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The New Zealand Curriculum.

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The Latin language

Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in Latium, the area immediately surrounding Rome. (Indo-European denotes belonging to, or relating to a family of languages that includes English and many other languages. These languages are characteristically marked by inflection showing gender, number, and case.)

Roman territorial expansion spread Latin throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East as the primary legal and governmental language. The importance of the language was further enhanced by Rome’s conversion to Christianity, and Latin became the lingua franca of the western world for over a thousand years. (Lingua franca denotes a language used for communication among people of different mother tongues.)

Latin has had a significant influence over many modern languages. Vernacular forms of Latin evolved into a number of distinct Romance languages, including Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Romansh, and Spanish. These were for many centuries only oral languages, and Latin continued to be used for written purposes. Many words adapted from Latin are found in other modern languages, for example English, which derives sixty percent of its vocabulary from Latin.

Which form of Latin?

The Latin language is divided by convention into a number of forms or ages. These forms include Archaic or Early Latin, Classical Latin, the Post-Classical Latin of the early Empire, the Latin of Late Antiquity, Ecclesiastical Latin, Medieval Latin, the Latin of the Renaissance Humanists, Neo-Latin, and synthetic Latin.

Latin in the New Zealand Curriculum is based on Latin from the Classical period to Late Antiquity. Latin teachers may wish to explore the rich variations of different forms of the language with their students. While synthetic Latin may feature in teaching and learning programmes, especially in the early levels, the outcomes to be achieved by students relate to the authentic use of Latin (which may be abridged or adapted) in specific contexts.

The Latin alphabet

The Latin alphabet, derived from that of the Etruscans and Greeks, remains the most widely used alphabet in the world. The Latin alphabet of the late Republic and Augustan age contains 23 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, and Z (J, U, and W being added during the Middle Ages).

Romans of the Classical period wrote in capital letters, using majuscule cursive for informal documents and square capitals for formal documents. Lower case (minuscule) letters were not developed until the Middle Ages. These curriculum guidelines recommend the practice of employing lower case letters for all Latin except the initial letter of proper nouns, for example, Roma. Punctuation is used in Latin as it is in English. While diacritical marks such as macrons are not used in examples of Latin, teachers may wish to use them in their own programmes.

Pronunciation of Latin

Attention to correct pronunciation is recommended to assist in the development of reading skills. Accurate pronunciation of consonants such as c and v, long and short vowels, diphthongs such as ae, and general rules of stress accent are best practised and embedded as new vocabulary is acquired. Students can also be made aware of variations in the pronunciation of Latin, for example, between classical and ecclesiastical Latin, and the reasons for them.

Correct pronunciation can be fostered in a variety of ways: students might listen to recordings of Latin passages, read passages of Latin aloud, perform drama in Latin, recite Latin verse, chant verb and noun endings, or complete aural comprehension and dictation exercises. The study of metre in Latin poetry will help students to appreciate the writer’s artistry and intention.

Incorporating an oral and aural element into the teaching of Latin adds variety to lesson delivery, extends the skills base of learners, and stimulates interest in Latin texts. It assists in the acquisition of vocabulary and syntax and attunes the ear to the rhetorical qualities of Latin. Above all, it helps students to understand the meaning of Latin text by encouraging them to group words into sense units at phrase and clause level.

The Relationship between Language and Culture

The primary goal of learning the Latin language is to read and comprehend Roman authors in the original Latin. An understanding of Roman civilisation is therefore essential in order to place these authors in their social, cultural, and historical contexts, and to extract the full range of meanings from the texts. Students will also have opportunities to compare aspects of Roman culture with aspects of their own. Cultural aspects are therefore integrated with the teaching of the language from the outset, rather than isolated and treated separately. This approach helps students appreciate that learning a different language involves much more than simply conveying the same message in different words, and that language and culture are interconnected.

Closely linked with the study of culture is the use of visual texts in teaching, such as images of artefacts, archaeological sites, and simulated reconstructions. Such texts are a valuable aid to the study of the Latin language and Roman civilisation.


Grammar is the organisation of, and relationships between, the elements that constitute a language as it functions. Grammatical structures are the building blocks of effective communication. Students will encounter grammatical structures and terminology, both of which they need to develop and use effectively to build their proficiency in Latin.

Acquisition of grammatical structures is a cumulative process. Students generally learn the simpler structures first and the more complex ones later. Structures are best taught in meaningful contexts, since students are likely to reach higher levels of competence when they are actively engaged in the language learning process, taking part in interesting, relevant activities. Through the use of reference tools such as grammar texts, students develop skills in information-processing that enable them to analyse their own responses and refine their interpretations of texts.


