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Mon, 9 Feb 2009 18:08:05 -0600
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Meeting the Challenge: International Perspectives on the Teaching of Latin. 
Edited by BOB LISTER. Cambridge Learning. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge 
University Press, 2008. Pp. viii + 168. Paper, $39.95. ISBN 

Order this text for $39.95 from Amazon.com using this link and 
benefit CAMWS and the Classical Journal:


Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Forum Online Exclusive 2009.02.02

If the title of this book—at least the first half—seems familiar to 
readers of this review, it may be because it was used, with a different 
subtitle, for a conference held in Venice, Italy, in 2008, whose call for 
papers on the Internet had an enticing photo of its venue, Venice 
International University, on the island of San Servolo. The book under 
review contains selected papers from an earlier conference, held at 
Cambridge University in 2005, devoted to new approaches to teaching Latin. 
The intent of the Venice conference was to continue and extend the 
conversation begun in Cambridge. If the more recent conference had any of 
the success of the previous one, it is greatly to be hoped that a volume 
like the one under review will be produced from it as well.

Meeting the Challenge: International Perspectives on the Teaching of Latin 
is, to put it simply, a wonderful read. For anyone interested in the 
teaching of Latin at any level, this book has much to offer. While some may 
want to focus more on one chapter than another, I found the entire volume 
an exhilarating exploration of the challenges, opportunities and successes 
of Latin teaching in current times. Each chapter has something to offer.

The volume, edited by Bob Lister of the Faculties of Education and Classics 
at the University of Cambridge and a former secondary school teacher, 
contains an Introduction by the editor; eleven papers from the Cambridge 
conference, appropriately modified for publication; and an Index. While 
“International Perspectives” would ideally be somewhat more 
geographically inclusive than this volume is—and perhaps that could be 
seen as a goal for future volumes on the teaching of Latin—the 
contributors do come not only from Europe, but from North America as well. 
North American readers in particular will be interested to note that Lister 
cites the American Classical League as “the inspiration for the 
conference in Cambridge” (p. 8). He writes admiringly of the presence of 
college and university faculty as well as school teachers at the ACL Annual 
Institute and mentions the continuing presence there of attendees from 
overseas (p. 1). While many who attend the Institute know its value, seeing 
this noted in a publication from overseas is noteworthy.

The book is arranged according to four main topics: “Latin in the 
curriculum” (Chapters 1–3), “Developing independent readers of 
authentic texts” (Chapters 4–5), “ICT and Latin teaching” (Chapters 
6–9), and “Advice for securing the future of Latin” (Chapters 
10–11). These topics reflect the book’s attention to the current state 
of Latin studies in various places, new ways to teach students to read 
Latin, the importance of new technology, and the need to keep the study of 
Latin alive. While some chapters address broad issues and others focus on 
particular teaching initiatives, all touch in one way or another on what it 
means to teach Latin at this particular point in time.

David Taylor’s “Inspection and introspection: classics teaching in 
England over four decades,” which opens the section on Latin in the 
curriculum, offers an enlightening history of the many changes that have 
occurred in Latin instruction in England, especially starting in the 1960s 
and 1970s, from the perspective of a teacher and education overseer as A 
(Advanced) Level Chief Examiner, Executive Secretary of JACT (Joint 
Association of Classical Teachers), Her Majesty’s Inspector, and Director 
of Inspection for Ofsted, the official body for inspecting schools. [[1]] 
These changes include the introduction of the reading approach to Latin in 
The Cambridge Latin Course, and the later addition of Ecce Romani and the 
Oxford Latin Course; the dropping of the requirement that students at 
Oxford and Cambridge Universities have passed O (Ordinary) level exams in 
Latin (and the subsequent drop in pre-college Latin enrollments); and the 
more recent advent of the National Curriculum and its effect on the study 
of Latin. Taylor makes a compelling argument for the necessity of teaching 
Latin not only as a repository of grammatical information, but as a vibrant 
language with a literature to be understood and engaged with, if the field 
is to flourish and a wide group of students is to be taught successfully.

