Harry Potter: Minister wants to resurrect Latin in schools
WHEN at home speak as the Romans did. Scottish school pupils could soon be learning Latin as a way of boosting their English skills.
Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last night announced her support for the "dead" language to be resuscitated in classrooms in a move which would see children as young as nine studying the language and culture of ancient Rome.
Hyslop, who herself studied classics at school, believes teaching Latin will give youngsters a better understanding of their own language as well as making it easier to learn French and Spanish.
And with JK Rowling's Harry Potter books making Latin more popular than ever with children, as the boy wizard casts his spells in the ancient language, there is an appetite for learning among pupils.
Teachers and politicians last night welcomed the move but warned Hyslop would have to find extra funds to help colleges train classics teachers and councils employ them.
Although Latin remains an optional subject on the school curriculum in Scotland, its popularity has dwindled over the past decade. This summer, the numbers of pupils sitting Higher Latin fell to just 826, with only a quarter of candidates coming from state schools.
South of the border Latin is already enjoying a renaissance. The number of schools offering Latin in England has tripled in the past eight years.
A source close to Hyslop said the minister believed her own study of classics gave her a solid basis for learning English grammar and modern languages. The source added that Hyslop's target of improving literacy could be propped up by the teaching of Latin.
Many education leaders in Scotland were also keen to get Latin back into schools, and would support any move by the minister, said the source.
Officially, a spokeswoman for Hyslop conceded a move could be taken before the next Scottish Parliament election in 2011. She said: "She certainly supports it. Latin is something that could crop up over the next session or so."
Edinburgh author Rowling is also a fan of the classical language, and taught herself the basics as she did not learn it at school.
Her books use Latin for the incantations Harry learns at Hogwarts, such as Accio, which brings an object to a wizard and comes from the Latin for "to summon", and Petrificus Totalus, which binds a person to the spot and literally means "completely turned to stone". The books have helped reignite children's interest in Latin.
Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith welcomed Latin as a tool to enhance pupils' literacy. She said: "The most important thing about the subjects that you do is not necessarily the material, it is that you learn how to learn. Latin drills students in the logic of grammar and the irregularity of language, which helps with English.
"Employers are saying young graduates aren't being taught in basic skills such as literacy, and Latin can help that process even at primary 7 level.
"However, I don't think it should go back to being a compulsory subject throughout school because students already have so many things they are expected to study."
The results of Latin projects in England have shown that learning the language from age nine upwards can improve exam scores in a range of subjects.
Lorna Robinson, of the Iris Project, which takes Latin into primary schools in England and Wales, said schools in Glasgow had expressed interest in the project, which has been a great success.
Robinson said: "It's been absolutely eye-opening and brilliant to see the skills the children have picked up from Latin. Teachers say they start to talk with a fascination about the language and other languages.
"It has also had an impact in science because so many of the scientific words are Latin– and Greek-based. The children don't have any preconceptions about Latin being boring; they just think they are learning something new."
Robinson added that Rowling's books have contributed to children's renewed fascination with Latin, as Harry Potter's spells are chanted in Latin.
Jim Docherty, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said he would support a move to bring Latin back into the classroom, but recommended it for older pupils.
He said: "A child's school career is becoming overloaded with examinations, but the one area of the curriculum where it could be developed is at senior 6, after Highers. We have a very large number of young people who have done very well in Highers and have all the paper qualifications, and they want to learn something new.
"It does not even have to be assessed: there are no more interesting lessons for young people than the lesson when they know they are not going to be tested, and they just want to be interested."
However, Docherty added: "We have lost a large number of classics staff, as many have retired or retrained because there was no interest in the subject. This needs to be addressed with action on the training front and funding for schools before any return can go ahead."
The University of Strathclyde was the last university to offer a single-subject classics teacher training course until it dropped it two years ago, but a spokesman said it was impossible to reintroduce the course because of Government guidelines.
He said: "Every teaching student must be guaranteed an induction place in a school in order to complete their course.
"The current shortage of induction places means the Scottish Government cannot give them this guarantee."
Roman around the playground
SoS guide to playground Latin, with apologies to Virgil:
My dad is going to get you > pater meus tu abicit
See me > vide me
Could do better > vix satis
My dog ate my homework > canis meus arsdomum comedit
You have let yourself down > sumissisti te
Yeah but no but > aio at eheu at
Bothered > nihil attinet
Fight! > oppugnate!
I will show you mine if you show me yours > te me coarguam modo ne me te coargues
Eat my shorts > vescere bracis meis
Building block or out of date?
It's nonsense to say Latin is a dead language; it lives through other languages. I'm convinced that learning Latin alongside French and English helped me aspire to a higher level with those languages, because Latin as the root language was a key that helped me open a door.
More importantly, it enhanced my knowledge and usage of English. We need to recalibrate the importance that is attached to proper language construction: understanding what a paragraph is and how grammar works.
The building blocks of our language are in danger because modern instant communication is distorting sentences and meaning. Our language is under attack, and we are starting to lose its precision and accuracy.
Some parents will think it is pretty daft to put Latin back into the curriculum, because it is already overcrowded and something else would have to go – and that's before considerations of cost and the need for teachers.
Lots of parents will ask: "What is the point of learning a language that nobody speaks?" and this is fairly valid. You are not going to speak Latin on holiday. The reason Latin teaching died out was because it was not compulsory and people voted with their feet.
While I studied Latin at school and can appreciate personally that it might have value for other subjects, not many of today's parents studied Latin and they wouldn't be keen to see it return.
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