Latin in the New Zealand Curriculum provides guidelines for school-based planning of Latin programmes that are responsive to students’ needs and interests. For that reason, lists of vocabulary are not features. Teachers, with their students, will select vocabulary appropriate to the topics they are studying. Specific teaching of vocabulary should occur at all stages of learning in the contexts of use rather than in isolation. Students should be assisted in using word lists/dictionaries as key reference tools for enhancing their knowledge and refining their skills in linguistic analysis and making meaning. They should be encouraged to keep lists of new words and to develop effective strategies for learning vocabulary.

Proficiency descriptors at each level require that students communicate their understanding of Latin texts with support. Teachers, with their students, will make the best decisions about the extent to which word lists/dictionaries are used in teaching, learning, and assessment.


An important goal of Latin teaching and learning is to enable students to access and understand texts written in Latin and artefacts of Roman civilisation (visual texts, for example, frescoes, sculpture, and architectural forms). For that goal to be achieved, students require assistance. Synthetic Latin can be used in the early stages of Latin learning. As students progress, texts in authentic Latin should be used, although these may be adapted or abridged.

Benefits of learning Latin

New Zealanders share a range of heritages, including European heritage. The Romans and their language, Latin, have made important contributions to this heritage, providing the underpinnings of culture, government, literature, philosophy, art, and professions.

While Latin is no longer spoken as a native language, it is widely studied throughout the world, especially at secondary and tertiary levels. Students from New Zealand are able to continue their learning beyond schooling in national and international institutions.

Language and literacy skills

Learning another language can improve performance in a student’s first language. It is recommended not only for students who have particular strengths in language learning, but also for those who find language and language-related activities challenging. The study of Latin offers an opportunity to explore the nature of language.

A conscious study of Latin grammatical principles and accompanying terminology will benefit learners in their speaking and writing of English. Students may apply their understanding of Latin grammar to improve the accuracy, precision, and conciseness of their use of English and in any further language study.

The study of Latin enables students to enhance their literacy skills in both Latin and English. With their knowledge of Latin, students have direct access to authentic texts and can engage with the original thoughts and ideas of the writers. Knowledge of Latin broadens and deepens a student’s English vocabulary through an understanding of word formation, which is a useful tool when approaching unfamiliar words. Skills developed through the close reading, analysis, and evaluation of texts are essential in the modern day workplace, in everyday life, and in lifelong learning.

Learners of Latin are in a position to extend their knowledge to the learning of other languages. Latin is the linguistic ancestor of modern Romance languages that include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. New Zealand is part of the Pacific rim community, where French, Spanish, and Portuguese are major languages. Through their study of Latin, students can transfer their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar to facilitate their learning of these languages. Through developing their understanding of what constitutes a language and how it is learned, learners of Latin are also well placed to learning any other language(s) in life.

Appreciation of literature

The Roman civilisation produced literature that has influenced centuries of writers. Works of literature in Latin have their own intrinsic value. Latin writings have had a significant influence on world literatures, for example, on their form, genre, style, and references. In studying Roman civilisation, learners of Latin gain a deep understanding of the meanings of the literary texts that demonstrate these influences.

The study of Latin literature gives students an enhanced appreciation of literature by developing in literary criticism such as analysis of language use in context, narrative, argument, imagery, and authorial style. These skills are transferable and may be useful in the study of world literatures and in other disciplines that require rigorous critical analysis.

Literature reflects and establishes cultural identity. Reading and interpreting the works of Latin authors through authentic texts gives access to Roman thought, civilisation, and culture. Learners can then make connections to contemporary thought, issues, and social practices, and gain a deeper understanding of the society in which they live.

The Romans absorbed and extended many of the philosophical, scientific, and ethical ideas of the Greeks, and developed their own enduring legal and political systems, and stories of ethical ways to behave. Students can be encouraged to reflect on the perspectives and social practices they encounter through their study of Latin and Roman civilisation, and consider the values and behaviours they might display in similar circumstances.

Art forms

Learning Latin provides students with an opportunity to appreciate Roman art forms (architecture, mosaic, fresco, relief, and portrait sculpture) and the way these art forms have persisted through the ages, especially in times such as the Renaissance when they have flourished.

Career pathways

In addition to the benefits described above, many Latin words and phrases are used in occupations as diverse as law, trade, engineering, technology, tourism, medicine, the sciences, the arts, the media, and politics. Learners of Latin gain a deep understanding of these terms and their contemporary uses, and enhance their access to the opportunities presented by these professions. The study of Latin provides a wide variety of skills that enhance lifelong learning beyond formal education. Above all, learning Latin can be fun. Enjoyment and a sense of achievement are likely to provide the strongest motivations for learning in the early years.

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