Every year our Department awards prizes to students with exceptional ancient language skills. This year Freddie Watts was awarded the Herbert Hill prize. He talks about his experience learning ancient languages:
Studying the ancient Greek and Latin languages has been beneficial to my degree course in a number of ways. Firstly I have enjoyed being able to read ancient texts in their original language as it helps to understand what the ancient writers were trying to convey in their works through reading it in the same language they wrote it in. This also improves my understanding of how people in antiquity perceived the world around them as I need to question why they have chosen to use some words over others and why they were writing about specific subjects for example. Although I haven’t yet had the chance to utilise these skills in ancient history modules my dissertation I’m going to be doing this year will make use of them I am sure.
Another great benefit I have gained from studying the ancient languages is that in order to have any chance of learning the grammar of another language I had to first study and master the grammar in my own language. This resulted in an improvement of my knowledge of the English language in addition to learning a new one. Continuing the connection with English, many words in the English language are derived from Latin and Greek and consequently this helps to understand complex English words that I have not come across before if they contain parts that are familiar to me from Latin or Greek. Furthermore, ancient history textbooks often use words and phrases untranslated from Greek or Latin and so I have found that knowing what they mean beforehand can be greatly beneficial as you save the time trying to look them up.
When translating Latin or Greek phrases and sentences it is similar to solving a puzzle as you take apart the structure in order to piece it together again to create an English translation. For me, this is especially enjoyable when I have finished translating a sentence and have ‘solved the puzzle.’ Translating texts also develops many other skills including analysis as you need to interpret what the different words mean. This provides a great assistance to other aspects of my degree course as the more ‘historical’ modules require a great deal of analytical thinking when reading through historical sources for example. However the languages are enjoyable to learn as well because it is interesting to see all of the similarities and differences that they have with each other and with English in not only the vocabulary as I mentioned above but also the grammar and the style of how they developed overtime.
Written by Freddie Watts