Today, I have a very different episode for you all. We have our very first real-life conversation on the Thinking in English podcast! My good friend Thomas from Village Green English is going to talk about the importance of the Latin language in the modern world!
What is the point of studying an ancient language? Should the government fund Latin study? And what are the connections between Latin and English? Hopefully, we will answer all these questions in today’s episode!
Thomas also has his own English education podcast and business – Village Green English – so check out his links in the description. I appeared as a guest on their last episode – so head over the hear me answer their questions!
I have been wanting to host conversations on my podcast for over a year – it is important to also highlight natural and real conversations for all of you! So, over the next few months look out for more interviews – with English teachers and speakers of English as a second language! And if you want to have a conversation with me on Thinking in English, or you know someone who would be a great guest, just send me a message!
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I was reading a newspaper article in The Guardian newspaper late last year about the UK Government’s intention to introduce something called the Latin Excellence Fund. This £4 million fund would be used to teach more students Latin in the UK, especially students from state schools or in other countries public schools.
Latin has traditionally been quite an elite subject, generally talked at the most expensive private schools and then studied at top universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
But why do we need Latin in the modern world? And why is the UK Government funding Latin? And should they fund Latin?
Now I was going to write and research my own podcast on this topic. However, I then remembered for I have a good friend who is an English teacher, has his own English podcast, and also studied Latin at high school and university. So here is my friend Tom.
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What is the Point of Studying Latin? (w/ Thomas Brock from Village Green English)
How are you, Tom?
Hey Tom, I’m alright. I’m very well thanks I’m doing my best to try and enjoy the nice weather in Italy, but I’ve been here for a week and the weather is actually awful. It’s been raining most the time and it’s really cold.
Just at 1:00 AM here, so you know, normal times are both of us.
Yeah, it’s just hit five o’clock.
If we could start with sort of, who are you, right? Can you give me give me a brief, very short introduction to who you are and what you do?
Yeah, so I’m Tom. Well, you know to most of my friends I’m Tom to most of my students I’m Thomas. You mentioned I’m a teacher, I am. I’m an English teacher, I teach English 100% online. I mostly teach adults and I usually teach intermediate to advanced learners, lots of conversational English, and I try and teach in a way that it covers some interesting topics.
Actually, a lot of the topics you talk about in your Podcast other sorts of things I like to teach the kind of resources I like to use to help my students develop their English understanding they’re speaking skills and all of that. And actually, I push a lot of my students your direction and recommend they do listen to your podcast.
Very thankful for that and just to mention Thomas also has his own podcast, Village Green English, which I have been a guest on. So if you’d like to hear me speaking some more you can go over and listen to his content, but I haven’t really invited Thomas onto this podcast for his English teaching today – I want to know about Latin.
Latin is a language I’ve never studied and never really thought about, and I think I think we should start from the beginning, right? Can you tell me what is Latin, and where does it come from?
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What is Latin and Where Does Latin Come From?
So Latin is language for first and foremost and it comes from Italy. Comes from where I am right now. It’s the language of the ancient Romans, and it’s a really, really interesting language, because most people in the Roman Empire didn’t actually speak Latin.
The most common language was Greek and it was the lingua franca as we call it the sort of common language of most people. But what it was the official language. It’s the language of law of rhetoric as well, and will, I guess, get on to what rhetoric is all about soon.
Uhm, it’s the language of the government. In that sort of sense and so it’s a really important language to the ancient Romans, and it’s also the language of literature in ancient Rome. A lot of stuff was written in Greek as well, because the Greeks had a long tradition of writing, and the Romans – they loved Greece.
They loved ancient Greek philosophy there; loved its art. They loved its literature, its drama. They loved Greek plays and Greek philosophy as well. They loved it.
So how many people speak Latin today?
It’s probably numbered in the hundreds, right? It may be in the thousands.
So this is why I wanted to introduce this topic today because we’re not talking about a language like French or a language like, I don’t know, Afrikaans or even a small Indigenous language from Brazil, right? We’re talking about a language which is no longer spoken.
Well, where do we see Latin right? Where? Where is Latin in? Where do we find it?
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Where do we see Latin in the Modern World?
Where is Latin? It’s a really good question. Uhm, mostly it’s in the Vatican and the heart of the Catholic Church and the reason for that is because, well. In a sense, the Pope and Catholicism is a sort of continuation of the Roman Empire, and it really genuinely is.
