Latin—a Living Language

Latin is one of the four languages taught at Senior School level at Ascham. Latin Teacher Ms Clare Dickinson explains how this ancient language has very contemporary—and practical—applications.

Picture this: A tweed-clad octogenarian robotically recites Latin conjugations to a class of bored teenagers. This Hollywood scene (think Sister Act II), familiar to many, is out of touch with actual reality. Whilst grammar tables remain fundamental to language learning, other features are just as important.

The Latin curriculum revolves around three areas: translation, grammar and culture. Stages 4 and 5 students practise grammar and vocabulary by translating passages from Ecce Romani and become invested in the soap opera-esque lives of the Cornelian family in CE 80 (‘Who will get married? Who will die? And will they ever get out of that ditch?’)

Concurrently, students delve into culture through tasks like staging dinner parties, planning weddings and producing creative works inspired by Ovid. Alongside their study of Cicero and Virgil, Senior students enjoy such activities as translating songs from Frozen and the Spice Girls into Latin and restaging Cicero’s denouncement of Catiline into a reality TV show. Making cultural links, however, is not always this formalised. Just last week, Year 8 was discussing an alternate reading of the movie Finding Nemo—were we to take the Latin literally (nemo, neminis: no one).

Ascham alumnae have earnt degrees as varied as Medicine, Engineering, Law, Arts, Education and Commerce. Graduates have been pleasantly surprised by the practical applications of their study, commenting on Latin’s usefulness in understanding language structure, in learning terminology and in developing attention to detail. More importantly, Latin allows us to engage with a distant people through their own words. Nothing makes you realise how little humankind has changed over the millennia than laughing at a 2,000-year-old joke or sympathising with the loss of a sibling through an ancient elegy. These universal concerns still hold true today.

As former student, Diana Reid asserts: ‘We study Latin not because it’s elite and archaic, but because it’s everyday and empathetic.’

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