Studying Latin With, Or Despite, The CLC

Please log in to view tutor details
GCSE Latin By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: GCSE Latin
Last updated: 08/04/2018
Tags: cambridge latin course, latin, secondary school

Caecilius est in horto v amo, amas, amat: Latin tuition with – or despite! – the Cambridge Latin Course

The Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) has an awful lot to answer for, not least the line 'Caeciius est in horto' ('Caecilius is in the garden'), the dimly-remembered phrase often quoted by now grown-up ex-students of the course as their chief memory of beginning to learn Latin at school[1]. The CLC was first published in 1970 and over 90% of secondary schools which offer Latin (including the one at which I teach) use it, which explains why Caecilius and co. have gained such a place in the consciousness of the past few generations of Latin learners. As a teacher I have seen what an inspiring introduction to the Latin language and the Roman world it can provide, but also that often students will reach a point in their learning where additional, tailored support beyond the coursebook is needed in order for them to make the best possible progress.

When it was first published, the CLC marked a real departure in the approach to teaching Latin. Before Caecilius made his entrance, the piece of Latin most likely to be recollected from schooldays was 'amo, amas, amat' ('I love, you love, he loves'), indicating the importance placed by previous textbooks on rote-learning grammar and on mental rigour as an end in itself. In contrast, the chief aim of the CLC is to 'teach comprehension of the Latin language for reading purposes', presenting the language 'not as an end in itself, but as a means of gaining access to a literature and the culture from which it springs'. To this end, the book introduces us to Caecilius and his family in the town of Pompeii. Their story develops over the course of the book, each Latin passage fitting into a continuous narrative. Students become fond of the characters and, through following their adventures, they learn about Roman civilisation at the same time as they learn the Latin language. With energetic and responsive teaching, this approach works brilliantly well for getting students interested in Latin and the Roman world: what 11 year old wouldn't be excited to learn about a world of gladiators, slaves, gods and myths? And at the start the language basics come easily!

However, I find that sometimes even the most enthusiastic and talented students can, at a certain point in their Latin studies, reach a bit of a 'sticking point', and it is here that intervention and extra support can make all the difference. In my experience, Latin is often one of the first subjects to challenge young students' study skills. Over time, students need to have more and more vocabulary and grammar committed to their long-term memory and to apply these logically in translation. Students can reach a personal threshold (whether in Year 7 or in Year 12) where the study techniques which have been working successfully for them in Latin until that point – and are still working for them in other subjects - simply aren't sufficient to do the job anymore. This can be quite a shock! It is very easy for students in this scenario to become discouraged and begin to think that they 'aren't good at Latin'. This is very rarely the case. Instead, it normally means that it is time for the student to make some changes to the way they are approaching their studies. To come to this realisation and act upon it requires significant academic maturity and self-awareness, and often Latin is the first subject to challenge young people to reflect on their study skills like this. It is a difficult ask and, I think, one of the biggest potential stumbling-blocks in studying Latin.

As a teacher, one of the things I enjoy most is helping students to grapple with this. I can support students in identifying areas for development, I can help students to revise shaky vocabulary and grammar, I can enable them to reflect on what is and isn't working in their current study habits and I can provide resources, tips and encouragement for how to make progress. Providing additional support for students at this stage makes a huge difference. In the classroom I help students on an individual basis as much as I can and I pride myself on doing a good job, but inevitably within the constraints of a lesson I do not manage to spot every moment of uncertainty, nor can I catch and maximise every moment of dawning understanding or speak in depth with each student about how well their study skills are working for them. However, when working with a student individually, I can give this level of attention for an extended amount of time, enabling them to reflect more deeply and make more progress. Although getting stuck with Latin might seem an insurmountable hurdle, with the right support it need not be. Moreover, the positive experience for a student of addressing the challenge and seeing their efforts rewarded by improved accuracy, confidence and enjoyment can, in turn, begin to encourage them to develop more proactive and mature study habits in general, benefitting their other subjects too.

