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Latin at school, other languages?

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LSWR Cavalier

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The Guardian reported that Latin is being introduced in some state schools, several approving readers letters were published, but no disapproving letters.

Latin is to be taught at state schools across England in an effort to counter the subject’s reputation as one that is “elitist” and largely taught at private schools.

A £4m Department for Education (DfE) scheme will initially be rolled out across 40 schools as part of a four-year pilot programme for 11- to 16-year-olds starting in September 2022.

Not so long ago, Latin was compulsory for university entrance.

Should pupils/students be encouraged to learn Latin? Does it even make sense to try to learn more than one foreign language?
 
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jfollows

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Latin was compulsory to O-level (I got a "B") at Manchester Grammar School in the 1970s.
At the time, Oxford & Cambridge required a foreign language O-level pass but not necessarily Latin.
No problem for me, I got an A in French and in German. But some people struggled.
It wasn't a waste of time and it's knowledge that I've used in later life, but I think the time and effort and learning would have been better spent for me on just about any other O-level instead. Biology or Spanish perhaps?
 

takno

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The Guardian reported that Latin is being introduced in some state schools, several approving readers letters were published, but no disapproving letters.

Not so long ago, Latin was compulsory for university entrance.

Should pupils/students be encouraged to learn Latin? Does it even make sense to try to learn more than one foreign language?
Latin isn't a foreign language as such, and shouldn't really be thought of as alternative or even complementary to them. It can be useful to learn precisely because it doesn't exist as a living native language - you can't learn to get by in Latin from watching Netflix or writing to your Roman penpal, so you're forced to learn in a relatively abstract way. That can promote a way of thinking which makes you understand all languages including English in a much more precise way, and can improve your analytical skills.

Personally I think I benefitted from learning it for a couple of years at school, but it's really difficult to quantify how much. In comparison the two foreign languages I learned have opened up a whole world of culture and travel. I suspect without those I would never have had a fraction of the confidence around people that I have now
 

jfollows

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Personally I think I benefitted from learning it for a couple of years at school, but it's really difficult to quantify how much. In comparison the two foreign languages I learned have opened up a whole world of culture and travel. I suspect without those I would never have had a fraction of the confidence around people that I have now
Precisely, I agree, for me French and German have been almost infinitely more useful to me than my Latin skills.

EDIT The fact that meminiscor, "to remember" if I remember correctly, is a deponent verb and takes the passive form whilst actually being an active verb, is perhaps not totally useless knowledge (if my memory is not letting me down), but it's not far off.

FURTHER EDIT Thinking on it, "meminiscor" is the first person singular, as in "I remember", but I'm now remembering from 1976, so 45 years ago. Compare with "voco" - "I call" and "vocor" - "I am called" etc.
 
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Gloster

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I regret a bit that I gave up Latin at fourteen, but it was taught as a subject you must do up to that age, unless you did Ancient Greek. A grounding in Latin would have helped when I came to languages late, but in itself is not as much of an advantage as a modern language. I am afraid that its promotion is part of an agenda that panders to backward-looking, dreamy-eyed-for-the-good-old-days voters, while also promoting the anti-European policies of much of the government. We already have a very poor reputation for our ability to speak foreign languages: this can only be another small step back that pushes us away from our nearest neighbours and into the group that speaks only English, or - to be more accurate - American.
 

tspaul26

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I did not study Latin in school, but took Classics and have picked up some facility from going to church.

It is very useful in my work as a solicitor and notary.
 

takno

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I did not study Latin in school, but took Classics and have picked up some facility from going to church.

It is very useful in my work as a solicitor and notary.
To be fair, we could save on the need for Latin lessons and radically improve access to law by just rewriting the remaining bits in English.
 

SteveM70

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I had to do three years of Latin at high school. Served no real practical purpose in terms of my wider education, other than that occasionally I’ll see a word in another language and think “ah, that came from Latin”.

We also - rather insanely - had to start one of German and Ancient Greek in the third year, despite most of us knowing we wouldn’t continue it in the fourth year once we’d made out O level choices. So that year of German became the worst attended, most badly behaved lessons I can remember, a lethal combination of our bad attitudes and the teacher’s inability to control us. Every time I see a packet of midget gems it reminds me that they were the ammunition in our cross-classroom aerial bombardments
 

tspaul26

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To be fair, we could save on the need for Latin lessons and radically improve access to law by just rewriting the remaining bits in English.
Not really: you still have to refer to the Latin (or Law French) original in order to glean the nuance. For example, did the Latin text use the word vir or homo?

