Academic journal article Akroterion

Reassessing Latin Pedagogy: A Proposed Model for South African Learners

Academic journal article Akroterion

Reassessing Latin Pedagogy: A Proposed Model for South African Learners

Article excerpt


Since the 2nd century AD every generation have lamented the decline of classical studies--even during the Renaissance humanists engaged themselves in desperate attempts to save the classics from oblivion (Beard 2011). At present instruction of classical languages is yet again under threat in schools and universities across the world where many departments of classics had to close. The decline of classical studies has been attributed to many factors, varying from the traditional and negative association with imperialism and elitism (Ball & Ellsworth 1989b:56), to more recent criticism that is aimed at narrow-minded teaching strategies--a condemnation of the 'most mind numbing form of pedagogy' (Beard 2011). Such serious accusations call for radical adjustments to Latin pedagogy--once again to prevent the extinction of Latin in a modern curriculum. In her review article Beard notes that 'the sense of imminent loss' has had a positive outcome in the sense that it has inspired classicists and given them an 'edginess' to foster the classical tradition. (2) The review of literature in this article will prove that modern day Latin lecturers and teachers have indeed taken up the challenge and have put innovative new ways of teaching Latin into practice. Their aim is to make the study of Latin not only pleasant but also more viable in a rapidly changing environment.

At the two extremes of the methodology spectrum lie the 'philological model' or 'grammar-and-translation' method and the 'living language' method or 'humanist model'. A short overview of both the 'philological' and the 'living language' methods together with their respective advantages and shortcomings will provide the context for a proposed instructional strategy which incorporates the most valuable elements of present day Latin pedagogy.

The philological or grammar-and-translation method

The philological method concentrates on the morphology and syntax of Latin, the memorisation of grammatical rules and the eventual reading, or 'meticulous deciphering' (Ball & Ellsworth 1989b:55; 1996:82) of classical texts in the original. The method had its origin in the 19th century when Latin was no longer spoken and its study was justified as an intellectual discipline to train the mind and expose it to the riches of ancient Latin literature (Ball & Ellsworth 1989b:55). The central objective for secondary and university Latin, based on this traditional method of Latin instruction is often still 'the progressive development of ability to read and understand Latin'. (3)

The main advantages (4) of this method lie in its contribution to excellent foundations in grammar, English vocabulary and linguistics, and an increased ability to learn foreign languages. (5) Since Latin has such a precise, fixed and logical structure, a method based on the grammar and syntax of the language may contribute to the development of analytical skills.

The traditional problem associated with this method is the 'large swathes of rote-memorized, poorly understood, and seldom used paradigmatic information' (Carpenter 2000:394-395). The most serious critique that supporters of the living language method level against this method, however, is that students experience the Latin text as a difficult code which they must decipher, rather than a language which naturally expresses meaning (Deagon 1991:60, Gruber-Miller 2005:89). (6) Taught in this way, Latin is accessible only to students who think well in analytical and abstract ways while there are a number of students who find an analytical discussion of any language very difficult (Deagon 1991:69, Wills 1998:31).

Some authors link the drastic decline in student numbers towards the end of the last century directly to the grammar-and-translation method: 'Unfortunately today's students still study the classical languages primarily from textbooks based on the grammar-translation method, yielding a mortality-rate perhaps unprecedented in any field of study' (Ball & Ellsworth 1989b:55). …

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