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What is the Grammar-Translation method?

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What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Sun Dec 14, 2014 8:58 pm

(This is a fork from the Translation of the word τον τεθνηξομενον thread.)

I would be interested to know what people think the Grammar-Translation method is, both from those who are fans of the method and from those to him it is a dead end.
Which text books follow that method?
To what extent is this a label that gets put on those teaching who are actually just muddling along relying on their knowledge of Ancient Greek lacking any concept of teaching at all?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Markos » Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:17 pm

We've given it a name. Maybe, before we define it, we should read a few classic quotes by its critics:
W.H.D. Rouse wrote:The current method is not older than the nineteenth century. It is the offspring of German scholarship, which seeks to learn everything about something rather than the thing itself: the traditional English method, which lasted well beyond the eighteenth century, was to use the Latin language in speech.

C.W. Peckett wrote:During the last hundred years, we have been using a wrong method, a method based on translation and analysis, to translate what is untranslatable and disappears when dissected.

John Stewart Blackie wrote:Why does it seem such a difficult business to acquire a familiar knowledge of any foreign language, and why is so much brain and so much time spent so frequently on their acquisition with such scanty results? The answer can be only one: because your teacher has ignored the method of Nature, and given you a bad substitute for it in his own devices; instead of speaking to you and making you respond, in direct connection of the old object with the new sound, and thus forming a living bond between the thinking soul, the perceptive sense, and the significant utterance, he sends you to a book, there to cram yourself with dead rules and lifeless formulas about the language, in the middle of which he ought to have planted you at the start. The evil results of this neglect of the living model of Nature are only too manifest. Books are useful, but they are only secondary; in all matters of observation and practical exercise they may form an apt accompaniment or a supplement, but they can never supplant the vital function of which they are only the dead record. No one learns dancing, or fencing, or golf, or lawn-tennis from a book.

Richards and Rodgers wrote:...it is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology, or educational theory.

Randall Buth wrote:Suppose...Mounce were teaching French? Would anyone learn French? Ever?

Μᾶρκος wrote:All we are saying, is give speech a chance.

One thing it does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that those who seek to replace Grammar-Translation with the Direct Method necessarily lack an understanding of Greek grammar.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby jeidsath » Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:44 am

BeDuhn's 2003 "Truth in Translation" describes the process of (Bible) translation like this:

Translation begins with the identification of each Greek word. This is done using a dictionary or lexicon. Such reference works are compiled from the vast body of Greek literature we have at our disposal. Since new discoveries of Greek literature are made quite frequently, dictionaries and lexicons must be constantly updated with new information....The best Greek lexicon is that of Liddell & Scott....

Once all of the individual words have been more-or-less identified, they can be assembled into sentences. The grammatical markers that modify word roots point the way in this work. As the assembly-work goes on, the translator will modify individual word meanings according to clues from the context that is emerging. One of the most important steps from the interlinear to the literal phase is changing word order from what is acceptable in Greek to what works in English.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Mon Dec 15, 2014 2:02 am

Markos wrote:We've given it a name. Maybe, before we define it, we should read a few classic quotes by its critics:
W.H.D. Rouse wrote:The current method is not older than the nineteenth century. It is the offspring of German scholarship, which seeks to learn everything about something rather than the thing itself: the traditional English method, which lasted well beyond the eighteenth century, was to use the Latin language in speech.


That does indeed describe my experiences of summer school. The emphasis was breaking it down and then picking out the key bits. One key problem was that in a class of 12 you are really watching the teacher do it. Hence it was a bit like watching a sport being done brilliantly and afterwards finding that watching hadn't helped your own ability.

If only there were people in the London doing Ancient Greek conversation.

The other thing that stunned me about the summer school was the faith in simply showing a grammar point as being sufficient to teach it. The particular example was the teacher who got us copy down the entire perfect participle and then was surprised that I didn't know it. And he was far and away the best teacher I encountered.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby y11971alex » Mon Dec 15, 2014 9:14 am

If I might not pollute this thread with my general ignorance of everything, how is the Hansen & Quinn text categorized under this discussion?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Dec 15, 2014 3:35 pm

The Mounce-Wallace Grammar-Translation method is targeted at exegesis of texts. It is a bottom up system where it is presumed that breaking down a text into elements and reconstructing it from the level of morphemes up to the level of paragraphs will provide a foundation for finding the meaning of the text.

Mounce-Wallace are loaded with a traditional hermeneutical framework. They teach hermeneutics while teaching Greek. Its a package deal. You don't just learn greek. You are supposed to absorb their way of handling the Greek bible.

The Grammar-Translation method entails learning a language for talking about language (metalanguage). This language will allow you to read Grammar-Translation textbooks and reference books. The Mounce-Wallace metalanguage is 19th century stuff. No linguistics of the modern sort.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Markos » Mon Dec 15, 2014 7:41 pm

y11971alex wrote:...how is the Hansen & Quinn text categorized under this discussion?

To the extent that it does not include any Greek audio, there are no pictures with Greek captions, the glossaries are not mono-lingual, it emphasizes forms and paradigms over meaningful, illustrative Greek phrases, the only composition one does is English to Greek translation, the bulk of the exercises are Greek to English translation, and its method to teach Grammar is a rather heavy use of English meta-language, it is squarely in the Grammar-Translation camp.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby y11971alex » Mon Dec 15, 2014 9:18 pm

Markos wrote:
y11971alex wrote:...how is the Hansen & Quinn text categorized under this discussion?

To the extent that it does not include any Greek audio, there are no pictures with Greek captions, the glossaries are not mono-lingual, it emphasizes forms and paradigms over meaningful, illustrative Greek phrases, the only composition one does is English to Greek translation, the bulk of the exercises are Greek to English translation, and its method to teach Grammar is a rather heavy use of English meta-language, it is squarely in the Grammar-Translation camp.

I suppose this one gets the same classification as well?

https://books.google.ca/books?id=X7gWAAAAYAAJ
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Kopio » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:33 am

Ok....I'll bite....

I personally learned Greek in the "Grammar-Translation" method...although I've never heard it called that before. I think that C.S. is exactly right in what it's purpose and function is. I didn't learn Koine and Classical Greek so I could speak it....I learned it so I could read, exegete and understand what the text is saying.

All that being said....I do think that the Grammatical-Translation method is a great starting point. I learned enough Koine, that I was able to dig into Sophocles, Homer, Theodorus and others. At some point, after enough exposure in this method you quit translating and start simply understanding. This for me is ultimately the point. I honestly have no real desire to speak the language (modern Greek is another story)....who would I speak it to?

I'm sure some will disagree with me, but my question would be...what is the point of learning the language? Is it to speak it? Then don't go with Grammatical-Translation method. But I have to say that as a pastor...I find my education serves me very well in my field.

Just my two cents worth.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:34 am

Kopio wrote:I personally learned Greek in the "Grammar-Translation" method...although I've never heard it called that before. I think that C.S. is exactly right in what it's purpose and function is. I didn't learn Koine and Classical Greek so I could speak it....I learned it so I could read, exegete and understand what the text is saying.


If it worked for you then why would you try another method? However, the point of using living languages techniques is to engage more parts of your brain. Speaking isn't the aim its a means.

Can I ask though how exclusively did you stick to simply reading through Greek texts, analysing and translating. Not even any reading aloud? No free composition?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Qimmik » Tue Dec 16, 2014 2:33 pm

I agree with Kopio. I too learned Greek and Latin by what is dismissed here as the "grammar-translation" method (at least I think that's what my learning experience would be called, though I never heard the term until recently in this forum). I'm very satisfied with the results. I have no interest whatsoever in speaking or writing either language, and the so-called "grammar-translation" method gave me a solid foundation for a lifetime of engagement with Greek and Latin texts.

If you think that speaking and writing a foreign language will exercise other parts of your brain, there are far better ways to do so--you're much better off learning a modern language with a vocabulary that's geared to contemporary life (and doesn't require you to coin neologisms or fashion convoluted circumlocutions at every turn), in which you can converse with, and be corrected by, native speakers, so that you don't pick up the bad habits of your fellow-students. And the "framework" for the traditional "grammar-translation" method, while it may not take into account the latest developments in linguistic analysis (which are in any event fraught with controversy), is perfectly adequate to give students the ability to read and understand the texts.

