Learning Latin

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It may not be spoken any more, but Latin is the parent of all the Romantic languages, French, Italian and Spanish and offers an exciting insight into so much of our everyday lives.




Latin is very much alive for the senior primary students at St John’s Co-Educational Junior School – the only school in the north-west where it is taught. We talk to languages teacher Hilda Nadolny and St John’s Principal Cary Roberts about the language program, building developments at St John’s and new scholarships on offer.

Hilda, why are St John’s students learning Latin?

It may not be spoken any more, but Latin is the parent of all the Romantic languages, French, Italian and Spanish and offers an exciting insight into so much of our everyday lives. A friend once asked me why I was teaching primary children a language that was only ever studied by doctors, vets, scientists, linguists or lawyers – and I told him I thought that he’d probably answered his own question! Latin is the foundation of so much of our learning and is a fascinating language to learn.

What inspired you to teach Latin?

About five years ago, I had an epiphany when I saw an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a Sydney school teaching Latin to primary students. I had been interested in Latin for many years, but I had never seen an attractive textbook based on up-to-date teaching methods with an accompanying cassette tape. I went to Dymocks and bought the textbook used in the photo – Minimus by Barbara Bell, which is about a mouse called Minimus and a cat called Vibrissa. It was brilliant, and I was hooked

So how do you teach the students?

At St John’s, all Kindergarten to Year 2 students learn German, and Years 3 and 4 learn French, so by the time they are in Year 5 they have some experience in learning foreign languages.

Trying to bring the language to life helps – I use lots of props and stories. The Egyptian mask helps to illustrate the background behind the legend of Cleopatra. Although her family was Greek speaking, Cleopatra would have spoken Latin with her lovers Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The sword and the shield would have been used by the warriors of the era. I am a bit of an actress, and I interpret the script to suit!

Cary, languages are certainly important  – but why Latin?

Most people don’t get a chance to study Latin until university or later. Learning about Latin, as much as learning Latin itself, offers so much richness that can stay with students for life. Because it is a foundation for so many other things, Latin carries through to other key learning areas and will stand students in good stead in secondary school. Latin really clicks with them – out of the classroom the students talk about where words come from, and the parents are getting an education too! The students are lucky that we have one of the best language teachers in Armidale. Hilda engages them the whole time; it’s really hands on and the kids really love it. They also think it is a bit special learning something that no-one else is, rather like a secret society.

The dynamic learning environment at St John’s is soon to change. What will that involve?

Thanks to the NEGS Foundation, work is being done to consolidate St John’s.

As part of the project, the former kitchen and dining quarters of the old St John’s Theological College are being gutted and divided into four large specialist classrooms. Another year group will be housed in an adjacent building used most recently as a dance studio, and other students will relocate to the historic brick St John’s College building designed by architect Horbury Hunt, after whom the building is now known.

The project means we will all be back in the one area, which we haven’t for some years.

What does the project mean to the school?

The main benefit is that we will be our own entity. While NEGS is a Transition to Year 12 school, St John’s is an independent part of that, and it will increase pride in the school. The students will be able to have beautiful and comfortable learning areas and a massive playground, so we’re all looking forward to the move towards the end of the year.

Tell us about the new senior primary scholarships.

A friend of the school has provided funds for scholarships for students entering primary Stage 3, or Years 5 and 6. They are designed to give deserving students a head start at a NEGS education and are aimed at students who will contribute to St John’s academically and culturally. The move from primary school to secondary school is a big step for many students. These scholarships will build a bridge from junior school to secondary school and make the change far less daunting.

Thanks Hilda and Cary. Photos:

(1) Teacher Hilda Nadolny and Head of St John’s, Cary Roberts (far right) talk about living Latin with students Zoe Nivison, Liam Neeson and Laura Claridge (front right).

(2) NEGS Principal Ian Downs and John Cassidy, chairman of NEGS Ltd, look over the work at St John’s.


One Response to Learning Latin

  1. Sealrocks says:

    i want the people that are destroying this place to stop, this is a piece of paradise and a piece of everyone that has been there. it is one of the last places on earth that still with holds its true beauty. i want & need this place to be around when my kids grow up, and their kids grow up. 

    So how about you forget money and stop being selfish and realise that there are people that will stand in your way, because living without seal rocks would not be living!

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