I was recently advising on a point of interpretation regarding the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations and it was necessary to look behind the English text in this manner.

I also tend to do a fair amount of ecclesiastical work so Latin is rather difficult to avoid there.

There are the Institutes, Pandects and Novels of Roman law to consider as well.

In any event, the fact that ‘the law’ happens to be written in English does not in and of itself mean that it is accessible to a layman. The Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 are an apposite example of particularly poor drafting.
 

jfollows

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I did not study Latin in school, but took Classics and have picked up some facility from going to church.

It is very useful in my work as a solicitor and notary.
My Latin knowledge has been primarily of use to me during my life when I'm confronted with legal terms, I will note, so that when someone says or writes some phrase which is clearly Latin I'm able to understand it immediately. As has been said, if the legal profession got rid of these terms and replaced them with clear English terms it would be a better solution than suggesting Latin lessons for everyone.
 

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Latin in school? No.

I took (and failed) Latin at 'O' Level (F I think - failed by 5% or less). I wish I had retaken it, I had the time, not because it would have helped me (I wasn't able to apply for Oxbridge, no big loss, I'd have been written off as a snob locally, just going to university was bad enough), but just because I had failed it.

My reasoning is nothing to do with my ability, it is just the curriculum is overloaded as it is and barely a month goes by without complaints that this that or the other isn't being taught in school (first aid, care of pets, diversity. nutrition, not enough about personal finance, sex education or relationships then there is all the Citizenship stuff, young people don't vote because they don't understand the voting system, or they don't understand what rights the police have - or don't have - when stopping them) then there are calls for more physical education because of the 'obesity crisis' and I thought we were teaching Mandarin Chinese because of the number of people who speak it, or is that last years pet idea?

My other gripe is that I had to study some really awful poetry. No aversion to poetry, I used to borrow various editions of Penguin Modern Poets from the library (especially the Liverpool poets) as well as WWI poets but that stuff was Fotherington-Thomas wet!
 

jfollows

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My other gripe is that I had to study some really awful poetry. No aversion to poetry, I used to borrow various editions of Penguin Modern Poets from the library (especially the Liverpool poets) as well as WWI poets but that stuff was Fotherington-Thomas wet!
In terms of poetry, you could do worse than:

Ōdī et amō. Quārē id faciam fortasse requīris.
Nesciŏ, sed fierī sentiō et excrucior.

I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask.
I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.

 

brad465

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The rumour going around some circles was it was only originally announced as another dead cat story. Whether that stops it going ahead or not I'm not sure.
 

Typhoon

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A short poem, there weren't enough of them. And a few words I remember. Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant, I can do. I remember et, sed and id. Faciam must be something to do with facere - to make or to do. If only the exam paper was on that poem I might have passed. But I'm not certain a fifteen year old me would have been appreciative

The Liverpool poets book had a poem which went something like 'Excuse me, your lips are on fire.' My sort of poem, short and sweet. The title was longer than the verse!

The rumour going around some circles was it was only originally announced as another dead cat story. Whether that stops it going ahead or not I'm not sure.
Gove was keen when he was Education Secretary.
Education Secretary Michael Gove stepped up the pace of his revolution in schools today - pledging a boost to Greek and Latin in state secondary schools and urging all schools to stay open for up to 10 hours a day so pupils could do “prep” on the premises.
'Prep' on school premises and an increase to Latin and Greek teaching in secondary school: The Gove revolution continues | The Independent | The Independent
 

D365

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Yes for Latin being an option, but not to prioritise it over French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese etc.

In an ideal world, the choice of language should be entirely down to pupil preference, but a lot of schools seem to struggle in teaching just one or two.
 

Bayum

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I’ve been in a variety of primary schools with a variety of languages taught in each setting. Mandarin, Latin, French, Spanish, German.
 

Gloster

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In an ideal world, the choice of language should be entirely down to pupil preference, but a lot of schools seem to struggle in teaching just one or two.
In all too many cases schools seem to have failed with even one language: English. Trying to hammer the basics of another language, especially a ‘dead’ one, seems to be an impossible task in many cases.
 

jfollows

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Japanese, indeed, never an option when I was at school. My sister, 4 years younger than me, studied Japanese & Modern Languages at Sheffield University, very impressive. I think I'd like to have had the opportunity to study Japanese at school (rather than Latin, say).

