What role should ancient languages have in school?

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becausethenight
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This is part of a TSR project called curriculum conversations, discussing the current school curriculum and what could be done better (or worse!)

This thread is on ancient languages - for example, Latin, Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew, the ancient languages most commonly studied at A level and below - and the role they should have in school.

I'd love to hear about if you think they should be taught, and if so, how - should we focus on grammar and language learning, or civilisation and culture? Is a 'Classical Civilisation' style course, with no language work, missing the point or the right idea?

You might find this article interesting to start with:
https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/classica...ties-of-access

I personally studied Latin to A level and hugely enjoyed it - I think it's given me an appreciation for language and syntax, as well as an understanding of another culture and world, that I don't think I'd have had from studying a modern language (which I also, did with A levels in Spanish and French - I enjoyed these too, though!). There usually isn't as much focus on grammar and language structure - Latin helped me understand this to learn other languages. I also really enjoyed the literature component and depth of analysis offered in Classics.

As part of my sixth form study, I also had the opportunity to teach a Latin Club for 7-11 year olds, and I think they really enjoyed it I think this should be avaliable to all students in primary school - what do you think?


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04MR17
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gjd800
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Doing Sanskrit in college with consistent expert tuition would have saved me 2 years of arsing about with books and semi-regular expert tuition, but I can't guarantee how interested I'd have been in it. I was at Oxford with a prizewinning Hebraicist and he followed it as a passion from school through to masters level. So clearly for some kids it works out great.

My learning of ancient languages (I'm on 3 to date) was really a case of instrumentality - I needed to do them to study the stuff I wanted to study. The drawback is that I was mid 20s by the time I knew what I anted to study.
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becausethenight
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(Original post by gjd800)
Doing Sanskrit in college with consistent expert tuition would have saved me 2 years of arsing about with books and semi-regular expert tuition, but I can't guarantee how interested I'd have been in it. I was at Oxford with a prizewinning Hebraicist and he followed it as a passion from school through to masters level. So clearly for some kids it works out great.

My learning of ancient languages (I'm on 3 to date) was really a case of instrumentality - I needed to do them to study the stuff I wanted to study. The drawback is that I was mid 20s by the time I knew what I anted to study.
Interesting point at the end - do you think earlier exposure to ancient languages would have helped you realise you wanted to study Sanskrit earlier? I know for a lot of people their perhaps only exposure is the option to take Latin GCSE at 13, and some people get none.

I knew someone who was applying for ab initio Classics who had a similar story; she would happily have done the languages earlier but didn’t realise she was interested until she took Class Civ A level and by then it was too late.
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Muttley79
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I was lied to at school and told I needed Latin to go to university - no internet them to check it. Parents didn;t go to university and the Headteacher convinced them.

This is part of the reason I debunk lies on here - things like you need the Ebacc [wrong], you need a MFL for uni [wrong] - so I suppose it did others some good
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gjd800
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(Original post by becausethenight)
Interesting point at the end - do you think earlier exposure to ancient languages would have helped you realise you wanted to study Sanskrit earlier? I know for a lot of people their perhaps only exposure is the option to take Latin GCSE at 13, and some people get none.

I knew someone who was applying for ab initio Classics who had a similar story; she would happily have done the languages earlier but didn’t realise she was interested until she took Class Civ A level and by then it was too late.
Honestly, I'm not sure. It'd be easy to say 'yes' and have it all neat and tidy but the truth is that I was a terrible, disinterested A-Level student, completely disillusioned with education and I really struggle to think that anything would have pulled me back in from the position I occupied at that time. I mean, maybe it would have. But I'm not sure.

Added to which, I got into the Indian stuff quite late on, and Skt only as a corollary to that - it was a few years before I enjoyed Sanskrit for Sanskrit's sake. I'm not there yet with Tibetan (I'm not yet good enough at it) but I probably am with Pali at this stage, and I mess about with Pali poetry just because I find it pleasing in its own right.

