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Learning the language of the Romans

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Breaking barriers: Sameera S.A. teaching Latin at St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School in Thiruvananthapuram.
Breaking barriers: Sameera S.A. teaching Latin at St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School in Thiruvananthapuram.

Sangeeth Kurian

Some 80 students are learning Latin at

St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church and the classical language used to script ancient works such as Naturalis Historia and De Architectura, is witnessing a multi-religious revival of sorts at the St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School in the city.

The school is the only government-approved educational institution in the State that offers Latin as a second language course at the higher secondary level. Though it was the presence of seminarians on the campus that prompted the school authorities to start teaching Latin in 1998, a decade hence, the language of the Romans have attained a pan-religious appeal among its students.

Today, the school has 80 students who have chosen Latin as their second language. For them, the incentive is everything from “scoring easy marks” to decoding Harry Potter spells.

“Latin is quite easy to learn. Only the ending of the words are slightly different from English,” says Jafar Sadiq, a class 12 student. His classmate Abhiram P. agrees to it. “Latin helps to enrich your English vocabulary. By listening to Latin phrases, you can guess the corresponding English words,” he says.

For instance, the word ‘people’ in Latin is written as ‘populus,’ similarly disciple is ‘discipulus’ and victory ‘victoria.’ The syllabus consists of mostly fables told by Jesus and Aesop, apart from stories relating to the Roman Empire.

But for Vasanth R.S., also of the same class, it was the lure of deciphering the magical incantations in the Harry Potter series that attracted him towards the language. He now knows that “Expelliarmus” an oft repeated spell that disarms an opponent is Latin for “disarm.” Learning Latin has made reading Harry Potter more enjoyable, Vasanth says.

Their teacher is Sameera S.A., who became the first to clear the State Eligibility Test (SET) for Latin from the Muslim community nearly two years ago.

A postgraduate in chemistry, Sameera decided to opt for Latin after completing her B.Ed. in physical science. The decision had more to do with the “confidence” she gained teaching Latin to aspiring priests at the Carmel monastery, near Menamkulam, than the obvious benefit the language provides in learning the chemical name of elements. Most of the chemical names are of Latin origin.

“The experience of teaching the subject to a bunch of seminarians during my B.Ed. course really pepped up my confidence,” says Ms. Sameera, who won a cash award for scoring the highest mark in Latin in the pre-degree course (now Plus Two) at St. Xaviers College, Thumba. The recognition spurred her on to chose Latin as a second language at the degree level too, where she became the only girl in a class of four seminarians to learn the subject.

Later, encouraged by her sister Samiya Riyaz and her mother Saheeda Beevi, an Arabic teacher, she went on to take SET for Latin conducted for the first time in the State. Candidates appearing for an eligibility test in Latin are exempted from the mandatory requirement of postgraduate degree, as there are no institutes offering a Master’s course in the subject. Instead the aspirants are required to have a two-year acquaintance with the language at the degree level followed by a postgraduate degree in any discipline.

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