I think Siva has it about right (though I think s/he is European, right?)-- certainly when  I was in high school in the late 40s-early 50s, Latin was de rigueur for entrance into all the Ivy League schools, most private colleges, and I think even some State universities. So ability to figure out a "foreign" lang. would not have been unexpected. 

(That Indo-Eur. course sounds interesting !! We did no such things in the one I took :-((( )

On Friday, December 27, 2013 6:02 PM, Siva Kalyan <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I would have thought it’s because students were expected to learn classical languages in college (were they at the time?), and so having to translate sentences in a foreign language with the help of grammar and vocabulary notes would give an indication of how good they’d be at Greek or Latin.  

(An aside: I once took a course on Indo-European where each week we were given a passage in an ancient Indo-European language, together with vocabulary and grammar notes, and asked to translate it in full—needless to say, with no prior knowledge of the language, or at least none expected. That’s what made me think of this explanation.)  


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