The CLC, for all its merits, does not by itself offer very much help for students who are beginning to feel insecure in their Latin studies. It is structured to promote 'inductive learning': rather than having new grammar points clearly headed-up and their principles explained (as was the traditional approach), the new grammar is instead embedded immediately in stories without attention being drawn to it. The idea is that 'reading experience precedes discussion and analysis' and students discover and understand the new language feature for themselves; it is not explicitly highlighted until an "About the Language" section in the middle of the chapter, and even then it is explained with as light a touch as possible in order to maintain momentum. The aim is to carry the reader along with the gist of what is going on and avoid them becoming bogged down in grammar theory.  While there are a lot of positives to this approach, sometimes it doesn't entirely work and often students do not absorb the grammar point in full from the CLC's coverage alone. They are carried along with the speed of the course but gradually the areas where their understanding is shaky begin to compromise their levels of success, and so their confidence and enjoyment of the course drops. This is where some additional help can be really powerful.

An important part of teaching is to pay close attention to each student's personal learning style and needs, and work out what will be the best way to help that person progress. For some students, the CLC's 'piece by piece' approach is confusing because they can't see the bigger patterns at play, and, in fact, giving them more information and a wider perspective can be the best way to help them make sense of the language. For others, it might be a question of looking at individual points of grammar and helping them to develop the skills to apply these accurately and consistently. For all students, this work tends to involve a heavier emphasis on grammar than is found in the CLC, and yet I believe the CLC provides a great jumping-off point for this approach.

Having encountered a topic for the first time through the CLC, the student is now in a position to expand their knowledge or improve their skill level when revisiting it from a different perspective. Far from the initial rote-learning approach of old, students are consolidating grammar and vocabulary which they have already met in context. Doing this work in tandem with studying the CLC means that students can appreciate immediately how this greater familiarity with the grammar improves the accuracy of their translations. They approach the CLC with greater confidence, alert to absorb the new language features that are introduced in each chapter and with a greater awareness of the study skills needed to reinforce and consolidate this knowledge for themselves.

Knowing the perfect tense from the imperfect tense is far from the be-all-and-end-all, and it is certainly possible to lead a full and happy life without having persevered with Latin. However, it is a brilliant subject and at the outset most beginners are really enthused by it. It is such a shame to see that enthusiasm dampened when a learner begins to find it tricky, and such a privilege to help students to develop the study skills which see them make more progress than they previously thought possible. With – or despite! – the CLC I aim to provide the right support at the right time both as a teacher and a tutor.

Cambridge School Classics Project (1998).  Cambridge Latin Course Book I, Fourth Edition (CUP).
Cambridge School Classics Project Website: [Accessed 19 October 2014].
Gay, B. (2003) The theoretical underpinning of the main Latin courses in J. Morwood (ed.) The Teaching of Classics (CUP) pp. 73-84.
Story, P. (2003). The Development of the Cambridge Latin Course in J. Morwood (ed.) The Teaching of Classics. Cambridge University Press) pp. 85-91.

[1] Interestingly (depending on what you find interesting!) this seems to be an example of what has become known as the Mandela Effect: a mass mis-remembering of the past which has somehow gained ground. Rather than being in the garden when we first meet him, Caecilius was in fact 'in tablino' ('in the study').

Gemma Busby GCSE Latin Tutor (Kingston upon Thames)

About The Author

I am a fully qualified Classics teacher providing high-quality bespoke tuition. I take pride in tailoring my approach to each student's needs and providing a positive experience. I work at all levels, including Common Entrance, GCSE and A-Level.

Tutors Wanted

  • English Tutor for 9 yo Girl West London Gen. comprehension and essay technique
  • 11 Plus tutor Leeds Passionate Teacher needed
  • GCSE History tutor wanted Blackeath SE3 Lessons take place at student's home
  • PhD thesis writing tutor UK or Europe Holds a PhD in Health
  • French Teacher Wed 3.10- 4.10 Kingston, London Start 6th June DBS police check needed
  • Economics and Politics tutor Online or Central London Cambridge Pre-U
  • 11 Plus English Tutor Stanmore Experienced English Grammar Entrance
View tutor jobs
Tutors: Download your free e-book!