Minimus and my journey through Classics
For a seven-year-old with limited knowledge of any language other than English, Latin might not seem like the obvious place to start. And yet, it was at this age that I began to show such a strong interest in the funny language found in churches, on monuments and adorning crests that my mum thought it was time to put a stop to my barrage of questions and find some answers. Latin, uncommon enough further upthe education ladder, was not at the top of the list of subjectsfor my primary school to offer, so mum turned her attention towards whatever beginners’ resources she could find in order to foster my interest in the language.
Upon coming across the Minimus textbook, she realised that she had struck gold: here was an approachable, manageable introduction to the lingua Latina which was specifically aimed at engaging and enthusing young learners such as me. Unlike its more daunting counterparts, aimed at schoolchildren about to begin a rigorous and old fashioned training in the language, the Minimus books provided and imaginative and, dare I say it, fun approach to language-learning. I began to follow Minimus the mouse through various storyboards which integrated simple Latin speech bubbles with colourful pictures, each one aiming to make me familiar with a new feature of the language. Along the way, the chapters introduced characters from a ‘typical’ Roman household to give me my first taste of Roman history, and connected the unknown with the familiar through etymological pointers so that I could begin to link English words with their ancient counterparts.
By the end of the first book, I had a strong interest in all things Latin and couldn’t wait to continue it in a formal educational environment. In addition, I found that it gave me a firm foundation for learning other languages: when I started learning French in the latter stages of my primary school years, the similarities in the vocabulary and structure of the language were immediately apparent to me, enabling me to pick up the fundamentals much more easily than might otherwise have been possible.
Fast-forward to today, as I enter the closing stages of my undergraduate degree in Classics, and still I find myself occasionally glancing back to my first steps in learning Latin through Minimus. Just the other day, in my Latin Historical Linguistics tutorial, a discussion about the different treatments of the Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirate system in the Sabellic languages and early Latin language prompted the mention of the name ‘Rufus’ as an interesting counter-example. I smiled to myself as I remembered the cheeky red-haired boy Rufus to whom I had been introduced through Minimus – who could have guessed that so many years down the line we would meet again!