Another point: I think that the picture painted here of the "grammar-translation" method is something of a caricature: it can be much more flexible and engaging than, for example, the grim picture painted in the Whitesell article linked to by jeidsath. If you work at it diligently, you assimilate grammar and vocabulary as you learn the rules (for want a better word) and the words, and you begin to read without translation as you do so.

But no matter how you go about it, learning a foreign language is not easy. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you're not immersed for an extended period in an environment in which the target language is spoken on a constant basis, and that's just not possible for us with Latin and ancient Greek. If you think you can learn better by a different method than the "grammar-translation" method, by all means go ahead. But, whatever method you use, do make sure you master the grammar if you want to go on to read Thucydides or Plato or Sophocles.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby jeidsath » Tue Dec 16, 2014 5:25 pm

I hope that everyone here realizes what a serious discussion it is that we are having. We're giving advice to people considering the study of ancient tongues. For many people there is the probability of much wasted effort (sometimes years worth). And there is also the possibility, alluded to by some here, of a twisted growth, where a that will stunt a learner at some level far below fluency. The goal however, is very much worth the risk and effort.

So I'm going to challenge Qimmik on something that I might let go in a less serious discussion. He refers to his level of attainment as enough for a "lifetime of engagement." I work with a younger crowd who all read too much Twitter, and the phrase that they might use here is "banana for scale." Qimmik's term is very positive sounding, but it covers anything from knowing your alphabet to perfect fluency.

I think that for the sake of prospective learners, we should be more precise. What level of reading fluency are we talking about here? That is, I think, the interest of everyone here. I record my own voice every day, and am beginning to work on composition, and converse with various people in person and online. I listen to all the (good) audio that I can get my hands on. But the point of all of that is reading fluency.

So how to be more precise? There is no major "comprehension-only" exam for language. Markos, I, and others, of course, think that fact tells us something. Qimmik does not, and it would be begging the question to use it for evidence.

But we can take the comprehension parts of these descriptions for a starting point.

When you encounter new texts, can you read them almost as easily as your native tongue, understanding almost everything that you read (C2). Or maybe you can read a wide range of demanding texts, recognizing implicit meaning (C1 level)? Or main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics (B2 level)? Or understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters (B1)?

A1 and A2, I think, do not map well to ancient tongues, but they are a little beside the point -- we are talking about the final results of study, not the initial results.

However, I'll add another pair of questions, to really rate methods, how long did it take you, and did you use "grammar-translation" or something else (what)?

As much usefulness as there would be to a standardized "Greek exam" that we could give to everyone professing knowledge of the language -- especially people making their living "teaching" -- we don't have it (yet?), and we'll all have to self-evaluate here. I'll go first.

For new texts that I haven't read before, when I encounter them without a dictionary, I think that it would be fair to say that I am somewhere around "understanding the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters" for 2nd or 3rd century B.C. to 2nd century A.D. texts. I can usually get the main points of Xenophon when I turn to a random section of the Hellenica (not having read it). Aesop's Fables are of widely varying difficulty for me, usually due to vocabulary. Lucian has begun to get easy. I can often understand the dialogue sections of Plato (opened at random), but the intricacies are far and away too hard. Demosthenes is mostly impossible. Scripture is of varying difficulty (from crystal clear to very hard), and not fair here because I have read large chunks of it in English. But I can usually get the main points.

My goal, of course, is something like C2 (first in Attic, and to use that to springboard to texts across as wide a period as I can manage). I hope to get to Attic B2 or C1 levels this year. And hopefully be something like C2 for a wide range of Greek within a few years.

I think that I've described my methods enough in this post and elsewhere. But I would love to see the self-evaluations of others here.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Markos » Tue Dec 16, 2014 8:40 pm

Markos wrote: Maybe, before we define it...

Daivid intended, I think, for this particular thread to be a place where we come neither to praise Grammar-Translation nor to bury it, but to define it. It's of interest to me whether the definition would look different coming from its critics or it defenders, and to what extent one can come up with a purely neutral definition. But, for now, a few points of order:
y11971alex wrote:
Markos wrote:
y11971alex wrote:...how is the Hansen & Quinn text categorized under this discussion?

To the extent that it does not include any Greek audio, there are no pictures with Greek captions, the glossaries are not mono-lingual, it emphasizes forms and paradigms over meaningful, illustrative Greek phrases, the only composition one does is English to Greek translation, the bulk of the exercises are Greek to English translation, and its method to teach Grammar is a rather heavy use of English meta-language, it is squarely in the Grammar-Translation camp.

I suppose this one gets the same classification as well?

https://books.google.ca/books?id=X7gWAAAAYAAJ

Yes.
daivid wrote:Which text books follow that method?

Rouse does not and Christophe Rico really does not. Paula Saffire does not, nor does Buth and the Greek Ollendorff sort of does not. Almost everyone else does.
Kopio wrote:I personally learned Greek in the "Grammar-Translation" method...although I've never heard it called that before.

Is there a better term for it? How neutral is the term?
Kopio wrote:what is the point of learning the language? Is it to speak it? Then don't go with Grammatical-Translation method.

This is a straw man. None of us are interested in speaking or writing the language per se, but we only do it because we think it will improve reading fluency. οὐ μανθάνομεν λαλεῖν, ἀλλὰ λαλοῦμεν ὥστε μανθάνειν.
C. S. Bartholomew wrote:The Grammar-Translation method entails learning a language for talking about language (metalanguage).

This is an important part of the definition. And I note that Clayton is the only person so far on this thread who has answered the question.
Qimmik wrote:If you think that speaking and writing a foreign language will exercise other parts of your brain, there are far better ways to do so...

I think Daivid is talking not about exercising other parts of your brain in general, but exercising those parts of your brain which are necessary to learn a language while learning that language. Stephen Krashen has argued that language is not learned, but acquired, and that these processes do indeed involve different parts of the brain. G/T is geared only towards the former, which is why he says it does not work.
Qimmik wrote:But no matter how you go about it, learning a foreign language is not easy. It takes a lot of time and effort...

One issue with time and Grammar-Translation is that because G-T is limited to reading Greek and reading about Greek, you can't make use of any "dead time." You lose the opportunity to listen to Greek while commuting to work or speaking Greek (even to yourself) while walking your dog or writing your tweats in Ancient Greek instead of English. (the point being if you are going to spend time on social media anyway, you might as well write a little Greek at the same time.) To that extent, going beyond G-T will give you more time, surely the most necessary resource for learning any language.
jeidsath wrote:I think that I've described my methods enough in this post and elsewhere. But I would love to see the self-evaluations of others here.

Yes, and the fact that after only a year you can read the (admittedly easy) Koine of Mark seems to me to be a vindication of the value of going beyond Grammar-Translation.

I did G-T only for several years and was unhappy with my progress. I added other methods and they have improved my reading fluency. There is also the question of internalization versus decoding.

We still need to define Grammar-Translation, I think.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Tue Dec 16, 2014 9:33 pm

Qimmik wrote:I agree with Kopio. I too learned Greek and Latin by what is dismissed here as the "grammar-translation" method (at least I think that's what my learning experience would be called, though I never heard the term until recently in this forum). I'm very satisfied with the results. I have no interest whatsoever in speaking or writing either language, and the so-called "grammar-translation" method gave me a solid foundation for a lifetime of engagement with Greek and Latin texts.

Some of the quoted criticism overstates the case. Clearly it does work for some people. But you should also recognise for some it doesn't. It would be really helpful at this point to have to hand some properly designed research to examine different methods of teaching to see what works. I suspect it doesn't exist. And I suspect the reason it doesn't exist is that Classics departments are run by people for whom current methods have worked and assume their experience is general. But I would have thought that even for those who have faith in the grammar-translation method would want to check whether that faith is justified. Unless that research exists then both sides of the argument are relying on anecdotes with all the bias that implies. Why has no classics association done something as basic as seeing what proportion of secondary students studying Ancient Greek reach a particular standard and how that compares with a modern language? Or has one?

Qimmik wrote:If you think that speaking and writing a foreign language will exercise other parts of your brain, there are far better ways to do so--you're much better off learning a modern language with a vocabulary that's geared to contemporary life (and doesn't require you to coin neologisms or fashion convoluted circumlocutions at every turn), in which you can converse with, and be corrected by, native speakers, so that you don't pick up the bad habits of your fellow-students.

My point about exercising different parts of the brain has nothing to do with exercising for the sake of it. Engaging with the language in different ways whether reading aloud, translating into the target language, composing freely in the target language or having a spoken dialogue in the target language is engaging more of your brain with the target language an enables the grammar and vocabulary of that language to be better internalized.

