Tag Archives: languages

Fame at last!!

Just done a short piece on BBC Berkshire, on the Anne Diamond show, about the relevance of Latin. The subject was sparked by the Italian journalist’s scoop of the Pope’s resignation. He was speaking in Latin and her understanding of Latin allowed her to pick up on what he was about to announce formally.

I covered the usefulness of Latin in a previous post Audere est facere, so do take a look at that to see some of the points I raised with Anne plus a few others.

There is no doubt that Latin helps to develop a rigorous mind, aids problem solving and gives you the bones to learn any language.

An interesting fact I recently discovered is that Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook is a huge Latin fan. He studied classics at University and once listed Latin as one of his spoken languages on his Harvard application. He sometimes quoted Virgil in meetings and apparently regards Latin as one of the keys to his success.

That’s quite a recommendation!


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French Oral Tips

This probably won’t help with your French oral exam but there are some tips that may!

This is the time of year when many students are tackling their oral exams. The present format is that students learn an initial short presentation and then have to answer several prepared questions. This format means that most students learn the responses by heart and then repeat them back to the teacher/examiner. The answers will have been prepared in advance with the assistance of their teachers and are designed to show examples of ‘good’ French! The teacher will have ensured that the answers include: past and future tenses and  possibly a conditional tense; interesting grammatical constructions; varied vocabulary. Although this approach means that pupils are producing (albeit not spontaneously!) a higher quality of French than the old-fashioned, unstructured and rather one-sided conversation that used to form the oral exam, it does have its pitfalls.

The result certainly doesn’t sound natural and there is a tendency to deliver the learnt text at high speed.

So, remember to slow down a little and breathe during your exam! If you rush the delivery your pronunciation will suffer.

Concentrate in particular on those sounds that are different from English like the soft ‘d’ or ‘p’, the rolled ‘r’ and the vowel sound in ‘tu’, ‘du’ etc. Attempts to produce something more authentically French sounding will gain you marks.

Try to take the odd pause to make it seem more natural, as though you’re considering your reply – maybe add the odd ‘err’ or even better, an ‘en effet’ or similar phrase.

For the drama students out there, think of this as an opportunity to practise – the odd shrug or wave of the hand at appropriate moments will also help to slow down your delivery.

Try to be aware of what you’re saying so that if you forget some of it you can quickly adjust your reply, rather than completely freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. If your answer isn’t exactly what you prepared, it’s not a disaster as long as what you do say makes sense.

And most important of all, LISTEN to the questions. Don’t assume that they will be taken in order – you might end up giving a perfectly good answer –  but to the wrong question.

Finally, get in the mood by listening to some French radio on the morning of the exam.

Good luck!

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The Artist

While I was  watching the BAFTAs award ceremony last night  something struck  me with some force. The Artist won many awards and the mainly French actors/writers /production people  who came  up for their awards gave their acceptance speeches in excellent English. (Rather ironic when you consider the film is primarily a silent one!)

Can you imagine a reverse situation at an awards ceremony in France, Germany or Italy, for example, where English actors/production people gave their acceptance speeches in French or German or Italian? I don’t think so. It was some comfort to hear Stephen Fry, host for the night,  break into French at one point but he’s hardly typical in terms of skills and intellect.

Why do so few English people speak another language? What goes so badly wrong with the teaching of languages at schools or is the malaise deeper seated than that? Does it link to our history as a colonial power or perhaps our geographical status as an island? Is the solution teaching languages at Primary level? Or perhaps the public doesn’t think it matters? Everyone speaks English, so no problem. What do you think?

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Audere est facere

Apart from helping one to translate Tottenham’s motto what use is a knowledge of  Latin nowadays?

I think it’s a matter for regret that so many schools no longer offer Latin as an option. Just from the point of view of widening one’s vocabulary a grasp of Latin is really advantageous. I often do work with pupils on derivations and prefixes/suffixes (usually derived from Latin)  to help with their vocabulary.

Another way in which Latin (and to a lesser extent French or other modern languages) can help with English is through an understanding of parts of speech. These days many pupils do not learn about parts of speech in English – maybe the basics of noun, verb and adjective, but not much more than this. When you learn Latin you have to understand terms such as Passive Voice, 1st person plural, sequence of tenses etc. Writing fluently and effectively in English is not just a question of imagination and inspiration. You have to understand sentence structure and be able to logically connect and sequence paragraphs. In fact, one of the disadvantages of the modern approach to teaching languages such as French is that grammar can only too easily be sidelined or completely disregarded. Obviously the emphasis on communication and situation French (e.g. at the baker’s) is a good thing. Yes, today’s pupils probably have much better spoken French but grammar should not be forgotten. I have had pupils in their GCSE year who have asked me the difference between ‘le’ and ‘la’!  Pupils who want to take their language learning to a higher level – A level and beyond – often struggle. Many universities have to put on special introductory courses to bring students upto the required level.

Latin is an extremely logical language; it follows patterns and rules with few exceptions. It appeals to those who enjoy puzzles and maths as well as those with an interest and flair for language. So even if your son or daughter is attracted more to  science/maths, don’t rule out Latin as an option for GCSE. It is highly rated by universities and, indeed, used in the past to be obligatory for studying certain subjects.

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