Language focus | 10.12.2009

From past to present – no longer a tense situation for Latin learners

Thanks to a number of initiatives rolled out in schools and communities in recent years, Latin is experiencing somewhat of a revival, with lessons and clubs springing up nationwide. Opinions are divided in educational circles as to the viability of teaching a ‘dead’ language, but nevertheless, demand is increasing. It seems that Latin is not only experiencing a renaissance, it is also getting a 21st century makeover.

So why is Latin looking so good. It’s new look is down to the dedication and hard work of Latinists up and down the country who have been striving to dispel the myths surrounding the language and to reintroduce it into classrooms throughout the country. Modern, exciting teaching methods have all helped give the language a new lease of life and now it is no longer the domain of private schools – over 1,000 secondary schools offer Latin, as well as the many primary schools which teach the language under the government-backed Gifted and Talented scheme as an extra-curricular subject.

Learning Latin is a positive experience and imparts many transferable skills: large numbers of school children across the UK speak English as a second language and the cross-cultural benefits here are significant; it builds familiarity with foreign languages and grammatical structures which can be applied in further study; it empowers children who become proud of studying a language which not many people speak and it improves literacy in a pupil’s own language. Furthermore, it encourages independent thought and analytical skills and cross-references other subjects such as history, geography, maths, science and literature.

Support is also available from areas other than educational institutions. Take The Iris Project for example – an organization striving to make classical languages available to all, regardless of background, and which focuses on socially excluded inner city areas and adults in communities. Their Latin in the Park project has been a phenomenal success and has opened up the language to many adults – classes cost £1 and are held outdoors which enable people to learn in a relaxed atmosphere and discover everything that the language has to offer. There are also internet resources, such as the Cambridge School Classics Project. Latin’s once stuffy reputation is a thing of the past and students are now given the opportunity to learn through interactive white boards, DVDs, computer assisted learning in ICT suites, and interesting, modern course books. This increased accessibility has brought it alive once more and such is the demand for the language that even Facebook, the social networking site, is currently available in Latin.

The Iris Project believes that ‘all children are entitled to the opportunity of learning about the languages and cultures of the ancient world, and that these subjects are wonderful tools for enhancing literary, social awareness and analytical skills’. Barriers and stereotypes relating to classics are gladly being broken down in an effort to make language and culture accessible to all and to combat social exclusion. Coupled with the welcome reintroduction of compulsory foreign language teaching to the curriculum in 2011, the future is certainly looking bright for the country’s future linguists.

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