If that were not so why are modern languages taught using a grammar-translation method?

And when modern languages are taught with non native speakers talking to each other it is in a carefully controlled setting in which model forms of the grammar that is taught are presented and indeed often drilled before the students are given the chance to use those forms in a more free setting

Qimmik wrote: And the "framework" for the traditional "grammar-translation" method, while it may not take into account the latest developments in linguistic analysis (which are in any event fraught with controversy), is perfectly adequate to give students the ability to read and understand the texts.

Do we know this?

Qimmik wrote:Another point: I think that the picture painted here of the "grammar-translation" method is something of a caricature: it can be much more flexible and engaging than, for example, the grim picture painted in the Whitesell article linked to by jeidsath. If you work at it diligently, you assimilate grammar and vocabulary as you learn the rules (for want a better word) and the words, and you begin to read without translation as you do so.

I started this thread with a question because I am far from certain that the Grammar-Translation method is quite such a narrow method as its critics allege. You seem to be confirming their picture of the method. So I ask what does the method involve beyond reading though a text and examining it?

Qimmik wrote:But no matter how you go about it, learning a foreign language is not easy. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you're not immersed for an extended period in an environment in which the target language is spoken on a constant basis, and that's just not possible for us with Latin and ancient Greek. If you think you can learn better by a different method than the "grammar-translation" method, by all means go ahead. But, whatever method you use, do make sure you master the grammar if you want to go on to read Thucydides or Plato or Sophocles.


We are all agreed on that. Learning the grammar is essential. If you have got the impression that is not so it is probably because you have misunderstood people who advocate intuitive methods.

Example 1:
Teacher tells the student a point of grammar.

Example 2:
Teacher gives the student lots of example sentences that illustrate the same point of grammar until the student grasps it themselves.

Is the teacher of the second example less concerned about grammar?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby anphph » Tue Dec 16, 2014 9:40 pm

I have mixed feelings about this, but most importantly I wouldn't say that when people (me included) "dimiss" Grammar-Translation we do it out of ignorance or out of irreverence. I would define GT as the method of learning that leans fundamentally on a) preparing for reading through grammar drills not involving original production in the target language and b) starting to read by translating the text at hand.

What I found is that once you get to a certain stage there are discussions which DO require the philological foundations that are usually associated with the grammar-translation method. With this agree wholesale with Qimmiko. They have to be taken from there, and I have absolutely no problem with that. One of the caricature of the inductive method is to find the word ἔρως glossed as "ἀγάπη" — at least the English, which, if time-restrained, would have left it at 'love', would be more honest.

My greatest problem with the GT is that, as Qimmick said, it probably requires "a lifetime commitment". That's all fine and dandy when you're going to spend your life investing in these texts: it's like the turtle and the hare, you'll get ahead eventually. By brute force you WILL get through and acquire fluency.

But what if the hare started running? Wouldn't it get there as well, and faster? For this is also about the speed, and the time constraints associated with high-school teaching or similar. Often it does keep on napping, I'll give you that, and there is the real danger that students will get self-complacent, and rest on the laurels of the inductive method, and just because you acquired a, say, B2/C1 competence, that you're just going to learn the rest by osmosis: I have no issue admitting that people who limit themselves to induction have a far coarser grasp on very important details than those people who did succeed with the GT. I warn others about this and try to steer clear myself, but it is a problem.

I will try an hypothesis which might sound ad hominem but which I think mirrors an important argument. If you're a brilliant person and/or if you spend your life doing something I'm convinced you'll eventually get really good at it. The challenge is here is finding a way of, without lowering the standards and within a limited time-frame, teaching well those students who aren't brilliant. I am genuinely happy that you took a lot from your education, Qimmik, but do you agree or do you not agree that most people who learnt the Ancient languages like you did kept nothing from it except bad memories and a few isolated words? Again, not satisfactory. Even if it prepared you (I don't know if it did) for a later philological career, the fact of the matter is that we should teach these languages in a way suitable for everyone, and then leave the specialization for later: leave the GT for later —call it Philology classes— and keep it off the classroom.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Dec 16, 2014 10:18 pm

Not all Grammar-Translation is Mounce-Wallace. I started out with E. V. N. Goetchius (Language of NT. 1965). Goetchius was a lone wolf in the N. T. Greek textbooks. He demonstrates how something would be said in Greek compared to how something would be said in English at the phrase and clause level. He used pattern recognition. He was working with a framework something like late structuralism or early Chomsky. Edward C. Hobbs[1] told me that he obtained Goetchius early pre-publication drafts and used them in his classroom. Nobody after Goetchius wrote anything like this textbook.

While his approach to syntax was the strength of the book his approach to morphology caused me to go elsewhere to learn paradigms. The key difference in the simplest possible terms, Goetchius demonstrated at the clause and phrase level how to say something in Greek. He started there. Didn't wait.


[1] Edward C. Hobbs
Edward C. Hobbs came to Wellesley College in 1981 as Professor of Religion, where he also served as Chairman of the Department of Religion until 1990, and to Harvard University as Sometime Frothingham Professor of New Testament.

Between 1958 and 1981 he was Professor of Theology and Hermeneutics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, Professor of New Testament Theology at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and Professor of Medicine at the University of California (San Francisco Medical Center), where he taught philosophy of medicine. He was also Visiting Professor of Philosophy for seven years at the University of California campus at Davis. Prior to 1958 he had served for a decade on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Southern Methodist University. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, as well as the Claremont Graduate School, Southern California School of Theology, Pacific School of Religion, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Qimmik » Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:59 pm

When you encounter new texts, can you read them almost as easily as your native tongue, understanding almost everything that you read (C2). Or maybe you can read a wide range of demanding texts, recognizing implicit meaning (C1 level)? Or main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics (B2 level)? Or understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters (B1)?


I think you'll find, as you progress, that this scale of measurement, which may work for modern foreign languages, isn't really useful or valid for ancient Greek. Some texts are easier than others; some authors have a style that's very difficult. Plato reads somewhat more easily for me at least than Isocrates; Isocrates is usually easier (but blander) than Demosthenes; and Thucydides' speeches are the most difficult prose of all--even the ancient Greeks and those Roman who knew Greek nearly at a native speaker level found him very difficult. Tragedy is even more difficult than prose, using a different language with different vocabulary and syntactic license. And there are also many obscurities in all ancient authors that scholars still puzzle over, offering alternative explanations.

A big factor that isn't usually present in approaching texts in modern languages is the state of the texts themselves. Frequently, when I stumble over a passage, I find that conjectures in the apparatus or notes indicate that others, scholars whose Greek is or was much more competent than mine, have puzzled over these same passages and there's reason to believe that something is wrong with the text.

Another factor--reading ancient texts requires filling in a substantial amount of historical and cultural background information that can be taken for granted in reading modern texts in foreign languages. And if we're interested in the totality of ancient Greek civilization, we also want to know how a particular text is related to other texts by the same author or different authors, which is one of the things for which commentaries are useful, but which requires a different kind of reading than modern texts.

All of this is to say that engaging with an ancient Greek text is a different experience than picking up a copy of Proust and breezing through it the same way you would, uh, The Da Vinci Code.

Incidentally, I pursued the formal study of Greek and Latin only through the undergraduate level. This is for me an avocation, not a career, and I've never taught either language (or anything else, for that matter). But I do think that the "grammar translation" method by which I learned got me reading real ancient Greek texts relatively quickly and provided a solid basis for further learning.

One difficulty in the path of students eager to learn ancient Greek today, however, is that English grammar apparently is no longer thought to be useful and isn't taught in schools. Some of what was taught when I was in school was really naive in light of modern linguistics, but at least we had a basic framework for understanding grammar, and maybe the "grammar-translation" method presupposes familiarity with such a framework that students today don't have at their disposal today. And it helped that I had a couple of years of Latin before I started Greek.

Qimmik, do you agree or do you not agree that most people who learnt the Ancient languages like you did kept nothing from it except bad memories and a few isolated words?


That was true of a few kids in my class, but others have kept up over the years, and some have pursued distinguished academic careers in Classics. One of them edited and translated the new Loeb Euripides. Like most of the kids in my high-school Greek classes, I was there because I wanted to learn Greek. I was so excited--I couldn't believe I was actually doing this--and I still feel that way!

