Modern foreign languages

SSAT Leadership Legacy Fellow, Tanya Hart, Holland Park School, details the importance of studying modern foreign languages and how it transforms the way we learn.

In my experience, life-long learning actually happens far less frequently than it is evoked in the education world. When parents ask me about my studies, and I explain I learnt Latin aged 24, their surprise reveals deep-seated assumptions about education, which simply don’t have to be true.

After having attended evening classes in France which enabled me to teach Latin to GCSE (knowing this would be valued by schools I would apply for), I am truly grateful that 2 years later, my school supported me in attending the King’s College Classics Summer School; I can now offer Latin to A-level. It was such hard work that I even required a stronger glasses prescription upon completion of the course! Yet reading Cicero, Ovid and Horace with world-class lecturers who were patient and skilled more than made up for this.

It feels somewhat paradoxical that I feel more confident and inspired teaching Latin than French (what I was ‘trained’ to teach). I imagine this can be explained by my familiarity with the complexities of the French language (at times preventing me from simplifying for students), my exceptional teachers in Latin, and my delight at simply being able to continue to learn. ‘sapere aude’ indeed.

The benefits for us all are clear: I get to read, expand and broaden my own horizons (isn’t that what we encourage in our own students?) whilst my school can have increasing confidence in offering a niche, yet valuable subject to more students, aware that subject specialists in Latin might be hard to come by, whilst subject specialists who enjoy teaching at secondary are even harder to find (and keep).

In addition, it frees time up for our specialist classicist to expand into teaching Ancient Greek, which has enjoyed great popularity amongst our keen Latinists. One bright student compared it to code-breaking, and several are already sure they will take Latin at A-level. The sense of a growing department gives confidence and inspiration to our university classics applicants – and it will do for years to come.

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