Natalie Haynes: It's not Latin's fault that toffs and Tories studied it

Notebook: Quite aside from how useful Latin is in the jobs market, it is also good for your soul

Share
Related Topics

Last week, on Question Time, Andy Burnham made the latest in a series of digs about what he perceives to be the irrelevance of Latin. Speaking of Michael Gove's English Baccalaureate, he expressed dismay that Gove had "found room for Latin and Ancient Hebrew, but not for Engineering or ICT. How," he asked, "can that be the answer to the challenges we face in the modern world?"

Well, since he asked, I would like to answer that studying Latin or Ancient Hebrew leaves you admirably prepared for facing the modern world. I'm not suggesting for a moment that everyone should be forced to study a dead language, and be banned from ICT, but I firmly believe that Latin can and should be part of a rounded education. Latin is both useful and beautiful: two things that are in short supply for many of us.

It is useful because any study of any language is useful. Even if it's a dead one and the only person who can speak it is the Pope (and his pronunciation is shocking). Learning another language makes you think differently about your own: it makes you analyse the role each word plays in a sentence. It also introduces you to the idea that some cultures are so different from your own that there are words which are literally untranslatable.

Latin will help you learn piles of other languages that have similar vocabulary or grammar or both. And it will give you excellent spelling and grammar in your first language (as will Ancient Greek), which is not a small thing: evidence shows we are more likely to get our credit cards out when a website is free from typos. The more spelling mistakes we see, the more we begin to suspect the site is dodgy. So wouldn't it be most useful to learn ICT and Latin, and then you might set up a brilliant website which fills its potential users with confidence?

Choosing to learn Latin reveals something about a person. To Andy Burnham, it apparently reveals that a person is a toff, as though it is somehow Latin's fault that Boris Johnson studied it. But to potential employers, it seems to reveal something else: when Durham University surveyed its 2009/10 Classics graduates, 90 per cent of them were in employment or further study, doing jobs as varied as shop manager, parliamentary researcher and Royal Marine.

And quite aside from how useful Latin is in the jobs market, it is also good for your soul. Reading poetry isn't the preserve of flouncy girls in long dresses. Read Catullus when you're 15, and you'll realise that you aren't the first person to burn, unrequited, for a cruel lover.

And since he didn't die of it, you might realise that you won't either. On the way, you'll learn more about empathy and passion than you ever have, just in a few short lines. Another modern life challenge covered.

Are you lonesome tonight, George?

Lonesome George, the last Pinta giant tortoise in the world, has died. Oddly, the extinction of his subspecies seems less sad than the previous status quo, when there was just one remnant, carving out his final years with only different species of tortoise for company.

As if the whole thing didn't have the air of a slow-burn tragedy already, George's body was found by his keeper of 40 years. There is a buddy movie crying out to be made about this. Failing that, The Ballad of Lonesome George would make an excellent country song.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there