The other thought is that there's circumstantial evidence that people who speak multiple languages might be less prone to negative effects of dementia in older age. However it's unclear to me that even if this is so, how much of it is cause rather than effect - in other words whether people who are more likely to take up foreign languages in the first place are less disposed to dementia, rather than the study of languages themselves being a positive influence.
 

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Latin appealed to me at school more than French because it was a dead language i.e. there was no need to learn to speak it. If it was worth learning at all (and I thought it was), it was because of the ability to read the literature in the original. But I know I was in a tiny minority (of one) in thinking this and I don't believe in reintroducing it as a compulsory subject. Later I picked up a reading knowledge of German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and in my thirties, with time on my hands, taught myself to read Greek (beginning with Luke and Acts, on the recommendation of a friend who taught New Testament Greek at Leiden), which has been a great joy. It would be worth learning Greek just to read Homer, if there were no other surviving authors.

On the whole I find that a reading knowledge of a European language can be picked up in about 3 months, especially if you follow a method that builds up the most common vocabulary; whereas to learn to speak a language well requires you to live in an environment where it is spoken. Also my experience is that a reading knowledge stays with me longer than a speaking knowledge. I lived 4 years or more in Holland and spoke Dutch fluently while there in the 1970s, but now it's rusty for lack of practice. And some languages, e.g Danish and Portuguese, sound rather different from what they look like on the printed page.

Precisely, I agree, for me French and German have been almost infinitely more useful to me than my Latin skills.

EDIT The fact that meminiscor, "to remember" if I remember correctly, is a deponent verb and takes the passive form whilst actually being an active verb, is perhaps not totally useless knowledge (if my memory is not letting me down), but it's not far off.

FURTHER EDIT Thinking on it, "meminiscor" is the first person singular, as in "I remember", but I'm now remembering from 1976, so 45 years ago. Compare with "voco" - "I call" and "vocor" - "I am called" etc.
I think you may be confusing memini, a perfect with present force, I remember (I have called to mind), with obliviscor, I forget. But still pretty good for 45 years ago.
 
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jfollows

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I think you may be confusing memini, a perfect with present force, I remember (I have called to mind), with obliviscor, I forget. But still pretty good for 45 years ago.
I'm sure you're right, thank you. It was a long time ago!

EDIT Also probably why I only got a "B", not an "A"! Unlike Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, I can remember my O-level and A-level results.
 
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Busaholic

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Latin in school? No.

I took (and failed) Latin at 'O' Level (F I think - failed by 5% or less). I wish I had retaken it, I had the time, not because it would have helped me (I wasn't able to apply for Oxbridge, no big loss, I'd have been written off as a snob locally, just going to university was bad enough), but just because I had failed it.

My reasoning is nothing to do with my ability, it is just the curriculum is overloaded as it is and barely a month goes by without complaints that this that or the other isn't being taught in school (first aid, care of pets, diversity. nutrition, not enough about personal finance, sex education or relationships then there is all the Citizenship stuff, young people don't vote because they don't understand the voting system, or they don't understand what rights the police have - or don't have - when stopping them) then there are calls for more physical education because of the 'obesity crisis' and I thought we were teaching Mandarin Chinese because of the number of people who speak it, or is that last years pet idea?

My other gripe is that I had to study some really awful poetry. No aversion to poetry, I used to borrow various editions of Penguin Modern Poets from the library (especially the Liverpool poets) as well as WWI poets but that stuff was Fotherington-Thomas wet!
I'm in agreement with you. I managed to fail Latin 'O' Level twice - my father even paid the Latin master to give me extra tuition before the second attempt, to no avail. I didn't have a great facility for languages, other than the English language, probably because I'd become too lazy: a bit difficult when you're in the 'L' for Languages stream, but that also encompassed History and English Literature at 'A' and 'S' Levels.

I must say, though, more must have reached my brain during those Latin lessons than I realised at the time because I can see quite a lot of Latin and Italian words now and be confident enough to translate them, at least approximately, into English. I think it was the format of the Latin lessons, exam and those tedious textbooks that I couldn't take, and a more 'modern' presentation might have worked wonders.
 