Panos Seranis, in “Poor relation or necessary evil? The place of Latin in 
the Greek curriculum,” offers a fascinating discussion of the place of 
Latin study in Greece today and the reasons for it. He argues that a 
suspicion of Latin developed from its position as the imperialist, 
barbarian language of the conqueror and continued historically through the 
separation of the empires into Greek East and Latin West, as well as the 
isolation of Greek from Latin Europe under the Ottoman Empire. While Latin 
was a required subject at one point, in 1967 it began to be taught only to 
students on the humanities route, about a third of the upper level 
secondary school population (p. 22). [[2]] This contrasts dramatically with 
the required and extensive study of Classical Greek. Seranis argues that 
the fixed grammar-translation approach does not lend itself to appreciating 
Latin as literature or as part of a larger cultural context. [[3]] Seranis 
points to the untapped value of Latin study as a tool for understanding the 
dynamic interaction of Greek and Roman culture, as well as for helping with 
the study of many modern European languages.

Laurien Crump, in “A contemporary subject for contemporary Europe: the 
much-disputed role and relevance of Latin at Dutch gymnasia,” moves the 
geographical focus from England and Greece to the Netherlands. She argues 
for the need to make the study of Latin in the selective gymnasia relevant 
in a post 9/11 world by incorporating more ancient and modern cultural 
connections into language study, as well as more independent thinking based 
on a “shift in emphasis from translation to interpretation” (p. 42).

The section on developing reading strategies for independent readers of 
authentic texts contains two complementary chapters. Deborah Pennell 
Ross’ welcome contribution, “Latin pedagogy at the University of 
Michigan, USA: linear reading using a linguistic perspective,” outlines 
an approach to the teaching of Latin, begun in the 1950s at University of 
Michigan, that has received less exposure than it should. Using insights 
from linguistics, the approach focuses on teaching students to read Latin 
in the order in which it is written. Utilizing features such as 
metaphrasing (which describes how a word functions) and pointing out 
linguistic features like gapping, this approach trains students to develop 
expectations about what will follow in a Latin sentence. I found Ross’ 
description of “top-down” and “bottom-up” readers particularly 
interesting for its usefulness in identifying reasons for particular 
reading strengths and weaknesses. [[4]] The Michigan Latin Templates, 
designed to incorporate these techniques, regardless of textbook used, 
especially with secondary school teachers, could be quite valuable. [[5]]

Toon Van Houdt’s “The strategic reading of Latin (and Greek) texts: a 
research-based approach,” emerges from a project at the Catholic 
University of Leuven in Belgium to develop a new course for first-year 
students who have already had the basics of the languages at secondary 
school. Using some of the same techniques that Ross describes (attention to 
top-down and bottom-up issues) and attempting to model good reading 
strategies in order to develop independent readers, Van Houdt emphasizes 
how much teaching training is needed when a program revamps its pedagogical 

The volume’s largest section is devoted to Latin and technology. In 
“Increasing access to Latin in schools,” Will Griffiths, Director of 
the University of Cambridge School Classics Project (CSCP), the curriculum 
used in the majority of schools in the UK that offer Latin, discusses 
recent and not so recent crises affecting Latin enrollment in UK schools 
(cf. Ch. 1), including the 1988 introduction of the Education Reform Act, 
which forced all state-maintained schools to teach specific subjects. Since 
Latin was not included as a major course, enrollments understandably 
dropped. One response to this crisis was the development of CSCP’s Online 
Latin Project, with support from a government funded initiative involving 
e-learning materials. This project involved blended learning (use of 
electronic and non-electronic materials), many non-specialist teachers, and 
attention to independent learning. According to Griffiths, much remains to 
be done to make Latin available to the whole student population, not just 
those of high ability. He argues that the presentation of the language as 
too difficult for the general population has led to its decline.

In “Did you catch that word? Latinum electronicum: an interactive online 
Latin course for university beginners,” Irene Burch, Simone Hiltscher and 
Rudolf Wachter discuss a web-based course for teaching beginning Latin to 
university students at four Swiss universities. Like the CSCP’s Online 
Latin project, the course received government funding under a program 
designed to encourage the introduction of e-learning, and also involves 
blended learning. Its aim was to maintain high quality instruction with an 
increase in class size. This course was uniquely designed for native 
speakers of three different languages, Italian, French and German.

