YEAR 8 (1)
Introduction to Classical Greek/ Greek to GCSE yr. 1
The Classical debate There is a debate within Classical Education circles as to whether the study of both Latin and Greek are necessary if a curriculum is to really qualify as ‘Classical’. I can’t answer that question, but I do know from teaching my own children – and from the evidence of countless others – that studying classical languages unquestionably helps a child to develop a logical mind and a habit of close observation. There’s no room for vagueness in Latin and Greek: they both teach precision of thought and expression. The study of Greek leads to the ability to read not only some great classical literature but also the New Testament in its original language. As Catholics, we have a vested interest in Latin since it was our liturgical language for 1969 years (and for an increasing number of us, still is). If your children attend the Latin form of the Mass, they can only benefit from studying the language in greater detail (and your boys may even have the added advantage, as mine do, of already knowing the server’s responses by heart).
If you’re still sceptical, read what Pope John XXIII had to say about the study of Classical languages: “It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens wits and gives keenness of judgement. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.” (Veterum Sapientia).
And if you wonder why ‘grasping things accurately’ is so important, listen to what Cardinal Newman wrote in his ‘Idea of a University’:
“One main portion of intellectual education, of the labours of both school and university, is to remove the original dimness of the mind’s eye; to strengthen and perfect its vision; to enable it to look out into the world right forward, steadily and truly; to give the mind clearness, accuracy, precision; to enable it to use words aright, to understand what it says, to conceive justly what it thinks about, to abstract, compare, analyze, divide, define, and reason, correctly.”
In days gone by, Latin grammar was one of the primary means by which these various skills were acquired and perfected, and it still does the job perfectly well.
If you want to read in more detail the arguments in favour of putting Latin and Classics at the centre of your curriculum, you might like to read ‘The Latin Centred Curriculum’ by Andrew Campbell. Although personally I think it would be very difficult to implement this curriculum in full with a typical family, it does have good advice to offer and suggests a number of useful resources. It is not easy to find cheaply, though, and many of the arguments can be found on Classical education websites.
Latin and Greek are two subjects in which you can actually take a GCSE rather than an IGCSE as the subjects are assessed by exam only. These exams are offered by OCR and consist of four papers each, incorporating two language and two literature papers, but they also have options for ‘Sources for Latin’ and ‘Sources for Classical Greek’ which enable the pupil to take only one literature paper. There is also a ‘Short Course’ GCSE in which the pupil needs to sit only two papers, one language and one literature. NB as of 2018 the new 1-9 system will apply to this topic as to all GCSEs, and there will be some changes to the specification (notably one long paper rather than two short ones will be set on language). If your child will be taking Latin in or after 2018 – as with any GCSE exam – be sure to check the updated specifications.
CIE also offer an IGCSE in Latin (though not Greek) which appears simpler than the GCSE inasmuch as it consist only of two papers, one language and one literature.
Greek is a bit more obscure a subject than Latin but worth having a go at. It seems intimidating but some children really love it, particularly those who have enjoyed studying Latin.
The general consensus seems to be that a child should have studied Latin for a couple of years before tackling Greek and that’s the approach we’ve taken thus far (in fact we’ve not started it before age 14 yet), but there’s no harm trying it earlier depending on a child’s interest and aptitude. If you have no knowledge whatsoever of Greek, it is worth leaving it until the child is old enough to teach himself via a book or course (again, this would probably be 14+).
There are many books and online courses available, especially if you want to study, or at least start with, Koine (New testament Greek) rather than Classical Greek (the former is easier as it has a much more limited vocabulary and syntax). These are often aimed at a young age group as they are produced by Christian homeschoolers who want their children to study the scriptures. ‘In the beginning’ is a free online course which has been recommended to me (and has a very apt name!).
For Classical Greek from scratch I’d recommend either ‘An Introduction to Classical Greek’ from Galore Park, or ‘Greek to GCSE Part 1’ by John Taylor (again, as with the Latin, Mr. Taylor is very helpful with answers and assistance). The title of the Galore Park book suggests that it is aimed at a more basic level than the Taylor book, and whilst I haven’t used the Galore Park book, from the detailed reviews I’ve read there does not seem to be much difference in terms of levels of complexity. Greek is never going to easy!
Again, there is plenty of material available online to help with studying Classical Greek. There is a course linked directly to the Taylor book on memrise which is effective yet quite ‘fun’ to do (along the lines of Duolingo). Eton have also put online their own ‘Eton Greek Software Project’ which is more limited in scope than the memrise course, but very helpful for revision. Quizlet also has plenty of vocabulary tests available.