Bloomsbury (2022) p/b 240pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781350161375)
Steven H. begins his Introduction with the following sentence: ‘This book is for teachers who want to teach the Latin as a language, involving listening to, reading, speaking and writing Latin.’ The phrase, ‘teach the Latin’ is presumably a nod to Paul F. Distler’s 1962 book for Latin teachers Teach the Latin, I Pray You, and H.’s current volume situates itself within this tradition of practical handbooks for teachers of Latin in schools and universities. Since 1962, comparatively few books supporting Latin teachers in the classroom have been published and that is one reason why H.’s Starting to Teach Latin was particularly welcome when it was published by Bloomsbury in 2016. Teaching Latin is marketed as ‘Building on and updating some of the issues addressed in Starting to Teach Latin’.
H. is Subject Lecturer of the PGCE in Classics at the University of Cambridge, Editor of the Journal of Classics Teaching, experienced Classics teacher, internationally in-demand deliverer of CPD, consultant and trainer for the Classics for All charity. This is a professional at the cutting edge of developments in teacher education and Classics pedagogy and perfectly placed to bring these together in a readable and accessible form for trainee teachers and for more experienced teachers of Latin.
Modern writing on pedagogy ought to be methodologically sound and based on solid research evidence. The introduction summarizes the key publications in Latin teaching since Rick LaFleur’s Latin for the 21st Century (1998) but H. makes it very clear that large-scale research into how modern students learn Latin is almost non-existent. So, what is the way forward, given the almost total lack of research studies on the teaching and learning of Latin? On the persuasive grounds that Latin is a language like any other, H. draws on the related fields of SLA/SLD (Second Language Acquisition / Development) to provide the theoretical underpinning to his guidance for current teachers.
In the first chapter H. covers the main staples of most school and university Latin lessons: grammar, vocabulary, translation, comprehension, and teaching methods, all of which are covered briefly, as H.’s 2016 book addresses each aspect in far more depth. H. has edited two further books recently on Classics teaching, also published by Bloomsbury: Teaching Classics with Technology (2019) and Communicative Approaches for Ancient Languages (2021). Consequently, Chapter 4 ‘Speaking’, and Chapter 7 ‘The Future: Is It Digital’, are also brief, as the two books already cover these areas thoroughly.
The main substance of the book comprises observations, reflections, practical advice, tips, and suggestions for teachers to enable their students to practise the four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing in their Latin lessons. Lessons incorporating the four skills are par for the course in the world of modern foreign languages (MFL), while Latin teachers, on the other hand, tend to have the rather different aims of preparing pupils to translate unseen texts and to read literature in the original Latin. Why would Latin teachers want or need to introduce speaking, listening, and writing as well as reading in their lessons? There are, H. argues, several reasons why teachers might want to do this. I will draw out two.
First, the research literature on second language acquisition, and the conclusions regarding the practical application of the research in the classroom, strongly suggest that students can improve their reading skill in Latin if they also develop the skills of writing, speaking, and listening. While some teachers may perhaps remain sceptical of the relevance of SLA research to Latin teaching, at least H.’s new book enables the interested teacher to find his or her way into this Labyrinth and out again. Each chapter contains its own separate bibliography, and the text is thoroughly footnoted and referenced.
The second main reason for exploring new ways of teaching Latin is to achieve the important aims of widening access to Classics and improving equality, diversity, and inclusion. There is a chapter specifically dedicated to these issues, Chapter 6 ‘Access, Diversity and Inclusion’. It is there that H. acknowledges what Classics for All has achieved since 2010 by supporting teacher training, resources, and curriculum development in hundreds of primary and secondary schools, often in areas where there has been no previous provision of any classical subject.
Beyond this specific chapter, the values of equality, diversity and inclusion permeate the whole book. H. argues that if Latin teachers want their subject to grow, it will need to grow in the state sector, and the subject will need to attract a wider demographic. Latin’s association with testing for high intellectual ability and its reputation as suitable only for the most academically talented ‘remains a compelling narrative’. However, a more egalitarian narrative is needed. Teaching methods can play a significant role in opening up Latin to new audiences. Just to give one example, H. carefully argues a case for ‘free composition’ to replace traditional ‘prose composition’ exercises. Both require students to write in Latin. But free composition, as a more student-centred practice, is much more likely to provide opportunities for personalized expression and learner autonomy, and these are amongst the most motivational factors for language learning among students.
Some of H.’s suggestions for teaching activities have been reported in national media. A Mail Online headline, for example, ran: ‘Latin goes woke! Teacher calls for classes to use translations of Taylor Swift lyrics to replace the “sexist” syllabus of old’. The book is bursting with innovative ideas for classroom practice, which H. skilfully evaluates. He openly states that some of the suggestions will be eccentric and fanciful. H. also puts his readers in touch with the places around the world, especially in the US, and online, where innovation in Latin teaching is thriving. H. goes far beyond published academic literature and points the reader towards blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and many other types of digital resources.
Paul F. Distler, in 1962, aimed to help teachers of Latin to become more efficient in their teaching of the reading of Latin. H. is aiming for this too, but also for much more than that. He is guiding the reader in the direction of where modern education is heading. Equality, diversity, and inclusion are becoming increasingly important. H. is providing teachers with a wide range of techniques and approaches which they can adopt to ensure that their teaching practices are evolving with the times. The book is sure to become a very valuable resource for Latin teachers.