Friday, January 02, 2009

Bring back Latin to schools

from Fr Michael Brown

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".

How can the Church in England and Wales show itself to be prophetic and help?


PeterHWright said...

When I was at prep school, we were taught, and very much enjoyed learning, Greek and Latin from the age of 10.

Our knowledge of these ancient languages gave us a far deeper understanding of the modern rules of grammar and syntax, not to mention spelling.

As to learning French or Italian, both these modern langages derive from Latin, and when the time came to learn them, I found knowledge of Latin an immense help.

Of course, Latin became unfashionable in most state schools for years.

Now they realise what an asset a knowledge of Latin is, but they actively discouraged Latin in schools for a long time, so that now there are not enough Latin teachers. They are hoist with their own petard.

Pastor in Valle said...

In some places it has already started. My cousin's two little girls already study it in their state secondary school in Oxfordshire (not a Catholic school).

GOR said...

Agreed, Peter. My first introduction to Latin was as an altar boy learning the responses for Mass at about age 9 or 10. Then we studied both Latin and Greek in Secondary school in Ireland.

I recall being thrilled to learn how many English words derived from Latin and it became exciting to seek out other English words which were derived from it. There was a sense of continuity with the past and the glory days of Greece and Rome.

Later, it served well to help me become fluent in Italian and understand the lectures in Rome which were still given in Latin in the 1960s.

I was dismayed years later to learn that Latin was no longer taught in US seminaries - which I believe contributes to the reluctance of many priests of a certain age to embrace the TLM today.

It is still offered in some Catholic High Schools here in the US, but it is an elective, not a requirement.

To answer your question Father, the Church can facilitate a resurgence in Latin by making the TLM more available and promoting Latin in the schools. Practice makes perfect!

"Difficile est tenere quae acceperis, nisi exerceas."

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

So the UK government thinks that Latin is “an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages,” so it is “considering the place of Latin.”

You realize that this is the thin end of the wedge?

Just wait till the education specialists wake up to the fact that Latin was “the shared language of a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural area which included diverse communities from Europe, Africa and Asia.”

Then they may make Latin compulsory.

Hopefully they’ll also realize that the above descriptions also apply to Greek.

nickbris said...

I think they will have to Re-Teach English first.

My Granddaughters who all went to very expensive private schools can only communicate by texting and that language is totally illegible.They will certainly never be able to write a letter.

gemoftheocean said...

Nickbris, don't give up too soon on your grandkids. "We" forget that the art of letter writing *at all* in any form was almost a dead letter until email came along. Etext and having to hit all those itsy bitsy letters using an itsy bitsy screen a la mobile phones are the reason for the truncated spelling.

As to the revival of Latin, I'm all for it. When I'd gotten to high school, in the early 70s they'd just stopped teaching it. [You could still do years two and three, but not one - so reluctantly I chose French as I had had a start in that language for two years of grammar school.]

I thought my generation had been cheated, so when I went to college I'd taken 5 academic quarters of Latin that I could fit into my schedule. Enough to tackle the first chapters of the Aeneid. It's somewhat arguable that Latin Grammar is required to have a thorough understanding of English grammar, though it certainly familiarizes you with grammatical terms and concepts. When I was growing up, Catholic school children were always ahead of the game vis-a-vis their public school counterparts, because the nuns were merciless about the parts of speech, etc. Public school teachers used to love it when Catholic school kids would transfer. Catholic schoolkids, no matter where they stood as re: English grammar, almost always came out top of the heap. I can remember my 8th grade public school English teacher (of the "old school") was in a near tizzy of delerious joy that one of her class knew the technical term "copulative verbs" and could rip off a whole list of them other than just the verb "to be." She immediately asked me "you went to parochial school, didn't you?" After confirmation, she said "SEE, I'm not the only one who's a stickler for teaching you all this, so stop whining." [Or words to that effect! Fortunately, I got along well with classmates, or that one damning sentence from her could have made my life a never ending hell.]

I'm afraid relatively few public schools in the US now teach Latin, much less Greek. Once even the smallest high school, public or private had at least one Latin teacher, and the larger schools had several. The public schools here started dropping it when it was no longer required for college entrance, sometime in the 60s. [Most 4 year colleges here require two years foreign language study before entrance, the most common languages being Spanish (by far) then French.]

We're hit over here with the same situation you are. More want to learn it, but classics teachers are relatively rare.

When I was taking Latin nearly 35 years ago, I asked our supply priest what they required for Latin in the seminary students. He gave a disgusted snort and said "ONE year." [Later it was ZERO years.] He said "when I was in the seminary (in the 40s and 50s) we had to read many pages of text in the original latin, and later when I did my doctoral work in Rome for two years I had to do everything in Latin and do an oral defense of my dissertation in Latin. Now these seminarians are practically in tears if they have to translate a SINGLE page of very simple Latin.]