And through European history the church, the Catholic Church, has been incredibly important and it was a kind of non-governmental form of there was an institution which ranged from Scotland to Ethiopia, right? And it was effectively the remnants of the Roman Empire. Kings and Queens had to pay homage to the Pope.
The word, the name, for the Pope comes from the word pontiff, which comes from the Roman government position, the pontifex Maximus, who was the head Priest of Rome. And this was an incredibly important political position, not just religious. So, for the ancient Romans, religion and politics were part of the same thing, part of governance. The Roman Catholic Church is a continuation of that.
We often see Latin in religion in religious contexts, and I think it was even until the 1950s or 60s that Catholic churches around the world used to conduct services in Latin exclusively. And even in the UK and Ireland where we didn’t speak Latin people would have to learn that in to go to their Catholic services at church.
But we also see Latin in I guess medical contexts as well, right? And science, science and biology and all these different topics.
Absolutely, and that’s where Latin has this other side of it, which is all about learning, which is kind of my…, I’m not a religious person I went to a Church of England school, but some of the people that I’ve studied Latin with at university for example had been introduced to Latin, because they went to a Catholic School, or they were part of their local Church
We skipped ahead slightly. So how, when did you start studying Latin and how did you get interested in this this dead language?
Why did you study Latin?
Yeah, so I I was waiting for you to use the term dead language. Because Latin lives and anyone who has studied or taught Latin more know that phrase
All languages are dead, they don’t live
It’s true. So, I started studying. I went to a comprehensive school, a state school if you like and, I was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to study classics, so classics is not just Latin, but it’s Latin and everything else to do with ancient Rome and ancient Greece.
Yeah, it’s very rare in the UK to have that opportunity unless you go to an elite grammar school or a private school.
The UK education system is a whole another topic, but so basically myself and Tom, we both went to or myself and Thomas, I should say, we both went to free government run schools in our local towns. It’s very rare to at these kinds of schools be offered these more elite subjects, niche subjects, right?
Again, it is what it is really interesting. So, I think it’s less than 3% of state schools teach Latin, so again, there is a difference between Latin and classics, but they’re very similar. We can kind of talk about them in the same sort of sense, but when it comes to statistics, it does make it a little bit trickier, but it’s something like less than 3% of state schools. compared to just under 50% of private schools now that’s an enormous difference.
So, if you meet someone who learned Latin or classics, then the chances are they probably kept come from a private school.
And because of our education system that also sort of means something, you know someone who goes to private school has parents who can afford it, so it means they’re part of a different demographic to us.
And it’s like looking at our politicians, what percentage or our politicians went to private school? Well, it’s a big different. It’s a very different number to the proportion of not of just people of the population that went to private school.
Yeah, exactly, and if you, if you’ve listened to my podcast on insulting Boris Johnson, which I recorded back in January, yeah, and I know Tom sent me a message saying he enjoyed it. Well that some of the insults Boris Johnson uses are rooted in his education because he learned Latin at school and if you listen to him speak and some of his contemporaries in the British politics, they will use Latin in their daily language, which is very strange because like Tom said only 3% of British state schools, so the normal scores of the UK, teach Latin and I would assume that out of the schools that offer Latin, maybe only 5% of students actually take the class.
It’s a very very small number of people who learn Latin, and it’s a kind of a demonstration of your educational background.
So, so you studied Latin classics at secondary school, and when you went to university, what did you study there?
So just to just to quickly note on my experience of studying classics at school is, I think unfortunately far too typical of the state of classics in state education in UK.
In that, the teacher who set up the classics, A level that I took left before he could actually teach any of it, and then the other teacher who helped him to do that, then left after the first year, so we had to get a new teacher in for my final year so it was abandoned as soon as it was introduced, so the school only did classics for two years. That happened to be the same two years. I went through Sixth Form.
Yeah, and we’ll get we’ll get back to this later, but this is what the Latin Excellence Fund is from the government is for is because there aren’t enough Latin teachers out there. So, after you, I guess we don’t graduate in the UK, but after you graduated from high school you went on to study at university. And what did you study?
Yeah, so my course was called Classics and again to kind of reiterate this idea that there are not many classicists in the country at my graduation from university I was the only student in my whole year who had the course title classics. Lots of people doing classical civilization or Archaeology, ancient history yeah, or I went to the University of Liverpool, and they have the system where you can mix and match lots of degrees.