Steve Hunt, in “Information and communication technology and the teaching 
of Latin literature,” shares his experience using whiteboard technology 
and English translations to speed up the Latin learning process, make it 
more collaborative, and develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of 
Latin literature in his secondary school classroom in the UK. One feature 
some may find surprising is that students are provided with a copy of a 
published English translation of the Latin text on which they are working. 
Hunt finds that this helps the students to become familiar with the 
material before going into it in depth in Latin and provides them with 
something for comparison as they compose their own translations.

In “Technology is culture: a new opportunity for teaching and learning 
Latin,” Licia Landi articulates successfully the ways in which the use of 
ICT can and should affect our pedagogy. Utilizing electronic sources for a 
wide range of texts, as well as teaching techniques that help students use 
these sources intelligently (her class project involved Cicero and the 
notion of humanitas), Landi shows how student learning and research can be 
transformed in a positive direction through effective use of ICT.

The volume’s concluding two chapters, which look to the future, “Latin 
and European language history” by Rudolf Wachter and “Promotion of the 
classics in the United States: new initiatives for a new millennium” by 
Kenneth Kitchell, are smart, enthusiastic and practical appeals to the 
profession for keeping the study of Latin alive and growing. Wachter, who 
is project leader for Latinum electronicum (cf. Ch. 7), and Kitchell, who 
was president of the American Classical League at the time of the original 
Cambridge conference, are appropriate voices to issue a call to future 
work. Wachter argues that Latin must be sold to volunteers as an exciting 
subject. Its appeal can be as the mode of mediation of Greek thought, but 
also as the experience of a language that had great impact on Europe and 
beyond. Using the Internet and other sources, classicists must convince 
others that the study of Latin can be “fun, easy and useful” (p. 139). 
Kitchell traces the history of Latin studies in his lifetime in the USA 
from its relatively secure place in the curriculum to its steep decline in 
the 1970s, and the efforts that then developed to actively promote the 
study of the language. Kitchell pays tribute to Richard LaFleur, who helped 
guide many of these efforts, such as the formation of the Committee for the 
Promotion of Latin. Strategies noted by Kitchell include combining wide 
publicity about the value of Latin study with information for local schools 
and increased cooperation between the American Classical League (the North 
American classics organization with a more pedagogical orientation) and the 
American Philological Association (one with a more scholarly orientation). 
In addition, the very popular (and now international) National Latin Exam, 
begun in 1977, and the Junior Classical League have had a substantial 
effect upon interest in and success with Latin studies for a wide group of 
students at the secondary level. An important new initiative is the 
National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week, which attempts to focus attention 
on the Latin teacher shortage in the USA. Kitchell points out that the 
decline in Latin enrollments at the secondary level means that many 
classics majors in college start their Latin there, and that this in turn 
has an impact on both college and graduate classics programs. Kitchell sees 
“outreach and promotion as global concerns” (p. 163), which is perhaps 
a fitting conclusion not only to his chapter, but to the volume as a whole.

Although I wondered a few times whether enough room had been provided in 
the programs under discussion for interrogating as well as valuing the 
legacy of Roman society and culture, the overall impression this book 
provides is of an exciting, appealing and energetic field. Perhaps the 
volume’s greatest contribution lies in broadening our perspective on what 
it means to teach Latin. No single “right way” of teaching Latin 
emerges, thank goodness. But each contributor is self-consciously aware, in 
a refreshing way, of the need to articulate problems, goals, outcomes and 
opportunities. I recommend this book most highly to anyone interested in 
how Latin is being taught today and/or in how it could or should be taught 
in the future. Its move towards a more global perspective is welcome and 

Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY	

[[1]] A glossary of terms for the whole book would have been helpful. Not 
all readers will know what A and O levels are, or be familiar with the 
terms comprehensive school, state school, Ofsted, etc. While some 
information is provided to help readers unfamiliar with local terms and 
practices such as these, more detailed explanations could have served the 
profession by teaching us one another’s “language” for the purposes 
of both the present volume and future international contact.

[[2]] It would have been interesting to know whether or not this 
educational change was connected with the arrival of the junta in 1967.

[[3]] A full citation for the Latin textbook that the Ministry of Education 
has been using for over 25 years would have been helpful (p. 22 n. 2).

[[4]] Top-downers emphasize meaning over form and bottom-uppers, the 
reverse. Obviously both techniques are needed for successful language 

[[5]] Publication or availability details would have been helpful.

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