I agree that's probably a big reason why so many are reluctant to try the EF of the Mass.

What is scarier still is I bet there are many either untranslated documents the church has throughout the centuries, and who is going to be the keeper of this treasure trove of intellectual and moral wealth? And there's no getting around that many times the liberally mischeivous will either undeliberately (through ignorance) or with malice tell their flocks that "Rome says X" when Rome really said "Y." Look at the falsehoods (knowingly or unknowingly) that were thrown at people when they tried to make unwarrented claims about what constituted a "stable community" of numbers of people allegedly required before a Latin Mass could be requested/said.

Languages are started best when young. It's unfortunate that so many college bound youngsters are so locked in to having to have so many set courses for science, math, English, History etc that there isn't as much wiggle room as before. I think it would be great if the Catholic schools for grades 6-8 (age 11 through 13 or 14) give the kids a good start in this language, because they don't do much with them now at that age when they've got changing hormones! And besides, no one gives a hoot about a "D" in Latin in 8th grade, but the colleges WILL care if they got a "D" in the 9th grade when they start counting!

This way it gives the good stodents a good start, and then if they want to continue on in high school they can, and STILL have time to get in all their other required subjects. Should every Catholic high school student have to take Latin? No. Why wreck a potential Civil Engineer from getting a shot at MIT if he's not a good linguist, but at least every Catholic kid would be exposed to the language. And that's the important part.

GOR said...

Nickbris, I fear you may be right about 'technology' affecting proper learning. I was always opposed to 'phonetic' learning of English as I felt it would kill the ability to spell properly!

Similarly, once calculators were introduced into the schools I predicted that kids would decline at Maths - becoming utterly dependent on the calculator to add 2 + 2. I only exaggerate slightly...:)

Back to the basics! The rudiments of letter-writing and multiplication tables...

Henry said...

I hated Latin at school. It was badly taught, the reading materials were boring and the teachers were usually bullies.

However, I managed to get through somehow. But if one was going to learn just one language at school, which one should it be? French is difficult for starters. Spanish is supposedly easier. German is much diminished in status from what it was before World War 2. Russian, Arabic and Chinese are also difficult for starters. Jewish children learn Hebrew because it is used regularly for prayers, but the teaching used to be dire. There is a vogue for teaching Sanskrit in some circles which is the root Indo-European language and said to be similar to Lithuanian, but who needs to speak that? After that, we are into languages with small numbers of speakers, which are never worth learning unless for a specific purpose like work or wanting to spend time in the country, or having family connections.

But one never knows which language one might need to learn in the course of a lifetime, so isn't it best to give children the ability to learn any language they may require?

From that perspective, Latin is an excellent choice, and because of the peculiar worn-down nature of English, one needs to learn a developed language like Latin which has preserved all the different grammatical forms intact. Students then understand how to set about learning any language. In fact, it is necessary to learn another language in order to be able to be fully proficient in English. But the material must be interesting enough to engage the children if it is not to become a drudge.

Joe said...

There must be a Latin language blogosphere out there somewhere!

Adrienne said...

Since I am older and went to Catholic schools, I had many, many years of Latin. I was a horrible language pupil however I still consider it to be the most important and valuable subject I ever studied.

Lee Hamilton said...

I'm convinced early Latin instruction is the key to second language acquisition for Anglophones (who generally have a harder time acquiring additional languages than other linguistic groups in the Western hemisphere, by dint of the preponderance of English). When I first started learning Latin as an independent study project, I was amazed at how lessons from my earlier instruction in French, Spanish and even German seemed to snap into place. It helped to clear up all the stumbling blocks that normally trip an Anglophone student (gender and case nomenclature, complex verb conjugation, syntax). We really were cheated when Latin was taken off the curriculum. I think the missing foundation in Latin has (generally) rendered English-speakers a little less cosmopolitan than they might have been, and less compatible with people from other world cultures who don't speak English. In my opinion, it has also contributed to the cultural and historical amnesia that seems to be afflicting all the English-speaking cultures today like a form of collective Alzheimers dementia. We don't know who we are anymore, or where we came from.

George said...

Bring back Latin! Yes - great idea. If nothing else it might help the next generation appreciate the deep Spirituality and Reverence to be found in the text of Old Rite Liturgy!!!!

Imagine if... (to coin John Lennon), if most people could at some point in the future understand, speak, read and write in latin the return to the Latin Rite would be a kind of a 'reverse Novus Ordo'. The Lord works in wondrous ways! Allelujah!!