So, for example, my ancient Greek classes. So, I did half of my degree was Latin and Ancient Greek, the other half was spent in ancient history modules, literature modules, or archaeology modules and most of my sort of pals from my course were archaeologists.
We call these joint honors in the UK. And yeah, I graduated with a joint honors in politics and history. It’s very common, so if anyone wanting to study in the UK, we don’t really have. Well, some universities offer a major minor system, but it’s much more common in the UK to do a joint Honours: a 50/50 split.
Yeah, so for example, my Greek classes and ended in my second and third year only being three students. There was myself doing classics, there was a girl doing music and ancient Greek, and a girl doing business and ancient Greek and so I did for a lot of my university time kind of feel a little bit isolated ’cause my sort of group of friends on my course… none of them were doing any Latin or Greek.
And my sort of my Latin classes, although there were exceptionally lovely people – always very warm, welcoming and very kind – they were actually of different years as well, because I’d done some Latin before, but not an A level in it I kind of joined in the intermediate group and I didn’t feel like everyone was sort of having the same experience as I was having.
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Why Should People Study Latin?
Kind of, I guess leaving behind your education. What is the point in studying Latin right? Why, why should people study Latin and why is the government wanting people to study Latin?
So, it’s a really valid question and it’s something that classics and Latin teachers need to be aware of. And, actually, we haven’t mentioned this yet, but I am actually a classics teacher. I have a PGCE.
Oh yeah, I forgot,
Yeah, so I have a PGCE in Latin and classics, and I’ve taught in a state school and a private school, so I’ve got a little bit of a snapshot into both of those areas, and you know it’s interesting when you trained to be a math teacher you never have to think – Why do we need to teach maths? or I ever going to be in a position where I’m going to go to a school and have to convince someone that we should be teaching Math
It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen, but with classics it’s absolutely part of the job you know. And there are loads of charities and institutions up and down the country that, promote it, a great one which I joined recently is called the working classicists.
So, it’s workingclassicists.com and you can go and check it out. They’re great, and if you want to learn a bit more about classics in the Modern day I would absolutely recommend going over there and I’m going to do a shameless plug here and I actually wrote an article for them on their website. Yeah, which you can go read.
It’s absolutely that’s something that has just become part of it. Part of classics is having to defend it, having to fight in its corner and it is interesting now because classics is something that used to be taught in most schools and possibly all schools perhaps.
You know our parents’ generation or maybe Just a little bit older, one of the things you did in primary school was learning Latin and, there’s a few reasons why it sort of dropped off the face of the UK education system, one of them being that you no longer had to do it to go to Oxford and Cambridge.
I mean that used to be something if you wanted to go to one of those universities you had to have done Latin. They got rid of that I I don’t know. When they got rid of that, most schools stopped seeing the point of it. So that’s kind of explained why it’s a question and it is a big question.
So, what, what is the point now, right?
Yeah, I’m dancing around here. And yeah, there were loads of reasons, right? So, for me education a part of education is not just teaching kids stuff, but teaching kids to want to learn.
And the whole culture of learning about ancient Rome and ancient Greece is all about a desire for learning, a desire to be educated. the Renaissance in part of European history Is the rebirth and the Renaissance is basically where we get the modern university from. Now there’s a couple of universities which are medieval, but this idea of that that people can learn. People want to go to school. You know, the Enlightenment? This idea of wanting to learn education -in its roots, has the rediscovery of ancient Rome and ancient Greece.
Because the Greeks were obsessed with learning, they gave us philosophy and art. They are older than the Greeks, but the Greeks really, really love them. And they fostered this culture of wanting to think and wanting to be educated and wanted to learn.
And the Romans loved it too and they wrote loads of it down. And so this kind of Roman word arts or art isn’t just about art, it’s about you Study and it’s about literature and wanting to be a better, more intelligent person. And so for me, learning about the classics is almost like learning that education itself. It really fosters a love of wanting to learn at a higher level, and I think anybody who wants to go To university, for example. Should be interested in classics.
What are the Connections Between Latin and English?