Ediswan

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At my secondary school, half did French, half German. Prospective pupils were able to express a preference.

If you were good at whichever of those you did, Russian was an additional option, with O and A level available.

If you were good at maths, you got some Latin lessons. Not to exam level though. It was a timetable balancing excercise. Taught by the deputy head who was normally something of a martinet (to the staff as well as pupils). As a classroom teacher, much more relaxed.
 

MotCO

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I did Latin to O-level,and found it useful in two main ways:
  1. It explained grammar and sentence construction so that I could better understand them in English;
  2. Many words in both English and other languages come from Latin so if you're faced with an unusual word in any language, you might be able to have a stab at its meaning.
(I also remember my Latin master's favourite saying - Regina amat tablum (the queen loves the table)).
 

DarloRich

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I did Latin and some Greek at School.
It is very useful in my work as a solicitor and notary.
Really?
To be fair, we could save on the need for Latin lessons and radically improve access to law by just rewriting the remaining bits in English.
That is exactly what the Law Society have been doing for years. Latin is in no way required for a legal career. The remaining pompous iditols who insist on using it in everyday legal matters are doing so to try and justify their own self importance and fees. ( think of Rees Mogg: They don't really know Latin just a few snippets that make them sound clever)
Not really: you still have to refer to the Latin (or Law French) original in order to glean the nuance. For example, did the Latin text use the word vir or homo?

I was recently advising on a point of interpretation regarding the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations and it was necessary to look behind the English text in this manner.

I also tend to do a fair amount of ecclesiastical work so Latin is rather difficult to avoid there.

There are the Institutes, Pandects and Novels of Roman law to consider as well.

In any event, the fact that ‘the law’ happens to be written in English does not in and of itself mean that it is accessible to a layman. The Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 are an apposite example of particularly poor drafting.
This is utter nonsense. You absolutely do not have to refer to the Latin or Law French (?) in any way, shape or form in any sort of normal legal practice in England or Wales. I happily admit I know nothing of ecclesiastical law other than it is vastly esoteric, dull, boring and of little impact to the vast majority of people trying to access legal services in England and Wales.

As for Institutes, Pandects and Novels of Roman law: They weren't covered in my degree. Maybe I was asleep. If I was I also missed the Latin lectures and the "Law French" seminars. I might have been in the pub for those tbf.

PS I will agree that the drafting of some recent legislation has been shocking but that is more to do with the clown running the circus rather than the acts trying to make it work!

I think it has been useful in my Adult life.

How? Can you give an example?
 

johnnychips

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I enjoyed doing Latin at school till the end of Third Year (Year 9 now) and it has helped me pick up other languages. I also enjoyed the story of Caecilius in Pompeii - I wonder if anybody else used those texts on here? Naturally, at the end of the course, we all knew what was coming, which is more than Caecilius did.
 

PeterC

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I did Latin to O-level,and found it useful in two main ways:
  1. It explained grammar and sentence construction so that I could better understand them in English;
  2. Many words in both English and other languages come from Latin so if you're faced with an unusual word in any language, you might be able to have a stab at its meaning.
(I also remember my Latin master's favourite saying - Regina amat tablum (the queen loves the table)).
Same for me. Also a knowledge of Caesar's De Bello Gallico has helped my appreciation of some of the references in the Asterix books.
 

MattA7

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Would there really be any benefit to learning Latin giving its no longer used anywhere. Although despite learning a foreign language being compulsory at School I believe that the majority of the population is not bilingual.
 

johnnychips

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Would there really be any benefit to learning Latin giving its no longer used anywhere. Although despite learning a foreign language being compulsory at School I believe that the majority of the population is not bilingual.
Oh I agree. It seems strange to have to learn a foreign language compulsorily to any level, though of course I think as an option it is a must. When I was a supply teacher, it seemed strange having to teach French to some students who struggled with English. After five years of French, some could barely manage ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Jean’, though of course they knew what ‘merde’ meant.
 

MattA7

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Oh I agree. It seems strange to have to learn a foreign language compulsorily to any level, though of course I think as an option it is a must. When I was a supply teacher, it seemed strange having to teach French to some students who struggled with English. After five years of French, some could barely manage ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Jean’, though of course they knew what ‘merde’ meant.

I bet they all know what French for seal meant too.
 
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