How Latin can be music to the ears

July 5, 1996

Long-suffering students at the University of Munster in Germany once named a campaign against compulsory Latin exams for many degree subjects "Latinum in Latrinam!" Lecturer, Karl-Heinz von Rothenburg, took the outcry to heart: he developed a teaching method in which students learn Latin with the aid of music and dance.

In five-week courses run by his Bielefeld Institute for Alternative Teaching and Learning Without Stress (Allos), students decline and conjugate to catchy tunes such as "Mac the Knife" and "Tea for Two". The classes of up to 25 students are read Cicero's speeches while Mozart and Mendelssohn play in the background. And between helpings of Latin grammar and vocabulary, circle dancing helps stimulate students' creativity.

Dr von Rothenburg developed the method from a concept known as suggestopedia, which was originally developed for teaching modern languages. It aims to ease the learning process by "building a bridge" between the left side of the brain which assimilates logical information and the right side responsible for creativity.

And even though students have to pay about Pounds 450 for the full-time commercial courses run at universities during the semester breaks, they are proving highly successful.

An exam certificate in Latin is still a requirement in many German universities for degree subjects including modern languages, history, politics and even sports science. Yet since university Latin seminars are often crammed with more than 100 students - many trying to learn Latin from scratch - students are getting fed up to the molares with it.

Dr von Rothenburg says: "When I was teaching at the university I saw that no one was enjoying learning. They were just there because they had to pass the exam."

He claims more than a third of students on the Latin courses do not complete them, and of those who do stay, half fail and have to either change to another subject or university which does not demand Latin.

His "Latin without stress" course, on the other hand, has an average 80 per cent pass rate. He also believes his course could help accelerate Germany's excessively long study times. "This is especially the case for theology students, who I have heard sometimes need up to seven semesters just for the necessary Latin, Greek and Hebrew language requirements."

Heiko Hillebrand, an English and social sciences student at Bonn University, testifies to the teaching method's success. He found his way to the Bielefeld Institute because the university courses "are mass lectures and I wanted to pass the exam much more quickly than was possible there".

"It was a bit embarrassing at first because other students at the university would walk by and see us dancing. But once I overcame the sense of embarrassment I really enjoyed it. I was very enthusiastic about the course." Heiko took the exam immediately after the course and passed well.

Some students have been so enthused by "Latin without stress" that they have even opted to major in it. Now Dr von Rothenburg is developing a similar course in ancient Greek.

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