If anyone has looked at the course and has comments, I'd be glad to have them and to pass them on here. David Cartwright's own selling pitch on eBay is here.
Nota bene: Latin is back
David Cartwright has developed a thoroughly modern way to teach the classical language
No more Latin, no more French, no more sitting on the old school bench…” So went the old end-of-term celebration rhyme, putting Latin first in the list of things children would be glad to see the back of.
David Cartwright teaches Latin at Dulwich College, but his internet classes are equally popular
Latin had a bad press for generations. It was regarded as dull, difficult and dead. But things have changed in recent years: modern course material focusing on the rich variety of Roman life, film and video, TV dramas, documentaries and the internet have brought the Romans and their language to life.
So Latin is no longer dull and, far from being dead, is enjoying a new lease of life. It cannot be made easy, but it is certainly more accessible. Sadly, though, in spite of the reinvigoration of the subject, the number of children studying it has declined, not least because Latin, once so widely compulsory, is now no longer even on offer in many schools.
When it is available, it has to compete with other subjects, usually modern languages. In my school, that means German, Italian, Spanish and even Mandarin, alternatives that are inevitably seen as more “relevant”.
However, Latin is beginning again to stand on its own two feet. The pupils who choose it confront a real intellectual challenge and are better equipped than ever before to appreciate the language in its broad cultural context.
Parents approve, too, and many react enthusiastically, even passionately. As one told me: “I loved Latin and am very sorry I didn't take it further. My son is so lucky. I think it's an important and undervalued subject and I wish I could take it up again.”
Now, some of these supporters of the Classics are perhaps getting a little carried away, but others are clearly genuine. So, too, are the increasing numbers who express regret that they never had the chance to learn Latin at school. Thirty years of teaching the subject and talking to parents suggest to me that there is plenty of interest in Latin – but how best to satisfy it?
For many, perhaps, the prospect of taking it up is just too daunting. Most course books are, naturally enough, designed to be used by teachers and are aimed at children. Evening classes are often inconvenient, and Latin is not always available. Private tuition, if you can get it, is expensive. The average busy, working adult lacks time and energy: it is easier not to bother.
What kind of course, I began to wonder, might tempt him or her to make the effort? A teach-yourself course, easily accessible and reasonably priced, would be ideal. Students would then be able to do the course at their own pace, at a time and place of their choosing, unencumbered by the demands of fellow learners, formal lessons, inflexible programmes and deadlines.
I have written such a course, taking the student up to GCSE level in 50 lessons. It is for sale on Ebay, the online market place (www.ebay.co.uk). Each lesson consists, when printed, of between three and five A4 pages and contains some new grammar or syntax, some vocabulary, some explanation or theory and some exercises with answers. Lessons cost 99p each and can be bought, singly or in a sequence, at any time to suit the buyer. You work when you wish and you cannot fall behind.
The tone of the course is fairly rigorous and traditional. It eschews the colourful cartoon characters and speech bubbles that can be found in many modern language courses and are apparently considered essential if the attention of today's children is to be engaged. It is designed to appeal to adults who want a no-nonsense approach and to intelligent, academically minded students who feel patronised and frustrated by text books that look like comics.
The course requires some rote learning and includes translation exercises both from and into Latin. It does not shy away from linguistic jargon, but gives clear definitions of all terms used. The links between Latin and English are often referred to in the hope that the course will indirectly shed light on the workings of the latter.
Latin is famously “logical”, but it is a language, and a sophisticated one, not a mere intellectual puzzle. It is, of course, impossible to weave much linguistic subtlety into the early stages of learning, but Latin's remarkable flexibility of word order is illustrated from the beginning, in the hope that the student will soon become acclimatised to a mode of communication that is profoundly different in this one crucial aspect from his own. The student should even develop some feeling for the rudiments of good Latin style.
The majority of my new students are doing the course out of general interest, some of them parents and children together, but others – historians, lawyers, medics – are looking for some knowledge of Latin to help them in their professional lives. Their reactions have been very encouraging: the lay-out, clarity of explanation, pace and variety have all met with approval.
For more details of the course, including users' comments and feedback, go to http://www.ebay.co.uk and search under: “The Latin language lives! Learn now! Lessons by e-mail.” And, while you have the site open, why not treat yourself to a lesson?
# The author teaches Latin at Dulwich College in south London.