Latin and Ancient Greek were once considered central to an academic education in many countries. Latin was the language of much academic discussion until the eighteenth century; it was used since it could be understood by all “educated” people. Latin remains the formal language of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore the official language of the Vatican; it is not, however, used in everyday business. Modern Ancient Greek evolved from Ancient Greek, but the differences between them are very substantial. The official language of Greece was an archaic form of the language, closer to Ancient Greek, until 1976. It was then replaced with the Modern Ancient Greek of everyday speech.
During the second half of the twentieth century, Latin and Ancient Greek were marginalized in many school curricula: they are now rarely compulsory and most pupils do not have the opportunity to study them, especially outside the independent sector. However, classical languages are compulsory in some Italian State-run schools intended for those aiming for a very high level of education: Latin is compulsory in the Liceo Scientifico and both Latin and Ancient Greek are compulsory in the Liceo Classico. In the UK, the AQA examination Board stopped offering examinations in Latin and Ancient Greek in 2006, although the OCR Board is continuing to offer examinations in these subjects.
Where Latin and Ancient Greek are taught in schools, the curriculum usually has two components, translation and interpretation. Translation involves learning the grammar and vocabulary of the languages, in order to translate written passages into one’s own native language. Sometimes, pupils are also required to translate into Latin and Ancient Greek; this requires a very high level of grammatical knowledge. Interpretation involves the critical study of excerpts from classical literature, usually in the original languages. Courses sometimes include an element of historical study of Ancient Greece or Rome. Since Latin and Ancient Greek are no longer in everyday spoken use, pupils are not usually taught how to speak these languages, or how to understand others doing so.
One suggested model for teaching the Classics, at least in the UK, would be for all students to learn classics from the start of secondary school, but have the option to drop it voluntarily at a later stage, such as school Year 9 (age 13) when students usually choose which subjects they will do their GCSE’s in, in favour of continuing a separate language. They would be tested solely on their reading comprehension in relation to the classic texts.
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