Haud mea culpa, domina! (As they say in primary school)

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor, and Lewis Smith

More than 60 state primaries will teach the classical language as part of a
project aimed at making languages compulsory for all children from the age
of seven. Those behind it say it is the best way of introducing children to
language learning, particularly because it is the root of the five Romance
languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese and Romanian).

Peter Downes, a former president of the Association of School and College
Leaders, said Latin was “an excellent vehicle for teaching about
language structure as well as having obvious cross-curricular links to
history and civilisation”. He heads a project set up by the
headteachers’ union and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation which is trying to
persuade ministers to introduce children to a broader range of languages in
primary schools and help them decide which ones they want to pursue in
secondary schools.

It began by piloting its plans in a handful of schools in Cambridgeshire and
has just expanded this to about 60. There is a campaign to make languages
compulsory for seven to 11-year-olds in 2011, and Mr Downes has written to
Sir Jim Rose, who led a government inquiry into the primary- school
curriculum, arguing against his recommendation that schools should
concentrate on just one or two languages. Under this project’s proposals,
children learn a range of languages ? French, German, Spanish, Japanese,
Punjabi and Latin.

In a letter to Sir Jim, Mr Downes argued: “It is strongly recommended
that one of the languages is Latin. It may seem the ‘odd man out’ but it
proved to be popular with pupils and teachers and a very good vehicle for
teaching aspects of language such as word order, verb patterns, agreements,
gender and language evolution.

“Provided there are good teaching materials available, there is no reason
why Chinese, Urdu or others should not be included.”

Most children learning Latin at primary school do so through the Minimus
books, by Barbara Bell. They are a sort of comic-strip Roman soap with the
central protagonist Minimus (“smallest”). Other characters include
the members of a Roman household and their three slaves. The books aim to
give a flavour of Roman life as well as an introduction to the language.

Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, applauded the
teaching of Latin in state primaries. “It’s a wonderful way of being
able to see how a language works,” she said. “Latin opens up
culture to the kids. Even for those who just learn a little and don’t go on
to read Virgil, I think it offers pleasure and linguistic skills.”

She added, however, one cautious note: “My worry is not whether it’s
worthwhile for primary school children but whether they can go on with it in
their next [state] school.”

Latin translations:

Canis studia domestici devoravit – The dog ate my homework

Haud mea culpa, domina – It wasn’t me, miss

Ita vero sed minime sed ita vero sed minime – Yeah but no but yeah but

Nonne – Innit

Ubi est latrina? – Where is the toilet?

Stilus amitae meae – The pen of my aunt

Quo usque ludus meus tablulis scolasticis perrexit? – Where does my
school come in the league tables?

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