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Players will play, haters will hate, and Latin students will translate… Taylor Swift’s lyrics, to improve their grammar and vocabulary.
Cambridge scholar Steven Hunt, who has been teaching classical language for 35 years and training teachers, says he uses popular songs like those of Quick could excite a new generation.
Many learned about the subject from Lucius Caecilius – a banker who lived in Pompeii in the first century AD – who figures prominently in textbooks for the Cambridge Latin course.
However, Mr Hunt says he is “horrified” to have once taught stories about Caecilius’ family that trivialize slavery and stereotype female characters, in a new textbook on the subject.
He cites other ways to get people involved, including a college professor asking students to translate the chorus of Swift’s Bad Blood – “Cause baby, now we got bad blood” – to “Quod, care , nunc malum sanguinem habemus”, and a YouTube channel imagining how the song Frozen Let It Go might have sounded in ancient Rome.
Students can also improve their understanding of grammar and vocabulary by reading and writing Latin fanfiction, says his book Teaching Latin.
He also argues that the way the ancient world is depicted in common beginners’ textbooks may include misleading stereotypes.
“Students need to see themselves in textbooks and they also need to see others – the marginalized, the unheard and the unseen,” Mr Hunt said.
A 2021 British Council language trends survey found a ‘gap’ between private and public schools for teaching the classics, with 65% of independent schools offering Latin GCSEs and one in three offering Ancient Greek, compared to 9% and less than 2% of public schools respectively.
Addressing the diversity of students taking the subject, the academic says he thinks it is improving, but if “Latin’s role as a gatekeeper to an elite education is over…involving more students, especially in public schools, remains a problem”.
He continues, “At the school level, there are three main challenges: increasing access, attracting and retaining a more diverse student body, and improving the representation of the diversity of the ancient world itself in school resources.
“The challenge for teachers in the years to come will be whether they are ready to seize these opportunities to present the subject differently and broaden the appeal for students, or whether they prefer to stick to familiar routines. .”
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