World champs: how a Christian school brought a 'dead' language to life
Regents Park Christian School celebrates global hat trick
At a small Christian school in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs, students aren’t really the bragging type, even if they are world champions.
For the third year in a row, Regents Park Christian School (RPCS), with only 700 K-12 students, has earned the title of #1 in the online Global Latin Language Competition, competing against over 700 schools in 20 countries, most with student populations three times the size of RPCS and far from Sydney’s sandstone schools. Yet the 43 multicultural RPCS students in grades 7-9 are claiming their place – and vocabulary – as masters of one of the world’s oldest languages.
“We go against some of the largest schools in the world, where there are sometimes thousands of students in each school doing exactly the same work as we are,” said Ron Challis, RPCS Latin and Physical Education teacher who teaches Latin to all Year 7. “Students realise it’s fun to compete, and get a thrill at achieving, so they want to keep at it. We don’t (yet) offer classes after Year 7, but those who have taken the class and moved on still want to compete.”
Mr. Challis, former Head of Learning and Development for the Australian Federal Police in Sydney who received a commissioner’s commendation for his leadership, has over twenty years of classroom experience at all levels. He’s taught and coached RPCS global winners since entering the competition in 2020, which takes place every March for seven consecutive days.
Students log on to the Global Latin Language Competition, answer multiple choice questions and score team points for each correct answer. Each team member is allowed to work online for up to eight hours each day. That means working mostly at home and over the weekend. Individual students work toward personal prizes and their totals contribute to school points.
“Latin is easy to read, and a fun culture to learn about. It’s an immersion into a world that still exists, but in a digital ‘gaming’ version they understand.” – Ron Challis
“They’re really motivated, especially because seventy percent of the words they’re using now have Latin origins so their English is getting better,” Mr. Challis says. “Latin is easy to read, and a fun culture to learn about. It’s an immersion into a world that still exists, but in a digital ‘gaming’ version they understand.”
In fact, there’s a growing appreciation for “classical education and a resurgence of interest in Latin, swinging away from skills-based subjects to those (like Latin) which provide historic context for so many other subjects,” says Trisha Denholm, Head of RPCS’s Secondary Department. And because studying a language is compulsory in any NSW school for year 7 or 8, Regents Park Christian School made the switch from Spanish to Latin when Mr. Challis joined the faculty.
Mrs. Denholm felt Latin would be beneficial for a demographic where 82 percent of their students are from homes where English is not their first language. For EALD (English as an Additional Language Dialect) students, studying Latin is extremely beneficial.
“Latin is the root of so many other languages so it helps them in studying languages as well as other subjects such as government, law, literature, theology and medicine,” Mrs. Denholm says. “To learn Latin is to learn English.”
“Latin is biblically fascinating and linguistically enchanting. And the competition makes it even more fun to learn for our students.”
But not everyone was happy initially about the Latin requirement. Priscilla Simion, RPCS Student Services Manager and mother of Jemuel who has competed on the Latin team all three years, didn’t understand why the school would make the switch from Spanish.
“I thought Latin was a dead language – so why teach children something that won’t benefit them?” Mrs. Simion says. “But I’ve seen how much Jemuel has learned, and how useful it is in so many ways. His older brother is studying medicine and Jemuel recognises the origins of so many medical words that his brother is jealous he didn’t get to study Latin!”
Mr. Challis is not surprised. He believes learning Latin helps students better understand grammar as well as prepare them for future studies, all while giving them greater flexibility with English.
“Latin was the language used to work out our ideas of law, government and Christianity,” Mr. Challis says. “We’re learning about life in Roman times with a strong focus on translating Bible passages. Really, Latin is biblically fascinating and linguistically enchanting. And the competition makes it even more fun to learn for our students.”