In short, it's possible but I don't think it's guaranteed. Had my A-Level choices been a bit more interesting to me, and I had I been exposed to the intricacies of Buddhism and Hinduism earlier (though I hate the syllabi being taught at both GCSE and A Level), maybe I'd have been more open to the languages.
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Mesopotamian.
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It would be nice for ancient languages to be more commonly offered at state schools - Latin was my first choice language GCSE subject but unfortunately the only teacher who taught it left the school so it was redacted :emo:

Classical civilisations wasn’t offered for my year group at all (they started it with the year below :emo: :emo: ) but that and Latin would have definitely been a combination I would have loved to do!
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Mathsgirl888
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I do Latin and Class Civ at GCSE. And coincidentally, I just did my English spoken language speech on why Latin should be taught in a schools!
My speech had more details but my main points were:
1) Latin improves performance in other subjects through the teaching of transferable skills.
2) Latin provides an opportunity for children to learn about ancient civilisations. British culture is a direct descendant of Roman civilisation
3) Latin’s prominence in English and other romantic languages. And how this is useful in a diverse society.

So yeah this is just a summary, if anyone would like me to expand on any of these points I’d be more than happy too! But overall I strongly support the teaching of Latin and Classics in schools
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Interea
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Learning Latin was a big part of me developing my grammar knowledge and love of language learning, and the inclusion of the culture and historical stories made it much more engaging, especially when first starting out!

It probably makes sense to teach MFLs with more of a focus on generally communicating than perfecting grammar, but at the level required for GCSE you don't really get far enough with that, and in addition to a weak focus on grammar you end up not achieving much. Having Latin alongside my MFLs meant I could actually understand the underlying rules without it feeling like a chore, and definitely made the MFLs much easier.
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Muttley79
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(Original post by Mathsgirl888)
I do Latin and Class Civ at GCSE. And coincidentally, I just did my English spoken language speech on why Latin should be taught in a schools!
My speech had more details but my main points were:
1) Latin improves performance in other subjects through the teaching of transferable skills.
2) Latin provides an opportunity for children to learn about ancient civilisations. British culture is a direct descendant of Roman civilisation
3) Latin’s prominence in English and other romantic languages. And how this is useful in a diverse society.

So yeah this is just a summary, if anyone would like me to expand on any of these points I’d be more than happy too! But overall I strongly support the teaching of Latin and Classics in schools
Is it true that GCSE doesn't include translation into Latin now?
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by Muttley79)
Is it true that GCSE doesn't include translation into Latin now?
Yes it is! It’s now optional (at least for my board). You can either do translation into Latin or a grammar comprehension.
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Muttley79
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Takes away a lot of the challenge - translation into Latin was always the trickiest bit. We had comprehension as well and two books to read. Very watered down these days ...
(Original post by Mathsgirl888)
Yes it is! It’s now optional (at least for my board). You can either do translation into Latin or a grammar comprehension.
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by Muttley79)
Takes away a lot of the challenge - translation into Latin was always the trickiest bit. We had comprehension as well and two books to read. Very watered down these days ...
Haha. I agree. The hardest part is gone! But I’d probably say that’s the least useful part as well. I think this also encourages more people to take Latin at GCSE. It also removes the stigma that Latin is only for ‘smart’ people. For language we have reading comprehension, grammar comprehension or into Latin translations and Latin to English translation. And then for Literature we study a prose text and a verse text.
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Rufus The Red
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(Original post by Mathsgirl888)
I do Latin and Class Civ at GCSE. And coincidentally, I just did my English spoken language speech on why Latin should be taught in a schools!
My speech had more details but my main points were:
1) Latin improves performance in other subjects through the teaching of transferable skills.
2) Latin provides an opportunity for children to learn about ancient civilisations. British culture is a direct descendant of Roman civilisation
3) Latin’s prominence in English and other romantic languages. And how this is useful in a diverse society.

