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Why Teach Latin?

Finding out about ‘The World Within a Word’ 

Teaching Latin at Primary School - Key Stage 2

Size Matters. A word hoard of about 50,000 – 60,000 is the vocabulary pupils need to have gathered when they leave school to thrive academically and beyond. We know that 60% of our English lexicon (a fancy name for vocabulary) is drawn from a combination of Latin and Greek origins, with the more technical vocabulary of school reaching even higher to something like 90%.  

A single Latin root can generate over 100 words. So, 10 roots can give a child more than 1,000 words they can decrypt on their own. 

Compelling stuff. And it’s just one of the reasons why the team at Woodlands Primary School in Sheffield is taking the leap to begin teaching all Key Stage 2 children Latin.  

What’s the point of teaching a ‘dead language’ like Latin? 

Latin is a language,
Dead as dead can be, 
First it killed the Romans,
Now it’s killing me!

Assistant Headteacher, Sarah Bustamante, has been researching the huge benefits of teaching primary school children Latin, and it’s hard to argue against it! Sarah says,

My own experience as a teacher is that children love finding out about ‘the world within a word’.  It proves fun, challenging and for many children, it can unleash a love of learning.

Word depth is integral for understanding what we read and how we communicate successfully in academic contexts. Although we (at Woodlands) always plan and teach vocabulary deliberately and specifically, we think that this alone is too shallow an approach. Instead, we want to plumb the rich depths of words that can unlock essential knowledge and understanding. 

Our knowledge of the words is inextricably bound to our knowledge of the world. Words have depth, their own histories and biographies which reveal to us human history. When children learn the story and the deeper meaning of the word it can make it more memorable and ‘sticky’ in long term memory.   

Don’t just take our word for it. Children at our school will always tell us what they think. It’s early days with our Latin curriculum, but already the Year 5s are full of praise. 

I think learning Latin is cool, I learnt that without Latin we wouldn't have a language containing the vocabulary we have today. 
Ethan, Year 5  

I think it was interesting doing Latin and I have already learned so many words and where they came from!
Alfred, Year 5 

How many primary schools teach Latin in the UK?

Just 4% of state primary schools in the UK teach Latin, but that number is growing by the day. Woodlands Primary is one of 2 known primary schools in Sheffield teaching Latin as the foreign language. 

Do children at primary school have to learn a language?

All children in Key Stage 2 at primary school must be taught a foreign language, and this can include an ancient language such as Latin. Woodlands Primary School teaches Latin for 30 minutes a week to all Key Stage 2 children (from September 2022).  

Examples of English words with Latin roots, and why this helps children learn English

In the teaching of History, we use words such as ‘democracy’ and ‘monarchy’ – but do we really help pupils make rich connections between these words?  The suffix ‘cracy’ means ‘power’, ‘Demo’ means ‘people’ (so ‘people power’) Then ‘archy’ meaning ‘rulership’, and ‘mono’ means one/alone (so one person ruling). 

The word ‘science’ itself comes from the root ‘skein’ meaning ‘to cut’.  You can see it hidden in words like ‘scythe’ and ‘scissors’ but also in the word ‘science’ meaning ‘separating out’ information. 

Learning Latin is a brilliant way to support children’s literacy. It helps children make connections between Latin and English grammar and vocabulary, and gives them the key to unlock English.
Dr Lorna Robinson, Founder of the Iris Project

Illustration from Minimus, a Latin course for younger children published by Cambridge University Press. Courtesy of Helen Forte, illustrator of the Minimus books. 

If you'd like to find out more about our approach to teaching our children Latin, please contact us and ask for Sarah Bustamante.