Not learning Latin

by Tim Harding B.Sc., B.A.

Ah, the benefits of adulthood and hindsight! At the authoritarian private school I attended (and hated) I was forced to study the Latin language. Nobody ever gave me a reason for studying it. As far as I knew, Latin was a dead language, so I couldn’t see any point in it. So I basically switched off and daydreamed in class, as I suspect that many pupils do in science or maths classes.

From memory, I was required to attend Latin classes for 3 years, getting lower and lower marks until I achieved 4% for Latin in Year 10 for writing my name on the exam paper. This surprised the Headmaster, because I usually got high marks in other subjects and even came top of the class in a few. The Headmaster (whom I also disliked) presciently wrote on my school report ‘It appears that Timothy is not suited towards a career in the Classics’.

When got to university and studied biology for the first time (it was not taught at my expensive private school), I discovered that species had Latin names. I also found out that a lot of scientific terms have Latin or Greek roots, and that if you knew these roots you could figure out the meaning of scientific terms, like ‘telescope’ and ‘micrometer’. If anybody had told me these things at school, I would have been motivated to learn Latin, and I probably would have enjoyed it.

Later in life, I travelled to France, Italy and Spain, studying these languages prior to each visit. I found that if I had known the Latin roots, learning these Romance languages would have been easier. And still later, while doing an Arts degree, I studied Ancient Greek and Roman history, plus Classical Greek philosophy and Linguistics, which I found very interesting. I could possibly have even had a career in the Classics if my silly school teachers had given me one good reason for learning Latin.

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