My son is now between nine and ten and should begin Greek at once. I would make them all learn English; and then I would make the clever ones learn Latin as an honour and Greek as a treat.Winston Churchill
Western civilisation is largely built on the foundation provided by the Greeks and Romans. The Roman Empire and its great universal language, Latin, provided the means by which Jewish (and so Christian), Greek and Roman ideas could spread through the West. As a result, Latin and Classical Greek are two of the most influential languages in the world. Over 50% of all English words are Latin in origin, and Ancient Greek accounts for a further 10%.
There are many reasons for learning Latin. As well as its substantial influence upon English, Latin was the language of education, church and state in Europe for 1500 years. Today, six hundred million people speak a Latin-based language. French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are all directly descended from Latin. As for Latin being a “dead” language, it is no more “dead” than Mozart and Beethoven are “dead” music, Shakespeare is “dead” literature and Leonardo da Vinci is “dead” art. The all-pervading influence lives on. Latin also provides a superb knowledge and understanding of grammar and literature – both English and most other European languages. It is a superb educational tool and is universally recognised as one of the best ways of learning about language, as all who have ever learned it will know.
However, there is much more to Latin and Greek than just studying vocabulary. The study of both languages gives students a unique insight into how two ancient worlds have shaped our own. Modern western civilisation owes a considerable amount to the Greeks and Romans. As well as providing the foundations for our own languages, ancient ideas about philosophy, politics, religion, history, drama, maths, science, culture and art underpin the dependence of many institutions in modern western society on models from the ancient world. The close access to ancient literature provided by Latin and Greek, which is read in the original at both GCSE and A level, also serves to draw a pupil’s attention to further fascinating aspects of classical civilisation and culture.
At Caterham, we firmly believe that the study of Latin and Greek is important both as a way of developing a sensitive and reasoned approach to language and in promoting a pupil’s wider awareness of the thoughts and ideas that have shaped his or her world. A variety of teaching methods are used to develop a pupil’s understanding, ranging from whole class teaching to group work and, where appropriate, project work, debating and oral presentations. Individual support is always available, but pupils are encouraged to think independently in order to develop a logical and analytical approach to their studies. It is expected that pupils should dedicate some time every week to completing their homework and preparation properly, in order that they might feel confident and secure in what they have covered. Exercise books are marked regularly and promptly, and emphasis is always placed on positive suggestions for improvement.
First and Second Year
Pupils who enter the senior school at 11 and opt to take Latin use the newly published Latin Prep, a colourful and up-to-date two volume coursebook aimed at 11 year old beginners. The book, which forms a two year ab initio course, combines the rigorous, grammatical approach to the past with a lively and humourous approach to learning. Pupils also learn about the Romans, and the course incorporates popular aspects of Roman life and history such as entertainment (gladiators, chariot racing, theatre), Roman Britain, the Roman Army and Pompeii. The course deliberately runs in parallel to the syllabus of Common Entrance Level 2, and this enables external candidates joining at 13+ to have covered the same vocabulary and grammar at their own prep schools and thus make a smooth transition upon reaching Caterham.
By the end of the Second Year, pupils will have covered a substantial amount of Latin grammar and will also have learnt about 330 items of vocabulary – about two thirds of the GCSE requirement. This puts any pupil in an enviably strong position with regard to GCSE if he or she opts to continue with Latin in the Third Year and beyond.
For able pupils who have made a good start with Latin, an extra-curricular course in Classical Greek is also offered. The course book used is Greek: A New Guide for Beginners, a newly published coursebook, written by the Head of Department, and aimed at 11-13 year old beginners. Pupils learn the Greek alphabet and cover the syllabus of Common Entrance Greek level 1 over the course of a year. By the end of the 2nd form, pupils will have learnt about 100 items of vocabulary – about a quarter of the GCSE requirement – and have the option of continuing with Greek as a timetabled subject in the Third Year.
Internal and external pupils who continue with Latin at 13 are expected to have reached the minimum standard of Common Entrance Level 2. Regrettably, there is no ab initio Latin course offered at 13+. The coursebook used is Discenda III, an in-house text book written and developed over a seven year period, which is tailored around the demands of the GCSE syllabus. Students learn grammar and the remaining GCSE vocabulary methodically, and, through a mixture of consolidation and practice, fine-tune their language work. Elements of Classical Civilisation are also covered (either in project work, or by using film, video-tapes etc.) to put the linguistic work in context. By the end of the Third Year, pupils will have learnt almost all of the GCSE vocabulary and grammar required by the new syllabus.
Pupils opting to continue with Greek at 13 are expected to have reached the minimum standard of Common Entrance Level 1, and Greek is not offered as an ab initio course in the Third Year. The coursebook used is Hellenikon II and III, another in-house production written and developed over an eight year period, which has been written specifically for 13-15 year olds, and aims to cover the remaining GCSE vocabulary and grammar quickly and efficiently. By the end of the third Year, pupils will have learnt about three-quarters of the required vocabulary and grammar, and will be very well placed to gain an excellent grade at GCSE.