So yeah this is just a summary, if anyone would like me to expand on any of these points I’d be more than happy too! But overall I strongly support the teaching of Latin and Classics in schools
I agree that Latin should be available in schools, but points two and three seem off to me:
- British culture is not a direct descendant of Roman civilisation - they are vastly different.
- I'm not sure if point three is just poorly worded, but English is a germanic language; not a romance language.
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Muttley79
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(Original post by Mathsgirl888)
Haha. I agree. The hardest part is gone! But I’d probably say that’s the least useful part as well. I think this also encourages more people to take Latin at GCSE. It also removes the stigma that Latin is only for ‘smart’ people. For language we have reading comprehension, grammar comprehension or into Latin translations and Latin to English translation. And then for Literature we study a prose text and a verse text.
No - it was useful to understand the written text as you had to understand how to construct Latin sentences. Yes we did all of the rest - read Gallic Wars book 2 [I think] and one of the Aenied books
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by Rufus The Red)
I agree that Latin should be available in schools, but points two and three seem off to me:
- British culture is not a direct descendant of Roman civilisation - they are vastly different.
- I'm not sure if point three is just poorly worded, but English is a germanic language; not a romance language.
So regarding point 2, there are lots of Roman inventions and practices that were first brought to Britain from Rome.

And regarding point 3, I didn’t mean that haha! I just meant that there are lots of English words that are derived from Latin. And lots of words in romantic languages that are derived from Latin. Sorry I meant them separately.
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by Muttley79)
No - it was useful to understand the written text as you had to understand how to construct Latin sentences. Yes we did all of the rest - read Gallic Wars book 2 [I think] and one of the Aenied books
Yes but in terms of how it would help us in the future- probably one of the least useful parts of the syllabus, no?

That’s cool! Good for you. Interesting how similar it still is.

EDIT: I wonder if we learn more grammar now to make up for it?
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Muttley79
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(Original post by Mathsgirl888)
Yes but in terms of how it would help us in the future- probably one of the least useful parts of the syllabus, no?

That’s cool! Good for you. Interesting how similar it still is.

EDIT: I wonder if we learn more grammar now to make up for it?
I personally think it was useful - as I said much easier to translate Latin into English if you know how sentences are written. I very much doubt you do more grammar - we had to be able to decline loads of verbs and know their four principal parts. Translation requires grammar doesn't it?
Spent a lot of time chanting amo, amas, amat, etc in six tenses.
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londonmyst
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It is great for schools & colleges to offer some courses in ancient languages and writing systems as study options for interested students.
Whether as short courses for a few weeks or 4+ terms with a qualification available at the successful completion of the course.
Particularly for those who are particularly interested in topics: connected with archaeology, bible studies, history, theology, the medieval era and philosophy.
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by Muttley79)
I personally think it was useful - as I said much easier to translate Latin into English if you know how sentences are written. I very much doubt you do more grammar - we had to be able to decline loads of verbs and know their four principal parts. Translation requires grammar doesn't it?
Spent a lot of time chanting amo, amas, amat, etc in six tenses.
Yeah perhaps. We still do practice of English to Latin, particularly in KS3. But like I said I think the removal of English to Latin encourages more people to take the subject at Gcse.

I mean you probably can’t remember exactly what you did but now but we do a lot more than principal parts and the tenses. I assume you did all the tenses in passive too? Then there’s the subjunctive, 5 cases, ablative absolute, indirect statements, infinitives and too many more to remember 😂
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Mathsgirl888
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(Original post by londonmyst)
It is great for schools & colleges to offer some courses in ancient languages and writing systems as study options for interested students.
Whether as short courses for a few weeks or 4+ terms with a qualification available at the successful completion of the course.
Particularly for those who are particularly interested in topics: connected with archaeology, bible studies, history, theology, the medieval era and philosophy.
Yeah I agree. It’s definitely useful for students wanting to study those topics you mentioned, they tie in quite nicely
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