One more thought--not everyone has the opportunity to learn Greek in secondary school, and not everyone who wants to experience ancient Greek texts has enough time to commit to learning the language at what I would call an advanced level. I think using translations along with the Greek text is a good compromise, and I don't see anything wrong with it. The Loeb series is very useful for this, especially, since many of the more important texts for which previous editions were less than adequate have been revised or completely reissued in recent years.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Σαῦλος » Thu Dec 18, 2014 11:33 am

Maybe a comparison of the G-T Method and the Communicative Approach will be helpful.

One approach to learning Ancient Greek is the Grammar-Translation approach. The approach began sometime after Latin and Ancient Greek had ceased to be used as living languages and grew in use until, in the mid-19th Century it was to dominate. Grammar-Translation teaching consists of naming and explaining elements in the language, the grammar and forms. The teacher sets a schedule for the memorization of grammatical terms, rules, paradigms, and vocabulary. Practicing what has been learned is typically done by translating Greek sample sentences into the students’ mother tongue. Assessment consists of translation and vocabulary testing.

The Communicative Approach treats Ancient Greek as a living language. Learning is done by communicating in Greek. Methods that fall under this approach* use “Comprehensible Input” and “Pushed Output.” Greek is communicated through spoken or written means that are made understandable (Comprehensible Input) and learners are asked, after an initial stage of learning, to produce Greek (Pushed Output).

Typical Communicative Approach teaching consists of communicating Greek through gestures, props, game play, physical commands, storytelling & questioning, or any other means that will make the language understandable. Value is put on avoiding English whenever possible. Assessment is done through observation of understanding. A teacher observes whether a student correctly obeys a command or accurately answers a question put to him/her in Greek. Or, a story is presented in Greek and comprehension questions are put to the students in Greek.

The Grammar-Translation approach equips learners to decipher Greek. Successful Grammar-Translation learners can give accurate and complete explanations of what the individual forms and pieces of grammar in a text are telling us. The results are scientific and impressive.

The Communicative Approach leads to swallowing language as communication. Successful communicative approach learners can better understand what a text means to say. If used solely, the learner may not be able to explain in grammatical terms why a passage means what it says, except by examples of other texts.

It should be noted that neither approach is entirely pure. Some communication in Greek can take place in the Grammar-Translation approaches. Analysis, labeling, and use of English do take place in the Communicative Approach, though it will always follow grappling with the language as communication first.

Both approaches can lead to a good understanding of Ancient Greek. But, in my opinion, both approaches are not equal in terms of accessibility to average learners, in pedagogical effectiveness, or in terms of the type of language comprehension that is attained.

01 Aug 2014, PD Nitz

*Some methods under the umbrella of the Communicative Approach include: Direct Method (Rouse, early 1900’s), Total Physical Response (Asher, 1977), Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (Ray, 1997), Where Are Your Keys (Gardner, 2010).
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Qimmik » Thu Dec 18, 2014 4:23 pm

My greatest problem with the GT is that, as Qimmick said, it probably requires "a lifetime commitment".


No, I didn't write that the traditional method of learning Greek requires a lifetime commitment. However, it does require a substantial commitment during the learning process--somewhat less than a year of learning the grammar and vocabulary, and another year of careful reading. My point is that the effort expended in that process will give you a lifetime of pleasure engaging with ancient Greek texts.

The Grammar-Translation approach equips learners to decipher Greek. Successful Grammar-Translation learners can give accurate and complete explanations of what the individual forms and pieces of grammar in a text are telling us. . . . The Communicative Approach leads to swallowing language as communication. Successful communicative approach learners can better understand what a text means to say.


This is a caricature and an inaccurate one. The goal of what is described as the grammar-translation method is to enable the student to read and understand ancient Greek texts. It requires substantial effort on the part of the student, but that effort pays off rapidly and efficiently with reading comprehension, and equips the student to analyze and understand difficulties when they are encountered in more advanced reading. Those of us who learned Greek by this approach don't--as this seems to imply--merely analyze and translate: we read difficult ancient Greek texts more or less fluently without translation and I daresay we get at least as close to grasping the meaning as anyone brought up on the so-called "communicative" approach.

For the reasons I explained earlier, really engaging with ancient Greek texts is a more complex process than sitting down and breezing through the text as you would a piece of contemporary genre fiction.

Successful communicative approach learners can better understand what a text means to say.


Statistics? I strongly doubt this is true, at least in the case of ancient Greek.
Last edited by Qimmik on Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Σαῦλος » Thu Dec 18, 2014 6:31 pm

Qimmik wrote:The goal of what is described as the grammar-translation method is to enable the student to read and understand ancient Greek texts.


Thanks for the reply. You are right, I wrote without qualifiers. My apologies. In fact, one of the criticisms of Grammar Translation with which I disagree is that it cannot result in reading comprehension of texts. Its goal certainly is to enable students to read Greek. And I know that it can. But I have become convinced that its methods are not accessible for the great majority of learners. Some gifted learners seamlessly transfer from analysis of language to comprehension of language. Most quickly get overloaded and do not keep up. According to the Latin crowd of communicative teachers, about 4% of learners fully succeed in understanding language through analysis.

So while my statement was too general and a caricature, I do still respectfully hold the opinion that Grammar Translation instruction is more likely to yield decoders than readers. I've witnessed many examples of this effect. Moises Silva's book (God, Language, Scripture) is replete with examples. But his experience and mine is with Biblical scholars. Students of the classics might be a very different story.

Qimmik wrote:Statistics? I strongly doubt this is true, at least in the case of ancient Greek.


No, you're quite right. There are no statistics available from the study of Ancient Greek. It is a common objection to the Communicative Approach as applied to Ancient Greek. We have only experience, anecdotal proof, and the analogy of the study of living languages.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Qimmik » Thu Dec 18, 2014 7:56 pm

But his experience and mine is with Biblical scholars. Students of the classics might be a very different story.


This is a very good point. People learn ancient Greek for different reasons and in pursuit of different goals. Most people who learn ancient Greek today, I suspect, are aiming at a clerical career. For many of them--again, this is my guess--ancient Greek is a necessary evil, a distraction that diverts time and energy from the primary focus of their studies. Mind you, I don't mean to belittle them merely because they have different goals and objectives than students of the classics. But for these students, a less grammar-intensive approach might very well be preferable and give them a better ability to read the New Testament in Greek than an approach that forces them to spend hours and hours memorizing paradigms and complex syntactic constructions, hours that could be devoted to studies that are more germane to their interests and and objectives. They probably already have an internal Loeb, knowing pretty well what the text says anyway.

I do think, however, that anyone who really wants to read classical Greek texts proficiently and truly engage with them (my favorite word, which implies a lot more than just reading proficiently) must, sooner or later, master the grammar, and not just master it, but internalize it.

By the same token, I wouldn't rule out using Loebs or other translations along with the Greek text as a way to access classical Greek texts for someone who doesn't have a complete grasp of the grammar or who has forgotten much of it (or for anyone else, for that matter).
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Scribo » Fri Dec 19, 2014 12:36 am

I've been reluctant to join in here, for a number of reasons. But since we're staying from the title question a bit I think I'll have a go at bringing it back around and because I've now good quite a bit of experience not just as a young philologist and reader but as someone who has taught a good amount. Both within traditional structures and actually pro bono experimenting a bit with more lax approaches (e.g some of what others might deem communicative).

Well from the classical perspective reading fast and fluently is both the minimum and the necessity. Necessary because there's just too much material and too little time and otherwise you will fail your course. Minimum because simple comprehension isn't really worth much, it's kind of the entry grade to the Classics. It's very much a case of if you're not able to interact with and challenge dictionaries and grammars and understand textual criticism and editorial techniques you're not really reading. In my experience non-classicists don't really understand the state of the material we have.* The thing is, if you're not able to do any of this stuff you're not really engaging with the material, you're passively glossing it. Don't forget texts aren't the only things you're dealing with. It could be a passage of Thucydides or it could be a ritual fragment in some rustic Arkadian dialect. The level of Greek and Latin required is really very high in any reputable department in Europe.

Now, methodology. "Grammar-translation" is such an unhelpful term, there are several methodologies which a lot of people online would put under this banner. I don't like the uninformed caricatures, I don't like the logical errors being made, I don't really like the lack of facts either about these methods.

