Whoever thought that the ancient language Latin was “dead" and that learning Latin held no benefits for our modern youth, might have to rethink this notion.
When visiting Stellenbosch University's (SU's) department of Ancient Studies, based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, on a Friday afternoon, one soon discovers that Latin classes can play an integral part in school children's learning process.
At 15:00 every Friday, up to 70 Grade 8 and 9 learners from Kayamandi, Cloetesville, Lückhoff, Stellenbosch and Rhenish Girls' High Shool and Paul Roos Gymnasium gather at the department for their free lessons to journey into this ancient language.
According to Prof Annemaré Kotzé, Head of the department, the project was launched in June 2019 to serve the Faculty of Arts and Social Science's vision of broadening access to SU, especially to learners from under-resourced communities, as it improves university readiness and academic literacy in learners. Since its inception, it has grown from five to 70 learners.
Kotzé says Latin vocabulary acquisition can contribute to greater ease in reading scholarly books and articles, often written in sophisticated academic English.
“Our specific and very important contribution to broadening access would lie in contributing to academic literacy and university readiness in general for these learners," she notes.
“Learning an ancient language like Latin develops precision, attention to detail, interpretive abilities and critical thinking. These are all skills that we find are not well developed enough in the majority of first-year students when they arrive at university," Kotzé explains.
Kotze hopes the project will result in sustained and significant improvement in the academic performances of the learners and that the access to this type of learning and familiarity with and access to the University will lead to broadened university access for previously excluded communities.
As the project has grown, the number of volunteers have also increased to 15–20 volunteers. They are all SU students keen on developing their teaching skills and honing their knowledge of the Latin language while fostering a sense of responsibility and participation in the wider community.
For Shani Viljoen, a student at the Ancient Studies Department and one of the teachers at the programme, the classes are about social contact between groups who may not normally come into contact with each other.
“It's so nice starting them all in a new subject where no one is at an advantage. I love witnessing them engage with each other and learning together. We hope that this project is a place of safety for them. This project is also good for those attending single-gender schools to interact with the opposite gender in a classroom environment for the first time in their school careers."
Viljoen adds that one of the challenges has been securing funding for the project. “Some of our learners rely solely on us to provide them with transport. We also want to get to a place where we are able to give each learner a sandwich and juice after or before the classes."
She says the influence the learners' knowledge of Latin has on their English vocabulary is gauged through small informal tests.