "language lab" and imitating vowels sounds, etc. All very well in its way if you are learning, say, conversational French, but it leaves the student deficient in his knowlege of the structure of the language, which affects his ability to read and write it.

After all, an infant learns to lisp his native language at his mother's knee, but gains thereby no knowledge or understanding of the structure of the language. Oh, he can speak it, but is he proficient in its grammar, syntax and spelling ?

This in large part explains why illiteracy is alive and well today.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Cicero, thanks for that encouraging article. I wouldn`t hold my breath for Catholic schools to take an initiative on this although we have started the Minimus course in our primary school here.