Yes quite a few approaches are from the 19th/20th centuries. Because that was a time when linguistics was really taking off and the silly humanist methods were discarded.** But many aspects of these methods go back to Greco-Roman readers as anybody who has been obliged to look at Roman/Greek era scholia, glosses,commentaries, glossaries. Yep, Roman schoolboys in Egypt were highlighting words in copies of Aeneid II, Greeks of the second sophistic were memorising lists and lists of words trying to internalise their accentual patterns or copying out paradigms.

So these methodologies are kept around because they work and they produce scholars and readers of frighteningly good quality. The other methodologies just...don't. That's not to say there's not room for improvement (because there has been over the centuries and will be) or that this method and and these goals are the only ones. Again, people need to contextualise their criticism, there's no point castigating these methods and these goals if you want to do something entirely different. What annoys me is lately there's been an a-contextual, anti-intellectual, bent to some of this criticism and a barrage of caricatures and lack of awareness of what these things are for or goals other than their own or, once more, how these texts are transmitted to us.

Ok, sorry, long post. I hope I've managed to explain things a bit more as to why these methods are around because often people make it sound like we force people to memorise vocab and syntax for fun. There's a method to the apparent madness and nothing stopping biblical studies or everyday humanist/literary studies developing their own material better.

* We're not talking pristine manuscripts handwritten by the author don't forget. We're pretty dependent on papyrologists and palaeographers and even lexicographers and comparative philologists sometimes. This isn't anything to do with interpretation, just getting a readable text.

* *Yeah I said silly. It's worth pointing out though that you can see the germs of what would later become modern methods even then: Lorenzo Valla's Elegentiae shares some stuff in common with modern style guides, there are attempts at creating critical editions, there are poets with good Latinity like Maffeo Vegio.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby ἑκηβόλος » Fri Dec 19, 2014 4:09 am

Thanks first to Stephen Carlson on B-Greek for drawing our attention to this discussion.

In considering how to learn dead languages, it might be interesting to think about how we as Modern English speakers are expected to learn Old English. I audited (posed as an English major student actually :oops: ) in University for a semester or two, but if you want to take 20 minutes to look through this Old English course from the University of Calgary. It is "grammar translation" based to be sure, but there is something very familiar about the language. Take 10 minutes to read their first translation assignment. Most of the difficult / unfamiliar words are below the text, and it is amazing how much of it is familiar. Are we decoding? Perhaps you could say that... Are we translating? For sure!

So much for toying with Old English. What if we wanted to go from recognising familiar things to actually composing and speaking Old English, it is a whole new ball game. We would need models to base our own output on. We would need a way of checking that we were right or not. For non-native speakers, "the rules of grammar" are a way to do that. Learning them takes time and effort. Sometimes "decoding" is the only way that non-native speakers can understand texts (written or spoken).

That being said, in my work as an ESL teacher over the past decade, I have taught (literally) tens of thousands of students in person using various methods prescribed by the schools, besides the audio material that I have spoken for that has been published for primary, middle and high school student markets and distributed in a number of provinces, BUT the most fluent speakers are those that "learn" by watching movies, sitcoms and other TV series. Those who learn with the least effort are those who have a goal other than learning the language for its own sake (such as to pass exams). The most common goals are understanding NBA commentaries and overseas study. Most of their study outside of my class is by rote learning of words with glosses in Chinese, and by long-winded explanations in Chinese about how English works - two things that students hate with varying degrees of vehemence. For the most part, English is treated as a dead language to be dissected, analysed and understood through translation.

With Old English, our familiarity with the related language we speak helps us a lot, but with something as remote as Koine / Classical Greek, we can do with all the help we can get, even it is arduous or boring.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Qimmik » Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:31 pm

Example 1:
Teacher tells the student a point of grammar.

Example 2:
Teacher gives the student lots of example sentences that illustrate the same point of grammar until the student grasps it themselves.

Is the teacher of the second example less concerned about grammar?


If Example 1 is supposed to be the "grammar-translation" method, it's certainly not an accurate description of my learning experience, so I have no idea what the "grammar-translation" method really is. We were taught points of grammar and at the same time worked through plenty of illustrative examples. And we read, first simple made-up Greek sentences, then longer passages of simplified Greek, then real Greek.

The value of translation exercises: Greek-English translation is useful to identify mistakes and misunderstandings, and it's the ultimate test of comprehension at all levels. English-Greek translation is useful at an elementary level to reinforce mastery of the rules, and at a more advanced level to bring into focus the differences between English and idiomatic Greek and the varieties of Greek style. Translation in either direction should never be a matter of word-for-word "decoding."

For students who are motivated to read classical Greek and willing to do the hard work of mastering morphology and syntax, a grammar-based teaching method seems to me the most efficient way to reach reading proficiency in a relatively short time. And most students of classical Greek today are self-motivated--there is no longer any requirement to learn classical Greek (I'm not speaking of divinity students). In my first-year Greek class, to be sure, there were a few students who thought that learning Greek would be a cool thing to do, without real motivation to study the classics, and one whose father insisted on the study of Greek and Latin. These students probably didn't get much out of a year of Greek and probably wouldn't get much out of any teaching approach, but, as I mentioned, most of us were motivated, and even some of those who didn't go on to an academic career in Classics have kept up with the language.

Divinity students are the only group of individuals in contemporary life that I can think of who are required to learn some ancient Greek whether they want to or not, and for these students, a less grammar-based approach may be preferable for the reasons I mentioned in an earlier post. I'm speaking from anecdotal experience--a friend of mine has had a fulfilling career as an Episcopal priest. We spent a year together in the Army learning Russian. He doesn't have much aptitude for languages (though he has a keen memory), and he eventually left a graduate program in Eastern European history, at least in part because he didn't feel he could master the linguistic requirements, but primarily because he felt a vocation to become a priest. He had to take some Greek, but for him it was, as I said, a necessary evil that had to be traversed on his way to ordination, like organic chemistry for pre-med students. I suspect that his experience mirrors that of many if not most aspiring Christian clergy. Again, I think, that for these students, a less grammar-based approach, or one that presents the grammar in a less formally structured way, might be preferable.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Σαῦλος » Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:49 pm

Scribo wrote:"Grammar-translation" is such an unhelpful term


The term "Grammar-Translation method" seems to me to be a good summary label for the method. It teaches language by introducing grammar and employing translation to both practice grammar and also to assess whether learning has taken place. Whenever I've seen the term used, it's been applied consistently to this method of teaching/learning.

I think "Grammar-Translation approach" would be a misnomer, if we understand "approach" as a theoretical framework underneath a method. Answering what the approach is behind the G-T method interests me and is the point of this post.

In order to get to the bottom of what the approach is, it would be useful to describe the basic teaching/learning method common to anything typically named the Grammar-Translation method. Here are the basic components as I understand them.

    Instruction is in English (or the common language).

    The structures of the language are presented grammatically, that is through labels and explanations. That grammatical presentation follows patterns such as the following:

    Language structures are taught by applying a label to the structure, e.g. Complementary Infinitive, Accusative-Direct Object, First Class Conditional. An explanation is given that usually includes some comparison to the common language (English), and some Greek examples.

    Morphology is taught according to classes of like forms (1st Declension, 1st Aorists, Middle infinitives). concurrently. The form pattern is shown. Often variations and irregular forms follow. A list of forms is provided for rote, out of context, memorization (my intent here is not to caricaturize).

    Other structures, such as prepositional phrases and particles, are added along with vocabulary.

    Practice in learning the structures is provided through sample Greek sentences or excepts from texts.

    Vocabulary lists are a universal feature, typically providing words that will help with the translation practice.

    The sequence of lessons is controlled by two factors. Like classes of forms are grouped together. Structures are arranged from simple to complex.
Learning Grammars (primers) that follow this method include Crosby & Schaeffer, Hansen & Quinn, Machen, Wenham, Mounce. Some textbooks are markedly different, but still could be grouped under the G-T method: Dobson, Funk, and some story based books such as Athenaze (but not, Peckett's Thrasymachus).

I'm confident that describes the Grammar-Translation method, at least in the contexts I have seen the term used. What is done by the learner or teacher beyond this description varies widely. Some would double down on analysis and memorization, some would emphasize internalization and reading comprehension.

I'm less confident about describing the approach that lies beneath this method. I think it has to do with the confidence that analysis will simplifying learning; if information can be presented in logical, categorized units, it will be more easily learned. Mounce, the premier example of this attempt to lighten the learning load, asks the learner to memorize perfectly patterns such as, ς, υ, ι, ν, ι, ων, ις, υς (2nd Decl Masc).

