How a mouse made Latin cool for Great Yarmouth pupils

PUBLISHED: 06:30 02 April 2011

Barbara Bell reading from her Latin book to children at Southtown Infants School, Great Yarmouth.
Photo: Andy Darnell

Barbara Bell reading from her Latin book to children at Southtown Infants School, Great Yarmouth. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

It was five years ago that a charismatic mouse first entered a Norfolk classroom to introduce children to the captivating world of a Roman family living in Vindolanda, near Hadrian’s Wall.

Since then, the cool rodent - Minimus - has become a regular visitor in 15 schools across the eastern part of the county and sparked a dramatic regional revival in the teaching of Latin.

Yesterday, author and teacher Barbara Bell, whose work Minimus: Starting out in Latin, has become an international best seller, dropped into Southtown Infant School in Great Yarmouth to be entertained to a recital of Tres caeci mures (Three blind mice) and a performance of Palla Rubra (Little Red Riding Hood).

Six and seven-year-old students at Southtown were joined for the Latin day by pupils from neighbouring Edward Worlledge Junior School.

Southtown head Elaine Glendinning said: “We started teaching Latin in year two in September 2009 and the children have really enjoyed learning simple conversation. When Ofsted visited us last year and gave us a good report they were very pleased to see Latin being taught.”

East Norfolk schools’ gifted and talented co-ordinator Jane Maguire recalled Minimus had first been introduced to year three pupils at Yarmouth’s Alderman Swindell Infants’ School.

She said: “They are all now in year eight at Yarmouth High School and they have been keen to go back and tell youngsters at their old school how good Latin is.

“Modern language teachers at Yarmouth High can see real benefit in learning Latin because it gives students a deeper understanding of the structure of language and enables them to pick up grammar and vocabulary much more easily.”

Mrs Bell, who teaches at Bristol’s Clifton High School and Haberdashers’ Girls School in Monmouth, said it was astonishing how many schools were teaching Latin across Norfolk.

She said: “They are doing it on the timetable, not just as an after-school club; it shows the importance they are giving to literacy support and English learning.”

Mrs Bell, who has sold 118,000 copies of her course globally, said her aim when she started work on it in 1995 was to “teach English grammar through simple Latin”.

“It fits in with what they are doing with English - parts of speech and word derivation - and supports foreign language work,” she said.

She told the children that when she began work on Minimus with her friend and illustrator Helen Forte, she had been motivated by the desire “not to let another generation of children miss out on Latin”.

She highlighted the fact that two-thirds of the words we speak come from Latin or Greek and cited the example of the Latin word specto (I see) which is the root of countless English words from spectacles to spectator.

Jessica and Reanna, the 10-year-olds from Edward Worlledge playing Palla Rubra (Little Red Riding Hood) and Lupus Maximus (Big bad wolf) both agreed that Latin was fun and helped them with their English.

During two days, Mrs Bell met many of the youngsters learning Latin in the county and described it as one of the most active Latin-teaching areas of the country.

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