Monday, June 27, 2011

In defense of Latin in secondary schools

After reading some thoughts on the upcoming reforms in the Belgian/Flemish secondary school system, I was particularly upset by reading that Latin has to be replaced by technical courses. And more technical courses are required because our society requires more engineers.

I'm an engineer but I studied Latin - Mathematics in secondary school. I'm as much interested in history, philosophy and poetry as I'm interested in concrete and bridges. Every now and then I need to rant about how we are more and more pushed towards narrow-mindedness by society.

I won't go into rant-mode today, but I will sum up a few benefits I enjoyed from studying Latin, despite my choice for technical studies later on.

1. Develop analytical skills

To understand a Latin text, it is necessary to analyze the sentence in detail before its meaning is clear. Most sentences need to be broken down, and then analyzed from its core to all extra parts. In fact, studying Latin seems to me a great way to develop general analytical skills, which are necessary also in technical studies.

2. Learn to pay attention to details

When reading Latin poetry, the metric in which it is written (eg. the dactylic hexameter for the Aeneid) determines the poetry. The consequence of long and short syllables is fixed when the metric scheme is chosen. I've spent hours marking the short and long syllables in Virgil's Aeneid, and it helped me to focus and pay close attention to details.

3. Personal growth

Secondary school is the time when your personality is developed. I think that general courses, which allow time for discussion, such as history, Latin and other language courses are key to developing your own ideas. I clearly remember how I learned to form a point of view and then argument it in class discussions in these "cultural" courses.

4. Develop writing skills

Latin brings your awareness to every single word, every single syllable. In Latin courses, elements of style are also often discusses. Having a background in this material surely helps developing general writing skills.

5. Learn other languages faster

This is the most commonly cited benefit of studying Latin. I also experience that Latin helps me to understand other languages. It helped me to develop a very basic level of Spanish.

4 comments:

  1. Being born and raised in England means that I haven't really studied many languages, especially latin at school which is a great shame. I wanted to be a scientist so I always chose science as there were only limited options. However this system is very short sighted because latin and greek essentially the languages of science! You can't be scientific without having quite a large latin or greek vocabulary, even if you don't realise it!

    Furthermore on the subject of language, being a native english speaker is a huge advantage in science, but it's also a disadvantage. When you go into your PhD you find yourself in the middle of an international community who all speak several languages. In fact, I really started to learn languages because of my PhD. It's great for cultural reasons but it's also a great procrastination tool (did I just say that....). Well, if your going to procrastinate, you may as well do something useful!

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  2. I agree that speaking a few languages is very helpful in the scientific world. I used to focus on journal with articles in English, but then I was missing out on the wealth of references which are published in German (for example).

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  3. I protested for many years at having to learn latin in high school. I changed my tune in university, continuing on in science and anatomy related fields!

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  4. And you had to force yourself through 6 years of Latin? I don't think I wouldn't have done it if I didn't enjoy it that much...

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