Teacher Talk

Barbara Bell has been hailed as the JK Rowling of the textbook after the success of her 'Minimus' cartoon books. They provide an introduction to Latin for seven- to 13-year-olds by telling the story of an ancient Roman family. She has just won the Classical Association's prize for the person who has done the most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilisation of ancient Greece and Rome
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The Independent Online

Why is Latin so important?

There is a real lack of understanding of grammar in English nowadays. Learning Latin helps with the structure of sentences and also helps build a wider vocabulary - two-thirds of English words come from Latin. It is also really helpful for learning other modern languages, which we, as English speakers, are bad at.

What gave you the idea for the Minimus books?

One day I was in class teaching English, and I started talking about verbs. Suddenly, I looked up and there was a sea of blank faces in front of me. I realised then how little today's children knew about grammar, and how important it was that they should learn Latin. I thought a cartoon about a Roman family living near Hadrian's Wall would be the best way for them to learn it.

Why do you think Minimus has proved so popular?

Children love learning anything new and I think they are especially keen to be able to speak the language the Romans spoke. It doesn't matter to them that the language isn't spoken anymore. They really identify with the family in Minimus, particularly as they know they really existed in Roman times.

Are we going to see a revival in people wanting to study the classics?

I've had so many e-mails from children telling me how Latin is cool and how the only reason they go to school is to study Latin. More is being done to help people study the classics: there are new online courses and after-school clubs. I think we are definitely seeing a new generation coming through who are interested in the classics.

Minimus is aimed at primary children but can older children learn from the book?

Of course. I had an e-mail last week from an 87-year-old lady in Australia telling me how much she had enjoyed the book. She had wanted to learn Latin all her life but had found other textbooks and courses too difficult. Minimus is read by people from two to 90. The second book, Minimus Secundus, is for slightly older children, 10- to 13-year-olds.

Will there be any more of the Minimus books?

I'll wait and see how popular the second one is. I was absolutely bowled over by the success of the first book. I've got a few ideas of where to take the family next but I think I'll just have to wait and see.

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