If I've sounded pejorative in my description of the G-T method and my attempt to define its approach, it was unintended.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Fri Dec 19, 2014 7:49 pm

Qimmik wrote:
Example 1:
Teacher tells the student a point of grammar.

Example 2:
Teacher gives the student lots of example sentences that illustrate the same point of grammar until the student grasps it themselves.

Is the teacher of the second example less concerned about grammar?


If Example 1 is supposed to be the "grammar-translation" method, it's certainly not an accurate description of my learning experience, so I have no idea what the "grammar-translation" method really is. We were taught points of grammar and at the same time worked through plenty of illustrative examples. And we read, first simple made-up Greek sentences, then longer passages of simplified Greek, then real Greek.
.


My intention with the above example was not to portray the "grammar-translation" method. I don't pretend to know what the "grammar-translation" method is and the question in the tittle was most certainly not rhetorical.

My point was that a teacher who does not present grammar formally but tries to inspire an intuitive grasp in the student of grammar is just as concerned with grammar. I don't think I am wrong in saying that you see critism of the Grammar-Translation method as critism of grammar as such. In that you are wrong.

Even though it may not appear so, I am very much on the fence as the value of Intuitive methods versus more formal methods. If you grasp a point of grammar yourself you are much more likely to remember it while if you don't get it you flounder around in the dark. It may be that both aproaches can be done well and both can be done badly.

But if the method you are defending involves "plenty of illustrative examples" then it does sound a great deal better that teaching of the perfect that I experiance at the summer school I attended ( with zero examples). But if that was an extreme, what about John Taylor's Greek GCSE where he covers μι verbs. This is a huge area because though they are similar it covers several subgroups with are sufficiently different from each other that you can't rely on them and then Taylor cover all tenses. At the of this he provides an exercise which involves 10 Greek to English sentences and 5 English to Greek. Are there really people who can learn that way? So, if those examples are just the G-T method being done badly, there's an aweful lot of it about.

But I am very glad to hear of descriptions of the G-T method being done well.

Can I ask though whether you have watched Christophe Ricco on Youtube? Why do you think his methods are unhelpful especially is, as I suspect, most of those attending are doing his course in addition to not instead of more traditional methods?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby mwh » Fri Dec 19, 2014 10:23 pm

While I might quibble here and there, Saulos’ thoughtful description seems accurate enough to me. In practice,the “Grammar-Translation” label seems to have no very determinate meaning, but is vaguely applied to any method that involves study of grammar and translation into or out of the target language (in our case, ancient Greek). From what I’ve seen it appears to be used mainly as an implicitly derogatory term by people who believe in the superiority of oral-aural methods, the so-called Direct Method or any version of the Communicative Approach. It’s sometimes reduced to old vs. new, ignorant vs. informed, naïve vs. theoretically respectable, or the like.

Myself I think the opposition is largely fabricated. Certainly it’s exaggerated. Second language acquisition has been much studied, and it’s beyond question that modern languages can be much more efficiently acquired than by “grammar-translation” alone. With regard to ancient Greek, two points:
1. Ancient Greek is unlike modern languages (not to mention golf or lawn-tennis). It’s not a living language with communities of native speakers. So it’s not to be expected that learning techniques effective for modern languages will be equally appropriate (or available) for ancient Greek.
2. No good method of learning ancient Greek involves grammar and translation alone. In my experience there is always an oral component. (In my own opinion, Greek should always be read aloud, or at least vocalized internally; that goes double for verse.)
Both these points are incontestable, it seems to me, but on these boards they sometimes go unacknowledged.

Now into more dangerous waters, where I risk offending.
People can train themselves, or be trained, to speak, and understand when spoken, a factitious simulacrum of a certain form of Greek, one with very limited vocabulary and even more limited syntax. I don’t myself see any point in that, beyond the satisfaction in the accomplishment. To my mind, it’s a snare and a delusion, founded on the misguided notion that what can be done with a modern language can be done with an ancient one. To adopt jeidsath’s imagery, it can stunt a learner’s growth. (Expertus dico.) According to Markos, but perhaps not to others, the aim of speaking is to improve fluency in reading. Even if it does, which I doubt, I think there are better ways of doing that. (Specifically, by reading.)

For what they’re worth, my views on Grammar and Translation, in brief and probably stated too dogmatically:
# Formal knowledge of ancient Greek grammar, whether systematically acquired or not, is a practical necessity. That entails a certain amount of “metalanguage” (subject, subjunctive, passive, genitive, etc. etc.; not necessarily “First Class Conditions,” whatever they are); the essential terms were invented by ancient Greek linguists, analyzing their own language. (There’s now more modern metalanguage too, e.g. topic and focus, more obviously applicable to some languages than to others. These may enhance but do not conflict with the traditional modes of analysis.)
# Translation from Greek is invaluable for purposes of communicating understanding, however approximately, and usually the most economical and precise way of doing so. (Much better than the paraphrasing or mono-lingual glossing favored by Markos.) But the sooner it can be dispensed with, the better. The aim (even for translators) is unmediated comprehension of the Greek.
# Translation into Greek, since it involves active use of the language, can help in consolidating grammatical knowledge and in developing understanding of usage and style, as can free composition (which on the texkit composition boards seems in practice to be attempted translation into Greek)—but only if thoroughly competent critique is available.
# Grammar and translation do not necessarily go together. But grammar is most efficiently learnt if attended by Greek instantiation (translated or not).

I’ll leave it at that. Following the example of Saulos and others, I’ve tried to avoid the rhetoric that tends to pervade such discussions. A certain apologetic subtext is inevitable.

I didn’t mean to go on for so long (as Fidel Castro could have said but probably didn’t).

PS Oh, and on memorizing, we now know how best to get fresh material into long-term memory, by phased repetition. That’s something books can’t do at all, and I’m sure very few teachers do well. So that’s up to the learner.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Sat Dec 20, 2014 12:55 am

mwh wrote:2. No good method of learning ancient Greek involves grammar and translation alone. In my experience there is always an oral component. (In my own opinion, Greek should always be read aloud, or at least vocalized internally; that goes double for verse.)
Both these points are incontestable, it seems to me, but on these boards they sometimes go unacknowledged.

Would I be reading too much into that to conclude you see value in listening to Ancient Greek rather than simply reading it?
mwh wrote:According to Markos, but perhaps not to others, the aim of speaking is to improve fluency in reading. Even if it does, which I doubt, I think there are better ways of doing that. (Specifically, by reading.)

My aim is not to read aloud. I do it because I think it helps my aim of silent reading with understanding. Id do so because my hunch is the more different ways of engaging with Ancient Greek the better. That is to say getting as many different parts of your brain working to aim of learning Greek.

mwh wrote:
# Translation into Greek, since it involves active use of the language, can help in consolidating grammatical knowledge and in developing understanding of usage and style, as can free composition (which on the texkit composition boards seems in practice to be attempted translation into Greek)—but only if thoroughly competent critique is available.


Again if the aim is silent reading is the aim then why bother? And why if free composition is of value does it why wouldn't speaking, that is to say oral free composition, have something unique to contribute?

 You do say only with a " thoroughly competent critique". Would I be right in guessing that without that there is a danger of getting into bad habits? I can see that is a risk and I certainly think that any 'production' of ancient Greek is more useful with that criticism. (So thanks for your criticism my posts on the weather thread and stories). However, I do think its worth doing even where that's not available.

To a certain extent, maybe we aren't disagreeing in principle. You really rate the risks higher and I the rate the benefits higher.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby mwh » Sat Dec 20, 2014 4:02 am

A preliminary note. I beg you not to take this the wrong way, but I only entered this discussion because I have no willpower. I’ll respond briefly, but please don’t take it amiss if I then withdraw. I’m pretty busy right now.

daivid wrote:
mwh wrote:2. No good method of learning ancient Greek involves grammar and translation alone. In my experience there is always an oral component. (In my own opinion, Greek should always be read aloud, or at least vocalized internally; that goes double for verse.)
Both these points are incontestable, it seems to me, but on these boards they sometimes go unacknowledged.

Would I be reading too much into that to conclude you see value in listening to Ancient Greek rather than simply reading it?

