Latin teachers are being encouraged to use Taylor Swift’s lyrics, Disney songs, Minecraft and fan fiction to help make the ancient language of Virgil and Cicero more accessible to their 21st-century students.
In recent decades, schoolchildren – mainly in private schools – have mastered the early stages of Latin through the tales of Lucius Caecilius, a Pompeii banker who lived in the first century AD, and his family, as described in the popular Cambridge Latin Course, soon to be published in its fifth edition.
Now, however, a Cambridge University academic has produced a new guide that suggests Latin should be taught more like a modern foreign language, where students are encouraged to speak, sing, perform or write creatively, rather than just learning vocabulary and grammar from a primer . Translating hit songs into Latin, meanwhile, can enhance students’ grasp of the different techniques used in Roman poetry.
Steven Hunt, who has been teaching Latin for 35 years and now trains Latin teachers, says traditional teaching methods still have their place, but is advocating a more imaginative, open-minded approach to widen the subject’s appeal.
Currently fewer than 10,000 students sit GCSE Latin and they are overwhelmingly in private schools. According to a recent British Council survey, Latin is only taught at key stage 3 – the first three years of secondary level education – in 2.7% of state schools compared with 49% of independent schools.
As well as making the case for “active” Latin in the classroom to engage learners, Hunt’s book details a series of innovative ways of developing students’ translation skills. In one example from a research paper, a university tutor struggling to get his students to engage with Virgil’s poetry, asked them to translate well-known songs instead. Among their successes was Taylor Swift’s hit Bad Blood, the chorus to which was translated as Quod, care, nunc malum sanguinem habemus.
Elsewhere, another Latin enthusiast has recorded Disney favorites in Latin including Let it Go (Libera) from Frozen, while 3D digital modeling and Google Earth have helped students to use Latin while walking through virtual ancient sites, including a 3D model of Rome built in Minecraft.
“The trouble with Latin teaching is that it’s never been subject to thorough academic investigation; we tend to rely on anecdotal information about what seems to work, ”said Hunt, who hated Latin when he first studied it at the age of 11 and is horrified that he once taught Latin using texts which trivialized slavery and stereotyped female characters.
“There is no ‘best way’ to teach it,” he said, “but some teachers are creating a rich set of responses to the challenge. Most draw on principles from modern languages education. Because the human brain is hardwired for sound, it learns by speaking, listening and using language. Some Latin teachers are realizing that this is the way to learn any language – dead or alive. ”
Last summer the Department for Education announced the launch of a £ 4m scheme to encourage Latin among secondary state school students, starting initially in 40 schools in England, as part of a four-year pilot program for 11- to 16-year-olds.
“Latin’s role as the gatekeeper to an elite education is over, but involving more students, especially in state schools, remains a problem,” said Hunt. “The challenge for teachers in the years to come will be whether they are prepared to grasp these opportunities to present the subject differently, and widen the appeal for students, or whether they prefer to stick to familiar routines.”
Taylor Swift: Bad Blood
Did you have to do this?
I was thinking that you could be trusted
Did you have to ruin what was shiny?
Now it’s all rusted
Did you have to hit me where I’m weak?
Baby, I could not breathe
And rub it in so deep
Salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me
‘Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look at what you’ve done
‘Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!
Faciendumne fuit tibi hoc?
Putabam me posse tibi credere.
Delendumne fuit tibi quod lucidum erat?
Iam nunc omnino id est robigum (sic).
Pulsandumne fuit tibi in quo infirma sum?
Care, do not breathe.
Confricandumne fuit altissime tibi,
velut ad me rides, o sal in vulnere est!
Quod, care, nunc malum sanguinem habemus.
Scis id fuisse insanissimum amorem
Aspice ad facta a te
Quod, care, nunc malum sanguinem habemus.