Almost every day of my life since I was 11, somebody has asked me, “why do you waste your time learning dead languages?”
As someone who started Latin and Ancient Greek way before I had to choose whether or not to take them in school, I usually respond with, “I like them. I like understanding cultures thoroughly and that is something that I can only attain by reading ancient texts in original.” To which people usually reply with, “Nerd.”
Yup, that’s me. Classics nerd and proud. Surprisingly, even though I did not pursue classical languages in college, I am still putting them to good use every day of my life. I’m still grateful for my passion, because it helped me in so many unexpected situations, from acing science quizzes to landing communications jobs. Now you will say, what do dead languages have to do with anything? But, you will find that classic languages have to do with everything.
Latin and Ancient Greek are formative subjects. They don’t just provide information, they shape your mind and train your brain to be more active and respondent. Learning them is the definition of a mental workout.
I know that some people may have a hard time believing that anything that isn’t a STEM-related field of study is just a waste of time, but it’s not. Liberal arts subjects help you see the world differently from a broader perspective, and that gives you the tools you need to change the world.
Once during a job interview, my interlocutor asked me about my knowledge of Latin and Greek. I was applying for a social media manager job and I’d had half a mind to erase the dead languages from my resume half an hour before I went in. When she asked me, I had never been so glad about not doing something my entire life. “Am I going to use Latin?” I remember asking shyly and incredulously. “No,” my future employer replied with a smile, “But it tells me you have so many hidden skills up your sleeve.”
It has been proven time and again that Latin literally opens up your mind. Because of its extremely complex syntax, translating original texts makes you develop all those soft skills that job recruiters want to see on your resume. The most important of those being logic, analysis, precision, and a kick-ass memory. And, quite frankly, you learn to speak any language better. Knowing dead languages gives you an elasticity that vouches you could learn another language in no time.
Over 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek roots. Some are borrowed from a medium language, usually French and Italian, and some are taken directly from either dead language. As a non-native English speaker, I’ve often been complimented for my knowledge of fancy and sophisticated English verbs. The opposite has also happened – do you know how many times I had no idea what something in my own language meant, especially in science courses? I’ve always gotten away with it thanks to Latin and Greek.
For that social media job I applied for, I was missing a modern language. I was supposed to be fluid in four but I only knew three. I was hired anyway, not because there were no better candidates, but because the HR person believed that I would have no trouble becoming fluid in a fourth modern language right away. She knew my knowledge of Classics made me more versatile than any of the other applicants.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Latin and Greek develop natural problem-solving in people. Translating from a dead language is hard, let me tell you. We often deal with passages so convoluted and complex that even scholars can’t agree on a translation, and we’re getting tested on it. Part of our training is to stay calm, reevaluate, and find another way out. Also, after years of reading texts of Plato and Cicero, we learn a thing or two about philosophy, dialectics and winning debates.
This is why – even in 2018 – a thousand years after Latin effectively stopped being spoken in everyday life, job recruiters around the world go under the “language” section on resumes looking for “Latin.” Even if you’ll probably never use Latin in the job that you’re applying for, learning it has developed in you a certain set of skills that come in handy when dealing with difficulties in your job, whatever the field may be.
Someone with a Classics background, or who simply pursued Latin in their own time, has the potential to go into any field. Because the struggle of learning dead languages is recognized, and it will take you places. I guess carrying heavy 3000-page dictionaries around for years is finally paying off. (Seriously, those things were huge. My back still hurts!)