PERHAPS one of the things I like best about being English, right up there with the fact it means I’m not Scottish, is the language.
Partially, this is because it fills me with a certain strange kind of pride to speak each day with the words of Shakespeare or Shelley, Keats or Yeats. Mainly, though, it’s because it means I don’t have to learn the lingo of some other Godforsaken part of the globe – French for example.
Everyone speaks English, don’t they? And if they don’t – if they live in the deepest parts of uncharted Africa, for example – they’ve still probably got a mate who’s heard enough Premiership football commentary and Beatles records to act as a translator.
A chagrin to language teachers it may be, but, truly, of all Empire’s historic gifts to England’s children, a hegemonic global language is perhaps only beaten by an exciting cultural melting pot and the morning cup of tea.
It was perhaps, on reflection, this attitude which earned me a D at GCSE German. But it is an attitude I stand by.
What, after all, is the point of learning to say ‘dos cervezas, por favor’ when the response of a Spanish barman is inevitably to reply: ‘You want two beers?’?
Oui, young Pedro, oui oui.
My old granddad had a saying which perhaps sums things up: when in Rome, speak English louder.
Which is funny because the Romans had an appropriate saying too: carpe diem.
Seize the day. Make the most of now. Don’t waste your life learning whether the French give a male or female definitive to an in-anatomical object like a coffee table.
Which is why - paradoxically, perhaps - I was fair cheered by an announcement from the newly created charity Classics For All. It is to give £90,000 to provide Latin GCSE courses at eight schools, meaning pupils will get the choice between that and more modern (mundane) languages.
Good. Ad meliora.
Because while learning French has the feel of meh-no-point-Miss; with Latin that no-point is exactly the point.
It’s total lack of use is the attraction. It’s learning for the love of learning. It’s being taught something simply to improve the mind. And it’s the exact opposite of current trendy (and Conservative) thinking which suggest schooling should be largely vocational.
No. It shouldn’t.
Schooling should teach the odd practical thing for sure – how to use a calculator perhaps – but it should be dominated by stuff you’ll never practically use in your life again. Stuff like trigonometry, when the 30 Years War took place or how to make an egg cup, for example.
It should teach you everything and nothing. It should create simply a love of knowledge and a thirst to learn more.
Which learning German – “here’s a language they speak across the North Sea, although they speak English too, and they love David Hasselhoff – really didn’t instill in me. But which Latin – “here’s a language that hasn’t been spoken for centuries but which helped establish western civilisation” – almost certainly would have done.
So, what that it’s of no use to anyone but perhaps the odd eccentric?
Neither is French.
Bring it back.
Ipsa scientia potestas est.