Magister amat librum! Latin rises from the dead to help teach English

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Latin is making a comeback in state primaries. More than 1,000 schools have ordered copies of a resource book to teach the subject to children between seven and 11. And 31,000 copies of a separate book for pupils have been bought by state and private school teachers and parents.

They have proved so successful that their author, Barbara Bell, a teacher at the independent Clifton High School in Bristol, has been given sabbatical leave to produce a new volume, aimed at pupils aged nine to 12. Mrs Bell believes growing numbers of teachers are using Latin during the Government's compulsory literacy hour in primary schools because it is a good grounding for teaching English grammar.

"They say it is valuable in English and history lessons," she said. "The response has been huge. It shows there is a tremendous interest in the language; after all, we're not talking about sales of a compulsory GCSE science textbook."

Mrs Bell, who is director of the Primary Latin Project, aims to make learning the language fun. Published by Cambridge University Press, the central character is a mouse called Minimus who lives with a Roman family in Vindolanda, a village on Hadrian's Wall, in AD100. An audio version was released last week. "I have had charming letters from pupils who are having great fun and have a positive image of Latin," she said. "As well as featuring it in their literacy hours, some of them are starting up lunchtime and after-school clubs in Latin."

Another reason cited for the growth of interest in the subject, ironically, is the Government's decision to encourage more primary schools to teach a modern foreign language.

Teachers have told Mrs Bell that the discipline of learning Latin makes it easier for the youngsters to pick up a third – and modern – tongue.

"We're not very good at learning languages in this country, but hopefully the interest in the book will begin to redress this," Mrs Bell said.