Monday, December 5, 2011

The Benefit of Understanding

Many schools teach foreign languages as a chance to widen one’s cultural knowledge. They teach languages such as Spanish, French and German because they are spoken in countries and will benefit the learner. But what about the classical languages – Latin and Greek? Very rarely is a school found that teaches these so called “dead languages”. Yet they are not as ‘dead’ as the world supposes. Winston Churchill once wrote in an autobiography “I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honor, and Greek as a treat.” The benefits of studying the classical languages of Latin and Greek are many.
Languages that are derived from Latin are known as the romance languages. This group includes languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and as many as twenty other lesser known languages. Over fifty thousand English words are derived from the Greek language, and as many from Latin. For this reason alone, the studying of the classical languages can be considered beneficial. As one who has studied Latin since the fifth grade, I can confidently state that my knowledge of the Latin language has aided me in the studies of other areas, especially in other languages.
Many may say that the studying of the classical languages is pointless. They may claim that since they are no longer spoken, they are no longer of any use. However, the opposite is true. Almost all of the languages spoken today have derived from the classical languages of Latin and Greek. As I stated before, modern languages such as Spanish and French came from the ancient Latin language. Both Latin and Greek contributed to the languages of German and Russian. With the knowledge of the classical languages come the ability to better understand the romance
languages, and therefore be able to learn and speak them easily.
The studying of the classical languages will also help keep the mind active and thinking in a different way. When having to translate from any language, an understanding of how the native speakers think is required. This forces the mind to think in a way in which it is not comfortable. It is often challenging to translate the classical languages, but the rewards of it are great. Being able to manipulate the mind into understanding different ways of thought process is helpful in not only merely broadening the mind, but exercising it as well.
The study of the classical languages aids in the understanding of the English grammar. Many people will ignore grammar when they speak or write. Sometimes they understand it so well that they no longer need to keep it in mind. When studying Latin or Greek, however, the only way to understand the idea the writer is trying to convey is to carefully evaluate their uses of grammar. If the different elements of the sentence are not observed correctly, the meaning of the passage can be obscured or misinterpreted. Deciphering Latin or Greek sentences can help one develop skills at recognizing patterns and analyzing language with almost a mathematical perspective. It is therefore beneficial to know grammar well, and through studying the classical languages one will develop a better understanding of the English grammar system.
Studying the classical languages gives one the benefit of understanding. Anybody can read a book that tells of the history of a culture that has died out centuries ago, but to actually read a firsthand account of that culture provides the reader with an entirely different experience. Instead of just being a history lesson told by a scholar, the reader himself becomes the scholar. Through the classical languages one can become part of history. No longer does one become a slave to the historians and translators, forced to rely on their interpretations. Instead, one can read it for himself and determine his own interpretation. The knowledge of the classical languages and ability to read manuscripts written in those languages removes any faulty prejudices or biased that are implemented by the translators.
As I have mentioned before, many people say that classical languages are dead languages. I disagree. They may be ‘dead’ in the sense that they are not spoken any more, but Latin and Greek are just as much alive as the modern languages, if not more so. Many do not realize that they use Latin and Greek in their own language. Countless words have been derived from the classical languages. Penelope Lively, and author of both children and adult fiction, once wrote “We are all walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.” Latin and Greek live through the languages they have influenced. The languages themself may not be spoken anymore, but the classical languages have left a definite mark on culture.
Another common excuse for not wanting to study Latin or Greek is that they are not useful for future tasks. Again, I disagree. Latin students have proven to perform exceptionally well on tests such as the SAT and standardized tests. This is due to the fact that Latin increases the vocabulary of the student as well as increases the knowledge of grammar of the student. Between the years of 1997 and 2006, Latin students scored around 150 points higher than the average student on the verbal portion of the SAT. It is commonly known that higher scores open doors to scholarships for colleges. And again, the study of classical languages will make it much easier to learn the grammar and vocabulary of the modern romance languages. Latin and Greek are the key to the modern languages.
In conclusion, the studying of the classical languages in high school or college will increase the knowledge of the English vocabulary and the knowledge of English grammar, as well as the ability to learn other romantic languages. But the most important benefit of studying Latin and Greek is that it will provide an appreciation for the ancient cultures that cannot be found elsewhere.