I see less value in listening. I'd listen to Demosthenes if he were around, but he isn't. I confess I don’t actually read aloud much myself (though I'm not above muttering), but I find internal vocalization is enough to bring out rhythm, hiatus, assonance, all sorts of things that mattered to ancient greeks.

mwh wrote:According to Markos, but perhaps not to others, the aim of speaking is to improve fluency in reading. Even if it does, which I doubt, I think there are better ways of doing that. (Specifically, by reading.)

My aim is not to read aloud. I do it because I think it helps my aim of silent reading with understanding. Id do so because my hunch is the more different ways of engaging with Ancient Greek the better. That is to say getting as many different parts of your brain working to aim of learning Greek.

My aim isn’t to read aloud either, it’s to apprehend everything that’s going on in the greek. And I didn’t mean by reading aloud, I meant simply by reading. The more you read, the better you get. But I’m all for engaging with greek in multiple ways.

mwh wrote:
# Translation into Greek, since it involves active use of the language, can help in consolidating grammatical knowledge and in developing understanding of usage and style, as can free composition (which on the texkit composition boards seems in practice to be attempted translation into Greek)—but only if thoroughly competent critique is available.


Again if the aim is silent reading is the aim then why bother?

Well, it’s a more active way of engaging with the language. I don’t see any real disagreement here.

And why if free composition is of value does it why wouldn't speaking, that is to say oral free composition, have something unique to contribute?

With written free composition, as with translation, you’re practising greek. In principle the same is true of speaking (oral free composition), but the language we’re dealing with takes exclusively writtten form, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can realistically replicate ancient greek speech.

 You do say only with a " thoroughly competent critique". Would I be right in guessing that without that there is a danger of getting into bad habits? I can see that is a risk and I certainly think that any 'production' of ancient Greek is more useful with that criticism. (So thanks for your criticism my posts on the weather thread and stories). However, I do think its worth doing even where that's not available.

Yes I most certainly do think there’s a danger of getting into bad habits, and the weather thread proves it (witness the recurrent ψυχρός ἐστι, for instance). I don't wish to be rude, but I do think it would be more profitable to do exercises testing grammatical concord and basic syntax and such.

 To a certain extent, maybe we aren't disagreeing in principle. You really rate the risks higher and I the rate the benefits higher.

I guess that about sums it up.

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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby y11971alex » Sat Dec 20, 2014 6:16 am

mwh wrote:Yes I most certainly do think there’s a danger of getting into bad habits, and the weather thread proves it (witness the recurrent ψυχρός ἐστι, for instance). I don't wish to be rude, but I do think it would be more profitable to do exercises testing grammatical concord and basic syntax and such.


If I might add, I don't think the weather thread is a serious attempt at Greek prose.

I think it more concerns the habit of using Greek rather than proper Greek.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby daivid » Sat Dec 20, 2014 12:38 pm

mwh wrote:A preliminary note. I beg you not to take this the wrong way, but I only entered this discussion because I have no willpower. I’ll respond briefly, but please don’t take it amiss if I then withdraw. I’m pretty busy right now.

Agreed.
mwh wrote:With written free composition, as with translation, you’re practising greek. In principle the same is true of speaking (oral free composition), but the language we’re dealing with takes exclusively writtten form, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can realistically replicate ancient greek speech.

Even though Christophe Ricco teaches Koine, he teaches Attic pronunciation (and even that of course is just a best guess). His reason is that by the Koine era, pronunciation had diverged from the written language and that to teach that would create problems for students when they come to read. So his aim is not to reproduce ancient greek speech but use the liveliness of speech as an aid to giving students the tools with which to read.

Having said that, there are youtube videos that ridcule Erasmian pronuciation which suggests the aim of those producing them is to teach Greek so that should you happen to encounter a Ancient Greek native speaker they won't laugh at you. This IMHO is nuts.


 
mwh wrote:Yes I most certainly do think there’s a danger of getting into bad
habits, and the weather thread proves it (witness the recurrent ψυχρός ἐστι,
for instance). I don't wish to be rude, but I do think it would be more
profitable to do exercises testing grammatical concord and basic syntax
and such.


You said you weren't going to do a follow up post but a hint as to what we should be doing would be very appreciated. Sould it be ψυχρὸν ἐστι or is the mistake more fundamental.
Even if you don't have time please accept my thanks for the warning to be on my guard with that phrase.

 
mwh wrote:PS Oh, and on memorizing, we now know how best to get fresh
material into long-term memory, by phased repetition. That’s something
books can’t do at all, and I’m sure very few teachers do well. So that’s
up to the learner.


Even though this was an afterthough and it might be a little unfair in picking it up - I keep being drawn back to it. You and Qimmik have defended traditional methods on the grounds that grammar is important. And both of you have indeed shown your commitment by the help given by the both of you to those with questions.

But you here say that the basic grammar can't be taught by books or most teachers. But that is exactly my problem with the current textbooks - they are very bad at teaching the grammar. I may have been too quick to give up on taught courses but you rather confirm that my experiance is probably typical.

My knowlege of modern language teaching goes no further than a five week TEFL course but that did give me an insight on how lessons that are planed to focus on a specific bits of grammar can be verry effective in teaching grammar. Likewise I don't see why readings that are written with a focus on a specific language point can't teach grammar. That's basically what Thrasymachus is doing though for me something even more focused would be better. (My ideal readings would be like the stories I have posted here but written by someone who actually knew what they were doing.)

So teachers and books can IMO teach grammar but as far as Ancient Greek is concerned. while they may present it well indeed often very well, they don't teach it or at least not in a way that works for me.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Σαῦλος » Sat Dec 20, 2014 3:38 pm

I thought ψυχρός ἐστίν was just fine.
ψυχρός ὁ ἀήρ.
ψυγρός (ὁ ἀήρ) ἐστίν.

I hope it's not criticism per se to state that the G-T method is based on an appeal to the analytic processes in the brain (located in the frontal lobe). And is it wrong to conclude that those who are good at memorization and analysis, are good at learning from the G-T approach?

I hope again that it's not a criticism of G-T per se to state that language is not typically acquired via analysis, but synthetically by the language centers of the brain (located in the lateral lobes). And is it wrong to say that all people of average intelligence can learn a second language?

In a natural environment, we learn words and patterns without conscious recognition or labeling of the patterns. For example, we do not see words such as "insane, impossible, and illogical" as part of a group. In fact, to begin with such a categorization would not lighten the learning load, it would burden it. Here's a little mini-lesson for illustration - intentional caricature! :)

    The "in" Negating Prefix:

    The negation "in-" comes from the Latin. This negation is applied to some English words, but cannot be applied universally. Examples: insane, incoherent, incomprehensible.

    Irregularities:
      When preceding a plosive consonant, change "in-" to "im-", e.g. implausible.
      When preceding a liquid consonant, the "n" mimicks the following letter and duplicates. E.g. "irregular, illogical."


The grammatical explanation would not help in a typical language learning endeavor IF IT WAS THE INITIIAL EXPOSURE to the words. However, after playing around and internalizing some of the words, a grammatical explanation might well help. This particular mini-lesson isn't a great example, but it could at least help us to avoid iregular spellings. ;)

What I've written here, of course, has implications for language pedagogy. For me, it has implications even for dead language pedagogy. I don't think the G-T method is evil. I acknowledge that it works for some. I honestly admire those who can make the switch from analysis to synthesis, from grammatical explanations to comprehension. I just don't think it works for typical language learners. I've tried G-T as a learner and as a teacher and found it wanting. So, I ditched it and have been teaching and learning through Communicative methods. I explain grammar. I use labels. ...But never before engaging the students in genuine communication with a language structure. Always after. When presented in this sequence, grammar is indispensable for consolidating and refining learning.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Markos » Sat Dec 20, 2014 8:57 pm

MiguelM wrote:I would define GT as the method of learning that leans fundamentally on a) preparing for reading through grammar drills not involving original production in the target language and b) starting to read by translating the text at hand.

I think this is a concise and accurate (and neutral?) definition, but I would change "grammar drills" to "L1 grammatical labels and explanations (meta-language.")
Scribo wrote:What annoys me is lately there's been an...anti-intellectual, bent to some of this criticism...


Criticism of Grammar-Translation is indeed anti-intellectual in the limited sense that Grammar-Translation represents the apex of a certain type of intellectualism, an Enlightenment, Modern (as opposed to both pre-Modern and post-Modern) paradigm where something is understood by stepping outside of it as a critic, by breaking it down and reducing it to something else. This might contrast with a pre-Modern and post-Modern mode whereby one understands something by taking it on its own terms, by entering into it as a participant. The second approach would advocate intuition over analysis, meaning over form, creative ambiguity over the rigid adherence to rules and nailing down semantic precision, Social over Academic models, Right Brain over Left, etc.