You are currently working as an English teacher and as I mentioned before you, you’ve started your own English podcast and I’m kind of curious about the links between Latin and English, because I’m sure some of my listeners know English is a Germanic language. The closest language to English is, I think, uh, I can’t remember how to pronounce it. It’s a language spoken in the Netherlands. Friesian. Maybe Friesian. Yeah, so it’s not a Latin language.
However over 50% of our vocabulary is French – Latin in origin, I guess mainly from old French so I’m wondering now you’ve transitioned into English teaching, and in the future, you might transition back into classics teaching – What are the Links that you’ve kind of discovered and learned between the language you speak and the language you study?
Yeah, it’s a great question. Again, Latin being this old language, it’s sort of something that all European languages can look to as an almost if not parent, maybe an uncle kind of language to it. It you see that in grammar the German. You know it’s obviously a Germanic language, but grammatically, it’s actually borrowed a lot.
Now, I’m not a linguist it. Well, I haven’t sort of studied languages as much as I perhaps could have, but you know, Latin has always been the language of writing, and most of that was because the only people who knew how to write for European history were people in religious positions – monks and priests. They were the people who wrote things down and they would have written in.
So, a lot of grammar in a lot of European languages, it’s borrowed from Latin, so that’s one thing that you see as similar. But again, the other thing about it is that Latin has always been an international language, and so it’s been used for international, uses for international things.
And again, the church is an international thing. The Bible is a book that has been transported across different countries. Being able to understand it no matter what language you speak in your everyday is important.
And one thing you see a lot of is the roots of words coming from Latin. Lots of prefixes and suffixes like un- and pre– in in the English language come from Latin, ’cause they mean something and those are things that you can find in in other languages as well.
And as you said earlier about the Sort of use of Latin in scientific and medical positions. Again it comes back to this idea that Latin is the language of learning. It’s the language of intelligence and different countries, whether they speak, Polish or Romanian they use they use those similar terms when it comes to science.
If any of the listeners currently listening to this podcast, maybe think about your language, especially if you’re European. And I know I have a lot of Italian listeners, and that’s quite an obvious link to Latin.
But there are also links to all other languages, especially around Europe and potentially into the Middle East and North Africa – There are links to Latin because this is where the Roman Empire stretched into these places. Think about your own language and think if there, are any links and this is something I’ve tried to emphasize in my podcast from the beginning is that language changes and English is a mess of pre-existing languages.
From Celtic and Pictish or through to Latin mixed in with Anglo Saxon and then Scandinavian languages, and the languages of Normandy, which are versions of Old French and then modern French and now mixed in with languages from Jamaica and Africa and other parts of Europe – we are completely evolving language and so are your languages.
Languages are not static. Think about the links between Latin and your own language, and maybe some of my listeners can think about what words in English have Latin origins, and if you can think of any, let me know in the comments of the podcast on Spotify or on my blog!
Village Green English
So, Thomas thank you so much for being my first guest on the Thinking in English podcast and hopefully my questions were fine! So let people know where they can find you and where they can find the Village Green podcast.
Yeah, absolutely. So me and my colleague Nathan are part of Village Green English, which we’ve just founded. We are running a podcast but also, we are both English teachers.
So if you head over to vgenglish.com then you will find our website where you can book a lesson. You can listen to our podcast, and you can join our community of English language learners.
Yeah, I hope I get a referral free referral fee for any students you get from me. Tom is an old friend of mine, and as he’s a qualified teacher both in English and in Latin – So maybe you could ask him to teach you a bit of Latin as well, while you’re over there!
I’d be happy to do it.
Check out their YouTube channel – it’s Village Green English.
Yeah, our YouTube channel is Village Green English. And the website vgenglish.com.
If you head over to their YouTube channel you should be able to see me on their site by now. I think this should be released in April and potentially you will have my podcast up earlier so you can go over and have a look at my beautiful face. I talked for far too long on their podcast so they might have edited me out of it, but we’ll see
Yes, it’s just going to be us two talking
Thank you so much Tom for being a guest. And definitely check out Village green English!
Yeah, thank you. Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
So that was the first ever guest on Thinking in English. Again, I have to thank Thomas from Village Green English for joining me – make sure you go over to their website and YouTube channel and offer your support! And definitely watch or listen to the episode they recorded with me!
So what do you think? Should we still study Latin today? Should government’s fund Latin classes? Or should they concentrate on more useful modern languages? What languages did you study at school? Does your language have and connection to Latin?
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