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Greek for "damn my bloody luck"

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Greek for "damn my bloody luck"

Postby jadebono » Sat Jul 05, 2008 8:55 pm

Ar... Hannibal's at my gates and has caught me napping. You see, the thing is this. A family friend, who lives in Italy, has just come over for a holiday and brought her children with her. One of her daughters has just failed the equivalent of the Italian high school diploma by scraping a failure mark in Greek. They asked me to give her remedial tutoring for the supplementary exam. All very well and good. Except that it isn't.

You see, the blasted Italian system requires a competence in the grammar and the syntax of Greek but they don't write a line of composition. Not a damned line. They've got loads of cloze passages and some artificial Greek texts. And they've got to do things like fill in the accents in passages, fill in the blanks that kind of thing.

Obviously, this means that after three years of Greek, this poor girl has learnt nothing. She can't even write the simplest of sentences in Greek, even if she knows the words and the grammar. She doesn't even know the alphabet well let alone the other stuff. And I have eight weeks to cover the whole book.

I'm a firm believer in the importance of composition. I learnt Latin and Greek by working my way, numerous times, through the great textbooks of yore, Hillard and Botting, North and Hillard, Colebourne, Bradley and Sidgwick. I've also used with a certain liking the Athenaze books. This is the only way I can think of to impart the required competency.

Except that the girl had a hysterical attack when she saw the Hillard and Botting book (!) and her mother told me that the system of tuition used has to be in line with the Italian system because the written exam is complemented by an oral during which they ask her all sorts of questions based on her grammar book.

Well, this is my Cannae all right. With her books and system, I've lost the battle already. So, my question is, dare I ditch her damnable italian textbooks and set her the Hillard and Botting OR the Athenaze (English version, I don't have the Italian version) or do I persist with her damn books which will ensure that she will definitely fail her remedial?

NB - my professors, when I called them up, hoping to pass the buck onto them, shied away from the proposition so quickly that I was left staring at a telephone receiver silent except for the dialling tone.
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Postby spiphany » Mon Jul 07, 2008 4:02 pm

Well, this is my Cannae all right. With her books and system, I've lost the battle already. So, my question is, dare I ditch her damnable italian textbooks and set her the Hillard and Botting OR the Athenaze (English version, I don't have the Italian version) or do I persist with her damn books which will ensure that she will definitely fail her remedial?


Don't bring your own conceptions about what she should or should not be able to do into this. I.e., thinking you have to plunge right into an intensive course of composition. Or that she's doomed to failure because of the methods of the Italian educational system. It won't help her, and it will only frustrate both of you. What does she want? Is she only interested in passing the exam, or does she genuinely want to understand Greek? This makes a difference. First rule about teaching: don't force your pupil. You have to go at their pace. You can't force them to do something they're not ready for. Particularly in this case.

I know a lot of people here are extremely avid supporters of learning Latin and Greek using more 'natural,' intuitive methods, mastering speaking and writing the language. I'm not criticizing that. I think one learns the language much more thoroughly that way than if one merely learns to translate.

HOWEVER, it is not the only way. What concerns me is the attitude that if you don't learn Greek 'their' way, you're doing it wrong, your knowledge is somehow inferior. I've seen that here far more than I'd like. It is perfectly possible to become competent in Greek using a traditional grammar-based course of instruction. (This is how I learned Greek. While my Greek is not as good as I would like, and I still struggle with composition, I would like to think I'm not completely ignorant of the language.) A rigorous mastery of grammar is not something to be scorned. The problem is when it starts to be treated as an end in itself and not simply a way of accessing the meaning of the text.

Now, as to your problem. You've taken a tremendous task upon yourself. Make sure your expectations are reasonable. How long do you have? You can't expect to be able to make her fluent in Greek in a month, particularly if she already has had negative experiences with the language. What you can do is work on laying the groundwork that she should have gotten in the first place. Not rote memorization of endings, but an understanding of what they mean and how they work. Problem-solving techniques. How to figure out a meaning based on the context. Build up her confidence. I would suggest -- not, mind you, knowing the situation in any detail -- combining progressive readings (something like A Greek Boy at Home, Thrasymachus, or Morice's Easy Stories in Attic Greek) with a course of instruction in grammar. Readings so that she has the experience of reading something and actually understanding it. Grammar so that she can cope with the exam. If you feel composition is essential, make it based on the readings, i.e., have her read a short passage and then write a few similar sentences, changing a verb tense or replacing the subject, object, with another noun.
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Postby jadebono » Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:56 pm

spiphany wrote: ...snip

Now, as to your problem. You've taken a tremendous task upon yourself. Make sure your expectations are reasonable. How long do you have? You can't expect to be able to make her fluent in Greek in a month, particularly if she already has had negative experiences with the language. What you can do is work on laying the groundwork that she should have gotten in the first place. Not rote memorization of endings, but an understanding of what they mean and how they work. Problem-solving techniques. How to figure out a meaning based on the context. Build up her confidence. I would suggest -- not, mind you, knowing the situation in any detail -- combining progressive readings (something like A Greek Boy at Home, Thrasymachus, or Morice's Easy Stories in Attic Greek) with a course of instruction in grammar. Readings so that she has the experience of reading something and actually understanding it. Grammar so that she can cope with the exam. If you feel composition is essential, make it based on the readings, i.e., have her read a short passage and then write a few similar sentences, changing a verb tense or replacing the subject, object, with another noun.



Thank you very much for your reply. I greatly appreciate it. You see, I am really in a quandry. The only reason I took on the job is because Her parents desperately hope she'll pass the exam thus sparing her the necessity to repeat a year. They are willing to grasp at any straw (though I made it amply clear that this mission impossible).

I have no time to speak off. I've got just eight weeks. Eight weeks. For all the grammar and syntax and the ability to translate doctored Greek passages into Italian. I told her parents that this was an impossible task and that all my tutors whom I had contacted, had refused to take on the job on the ground that it is impossible. And I only accepted because her parents looked so forlorn and hopeless that I couldn't bear not to offer them the shard of hope that is perhaps within in my power to offer - even though I also told them that it was a bridge too far.

I started off using her system but it was hopeless. She barely knew the alphabet and part of the first lesson included an extensive section on the accents. We made no progress.

For her second lesson, I ditched her books and her system and applied mine. I started her off on Hillard and Botting. We did one exercise and I set her another two for HW. I also did a passage from Athenaze. She seemed happier. In the first place, it was an new experience for her to actually compose something. Secondly, the exercise of parsing the English sentences and seeing how to apply the Greek grammar as a consequence of the parsing, made her feel surer of herself. As for the accents, I tell her what she needs to know at her current level.

I'm certainly not going to cover the damned syllabus in eight weeks but I'm hoping to cover half the Hillard and Botting and all the major extracts in the Athenaze books. That way, she ought to have a solid grasp of at least a considerable chunk of grammar and some experience in reading and understanding doctored Greek passages.

Once again, thank you for your kind reply. I appreciate it.
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Postby jadebono » Fri Sep 19, 2008 11:46 pm

She passed!
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Postby annis » Sat Sep 20, 2008 4:40 pm

jadebono wrote:She passed!


Congratulations!
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;
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Postby Adelheid » Sun Sep 21, 2008 5:27 pm

Congratulations from me too! Are you as happy as she is (i'm presuming she is :) )?
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