So, yes, there is an element of Romanticism with a capital R. to people like Rouse and Blackie.

mwh wrote:Ancient Greek is unlike modern languages (not to mention golf or lawn-tennis). It’s not a living language with communities of native speakers. So it’s not to be expected that learning techniques effective for modern languages will be equally appropriate (or available) for ancient Greek.


No, they won't be equally appropriate. They will have to be adapted. But the question is whether Ancient Greek is so different from other languages that one should avoid the methods used to attain fluency in all other languages. Is Ancient Greek fundamentally a language to be acquired (even if only to be read) or an academic subject to be learned about? Should one adopt therefore an academic (G-T) model or a social (Direct Method) model to attaining reading fluency. You are right. Attic Greek is not lawn-tennis. But is it MORE like cooking or Russian history? Should a Greek class look more like a cooking class or a Russian history class?
mwh wrote:Yes I most certainly do think there’s a danger of getting into bad habits, and the weather thread proves it (witness the recurrent ψυχρός ἐστι, for instance).

1. What is wrong with ψυχρός ἐστι?
2. Without doubt there are tons of mistakes on the weather thread. But if anyone's reading fluency has ever been harmed by the use of or exposure to improper Greek, they need to come forward.

Σαῦλος wrote:I don't think the G-T method is evil.

In a moral sense, no, of course not. But both grammar and translation are sometimes called necessary evils in the process of learning a language, and so perhaps one definition of Grammar-Translation might be the method to learn a language which asserts that grammar and translation are more necessary than evil. Proponents of the Direct Method might assert the inverse.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby jeidsath » Sat Dec 20, 2014 10:12 pm

Who all has read this before? The teaching of Greek at the Perse School, Cambridge.

If you haven't read this, it's a treat. Take a look at an example classroom conversation (pg. 12). But everything is good. For example, the grammar statistics on pg. 24-25.

There is a massive amount of grammar and translation going on in this classroom, but only in combination with other methods.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Victor » Sat Dec 20, 2014 10:31 pm

Σαῦλος wrote: And is it wrong to say that all people of average intelligence can learn a second language? ...I honestly admire those who can make the switch from analysis to synthesis, from grammatical explanations to comprehension. I just don't think it works for typical language learners.

It sounds like you're saying the grammar/translation method only works better than the direct method if students are bright enough to cope with it and many aren't. Is that essentially what you're saying?
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby John W. » Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:14 am

Perhaps those with greater expertise than I possess could advise me on a couple of points. How extensive really is our knowledge of idiomatic spoken Ancient Greek, and is it believed to be enough to reconstruct the spoken language accurately? If not, is there not a danger that we will simply be trying to speak written Greek, in a way which bears very limited resemblance to the actual spoken language?

Moreover, as with other languages, spoken Greek no doubt changed significantly over time. We know (I suppose) a fair bit about the progress of the literary language, but how much knowledge do we have of the spoken language's changes (in idiom, etc.) over the centuries? And would we be trying to replicate the spoken language of the time of (say) Thucydides, or of the writers of the NT?

Pending answers to these queries, I have the nagging concern that the language we may end up trying to speak will bear about the same relationship to genuine spoken Ancient Greek as the eponymous zombies of The Walking Dead do to real living, breathing people.

Best wishes,

John
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Scribo » Sun Dec 21, 2014 12:27 pm

John, that is a good question and I think the best way to answer it would be to briefly state the situation and expand the question. Which Greek? The thing is you've got several Greek dialects spread over various territories, within those you have several sociolects too. Even within a tightly bound group there is a considerable variation in register of speech. Then bear in mind you have the problem of time.

Our evidence is good for some places and some aspects of the language at some of the time, there's not always the ideal amount of coverage. For my money the best place to get started with this is Greek comedy, there's been two good books by a teacher of mine, Andreas Will which talks about these questions of language - how we can identify low speech, foreigner speech, female speech etc. To my mind Latin is slightly better served, I recently read through Adam's book on social variation in Latin and WOW. There's also a good edited volume, Colloquial and Literary Latin, by Dickey and Chahoud which has a lot of great essays.

But regardless of what data we have and don't, it must be said that the kind of spoken Greek and Latin one finds bandied about is often a far cry away from what we do actually know. It sounds...bad much more often than it sounds good. Of course one could argue that the point isn't to reproduce as accurately as possible the Greek of the period, but simply to practice and that's another thing entirely. But it pays to be sensible about the evidence which people are frankly ignorant of.

EDIT: BTW I don't think MWH was suggesting that without a proper teacher you're going to do yourself harm or something. At least I think not, I hope I'm not overstepping myself here. Either way I would slightly temper those comments with my own voice. I suspect he simply meant it is not the most efficient thing in the world (true) and that none shall reach something like period accurate Greek that way (true). But I think it can still be helpful without a teacher providing you read a good amount to and make good use of textbooks.

Donovan's book on advanced Greek prose composition would be helpful. It's in the public domain and despite the "advanced" in the title the second part at least gives some theoretical differences between English and Greek in expression whereas the first is example driven. I think the second part may be helpful for just about anybody of nearly any level. There is a reason composition is such an important tool in the classical toolbox after all.
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby John W. » Sun Dec 21, 2014 3:32 pm

Scribo - many thanks for your very helpful reply.

I suppose I would be numbered among those who read Ancient Greek by 'decoding', since I studied it by the traditional method of learning grammar/vocabulary and reading/translating texts. Purely from my own personal perspective, trying to recreate a dead oral language out of surviving literary texts in order simply to read those selfsame texts would seem analogous to piling Pelion upon Ossa; however, if it genuinely works for some people, and helps/enourages them to engage with Greek literature, then that is certainly all to the good.


Best wishes,

John
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby mwh » Sun Dec 21, 2014 3:57 pm

"The walking dead." Precisely. As I less amusingly put it:
a factitious simulacrum of a certain form of Greek, ...
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Re: What is the Grammar-Translation method?

Postby Scribo » Sun Dec 21, 2014 4:07 pm

You're welcome, though for clarity's sake I should briefly state that we're not building up ideas of non-literary language just from literature, but especially from things like inscriptions and documents too. You can also learn a lot from what I suppose one might even call "negative" evidence, mistakes in spelling/transmission or seeing where people are having trouble via glosses to texts and linguistically related works (like the glossaries used to teach accentuation). It's not perfect, but we do have more than just texts thankfully.

Yes if people find it helpful that's one thing, but as I say one sees a lot of queer statements as to what's going on. Also a lot of silly assumptions like doing it this way will suddenly yield proficiency in reading literature....as if native speakers immersed in the original cultures weren't having a very difficult time with a lot of these texts and authors. Hence these tools.

It might be instructive to take Sanskrit as a counter example. Unlike here, there exists a continuous tradition of teaching the language orally and is a heavy emphasis on literary productive (style) and oral debate on a variety of matters (called shastric). So why can't we do that for Greek? Well for starters the amount of material they have dwarfs ours with regards to everyday language and they're not necessarily even trying to recreate Sanskrit as a spoken language but the academicese of the Gupta empire or wherever from whence this tradition descends. Their training is also rather damn rigorous and much closer to the traditional philological methods of the west than anything Rico and co are doing. They start with phonology and rigorously drill students in the sounds (so no awful Anglo-American sounds here) and then they go on to work through rules of euphony (whereas people can't even grasp Greek accents half the time, let alone permutation and combination. Yes, from my understanding they learn a lot of morphology from exercises and example based rather than grammar handouts but they still learn a discipline called Vyakarana (spelling?) which deals with a lot of sophisticated grammatical stuff. This is before going onto things like metrics and style.

So, yes, orally lead. But very rigorous, far beyond what most would want to commit to (it's dying even in India in the fact of religiously motivated methods, little more than glossing and exegesis) and built on the back of a hoard of material several hundred years old. It also apparently take an inordinately long amount of time and they're STILL locked out of a lot of material. It took Saussure and his laryngeals to solve some of the problems in explicating verb formation, it took British lead palaeographers and epigraphists to unlock the earliest scripts. So yes they can read and speak and fluently but after starting from a privileged position and an insane amount of work. Moreover as a scholastic enterprise it's obviously missing something. There'd be no point "speaking" Greek if there were no one who could put Callimachus back together.
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