Fourth and Fifth Year
It is important to emphasise that Latin and Greek, if taken in the Fourth and Fifth Form, should not be seen only as possible choices for exceptionally gifted linguists. Both subjects at GCSE offer interested pupils an appealing and varied mixture of language work, literature (read in the original) and classical studies. Any pupil who has made a good start with either language, and who is interested and prepared to work, is capable of gaining high grades at GCSE, especially since much of the hard work will already have been covered. There is also no coursework in either subject.
Pupils who opt for Latin and/ or Greek as GCSE options in the Fourth and Fifth Year will already have learnt the majority of the vocabulary and grammar required. In the Fourth Form, pupils complete the linguistic requirements for GCSE, consolidate their work with extensive practice and revision questions and, time permitting, start work on the verse and prose set texts (such as Virgil, Catullus, Caesar and Tacitus) which are then completed in the Fifth Year. The coursebook used in Latin is Discenda IV, a newly produced two hundred page in-house textbook, which covers the remaining ground for GCSE and contains copious exercises and opportunities for consolidation. Further booklets are also produced for each of the set texts and for the classical studies topics; each contains the Latin text with notes, translations, vocabulary, background, practice questions, glossaries and so on. These booklets are invaluable revision tools and help candidates to focus precisely on their preparation and revision in these areas.
Similar resources are provided in Greek: the newly completed in-house textbook Hellenikon IV, revised for the new GCSE syllabus, covers the remaining GCSE grammar and vocabulary and provides abundant practice exercises on every new grammar topic; and booklets are also produced for each of the Greek set texts (usually Herodotus or Thucydides and Homer) containing similar resources to their Latin counterparts.
In order to further stimulate interest in Latin and Greek a programme of theatre and museum trips and foreign excursions is run.
Latin and Greek are offered at AS and A2 Level in the Sixth Form. These combine literature with history, and assume a good grade (preferably an A or A*) at GCSE. Here, the aim is to provide as broad a scope as possible with regard to classical literature, which is studied in genres (History, Comedy, Tragedy and so on). Language work is consolidated through grammar and vocabulary revision, progressively more difficult unseen translation and also some translation from Latin or Greek into English, and vice versa. Background classical studies work is also covered, involving a deeper understanding of Roman or Greek history and their political institutions.
When taken at AS or A2, Latin lends itself particularly well to combination with other languages such as English, French, Spanish, German and, of course, Greek, but it also combines well with humanities such as History, and also Maths and Science; its tag as “the science of the humanities” makes skills such as logical thought, close analysis of data and methodical application just as compatible with science-based subjects as they are with arts subjects, where there are obvious comparisons and connections in terms of similar language and literature. An A level in Latin or Greek lends academic credibility to any university application; aspiring doctors, scientists, journalists, lawyers, linguists and historians are a few of the many obvious beneficiaries of a good classical education, but any potential employer will value the academic kudos and analytical prowess that a qualification in Latin or Greek brings with it.
Kristian Waite MA (Oxon), PGCE (King’s College, London), Head of Classics
Kris was educated at Brentwood School, Essex, and Keble College, Oxford. Whilst at Keble, he co-founded IMSOC (the Indie Music Society) in 1989, which remains one of the largest Oxford University societies. He spent much of the next three years organising concerts, interviewing bands and reviewing records by The Fall and Nirvana that no-one else wanted to. He has been teaching Latin and Greek for over fifteen years and is the author of Classical Greek for Beginners (Galore Park, 2002) and co-author of An Introduction to Classical Greek (Galore Park, 2012) and Greek Stories: A GCSE Reader (Bloomsbury, 2012). He is a member of the Common Entrance examination setting teams for Latin and Greek and has spoken at JACT, SATIPS, IAPS and IPD conferences on approaches to teaching classical subjects. He can be contacted via [email protected]
Mathew Owen MA (Oxon)
A former Head Boy, Mathew left Caterham in 2004. In 2009, he took a first-class degree in Classics at Brasenose College, Oxford via 93 consecutive essay crises. At Brasenose, Mathew rowed for the college 1st VIII, founded the Brasenose Opera Society, and was Captain of Cricket. Mathew teaches Latin and Greek throughout the School and also runs the Latin Oxbridge programme for the department, delivering extension classes and managing early university applications in Classics. He is the author of two books widely used by Sixth Formers and undergraduates: Ovid Unseens (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Prose Unseens: A guide through Roman history (Bloomsbury, 2017). He has also co-authored an academic commentary on Book XV of Tacitus’ Annals. Outside of the classroom, Lt Owen is the Training Officer in the CCF contingent, a rugby coach and a House Tutor in Lewisham. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Mrs Becky Hunter BA (Oxon)
Becky returned to teaching after a career break looking after her three children. Previously she was Head of Classics at Hazelwood School, a local preparatory school.Back to Academic Departments