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Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

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Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby NathanSmith » Fri May 29, 2009 5:01 am

There is in the blogosphere at present an interesting discussion on the merits and demerits of different modes of learning Greek. The two basic modes discussed are communicative (i.e. how most "live" languages are taught) and grammar-translation (i.e. how Greek is traditionally taught).

Obviously the student's goals are important to consider. It is rightly noted that very few Greek students, especially in seminaries, have a familiar grasp of Greek as a language. What are your thoughts and experiences on this matter?
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby cb » Fri May 29, 2009 9:35 am

hi, someone told me about this new book on conversational koine, just in case anyone here hasn't heard about it and wants something like this (i don't have it though so can't give further details): http://poliskoine.com/site/

cheers :)
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby modus.irrealis » Sun May 31, 2009 4:50 am

Sometimes I wonder how much difference the method in language learning makes. In my dabbling with various languages, I've tried different approaches, and the main thing seems to be the effort I put in plus constant exposure. And then I think of the teaching of French here, which is mandatory from grades 3 to 9, and yet most people learn very little. I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a French immersion program, and again I think the difference was just the constant exposure to French (half my school day was in French). I'm not even sure how important it was for me to produce French (I understand in the communicative method, there's a lot of emphasis on having the student speak in the target language) -- my French has really improved since I finished high school, almost ten years ago, but I've had very few opportunities to actually use French, but I read and watch tv and it just improves. My experience with (Ancient) Greek is similar, where I'm usually not a big fan of speaking/writing in Greek because I have doubts about the genuineness I can achieve, but the more passive exposure I get, the better my Greek gets. There are a couple sites, antimoon.com for learning English and http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com for learning Japanese, that emphasize high-quality input and think it's better to say nothing at all than to say things with mistakes (which would seem to go against both the communicative and grammar-translation method), and a lot of it rings true for me.

And if that's true, a seminary would be a perfect place for constant exposure to Greek. You can have services in Greek, daily bible readings in Greek, miracle plays in Greek. There's all sorts of things you can do to expose students to Greek and it'll be helpful even if they don't fully understand. There was another thread here about listening to Greek, and I mentioned how helpful to me it was growing up hearing Greek in church, so that even without my doing anything, a lot of stuff just sank in, and when I went ahead and started learning Greek, certain things just felt right or felt wrong even though I couldn't tell you why in terms of grammar. But I learned Greek going through Mastronarde's, which is basically as grammar-translation as it gets, and I really liked it, although I don't think I'd have the patience to work through it now.

I also agree with the point that if you can only read the Bible in Greek then you don't know Greek. Knowing Greek means you can pick up any work in Greek and read it like you would something written in your native languages -- that's certainly my long-term goal. To be honest, I would suspect that if you can only read the Bible, which is most likely a book you know very well in another language, how much reading Greek are you doing? The point was made that people should read things beside the Bible -- I think that learners should probably read anything but the Bible and only come to the Bible when they know Greek well enough to be reading the Greek instead of reading the translation they know well into the Greek, if you know what I mean.

And yeah, you should certainly know how to say basic things in Greek, but is "yellow" really that basic? I don't know much about colour terms in Ancient Greek except that they're very different. What would "yellow" be? ξανθός? χλωρός? something else?
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby thesaurus » Mon Jun 01, 2009 1:38 am

modus.irrealis wrote:I also agree with the point that if you can only read the Bible in Greek then you don't know Greek. Knowing Greek means you can pick up any work in Greek and read it like you would something written in your native languages -- that's certainly my long-term goal.


I'm curious, how many people do you think attain this level of skill? I would love to get to a similar point, but while I'm struggling through my Greek I wonder about what level others attain. Personally, I almost don't like to say that I "know ancient Greek" because there is no guarantee that you could hand me a text at that moment and I'd understand it. At the same time, I realize that a lot of people say they "know" the language, but with the added assumption "provided a dictionary, ample time, and possibly a reference grammar." It's nice to be even that far along, but I don't think it's a very satisfying level, if you know what I mean. If I can't mostly understand a random text at sight, I feel like I don't really know anything. I've reached a point in my Latin where I'm confident that I could read most texts at sight with the occasional blunder and unknown words, and I'd like to reach this level with Greek.

I've recently heard that some psychologists theorize that 10,000 hours/10 years (depending what I read) of training are necessary to become an "expert" in something. They sometimes give the example of chess, and I wonder how this concept applies to Greek and Latin. Do you think you'll eventually hit that fluent reading ability once you've amassed enough hours of reading? I worry about the cases of those many people who never get beyond "decoding" the languages, yet have been studying and teaching them for most of their lives. At the same time, as a natural human capability language learning seems to operate by its own rules. I think I could move to France tomorrow and become completely fluent in French in a lot fewer than 10 years.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby mga318 » Mon Jun 01, 2009 2:30 am

Since I wrote the post, I'll say a word or two. When I say "communicative," I'm thinking more about your immersion experience sort of methodology than I am about simply Greek production. In fact, were I teaching a course, I would likely prohibit any speaking whether Greek or English for at least a week. And then for the next two months I wouldn't allow anything beyond simple greetings and questions for vocabulary elicitation (e.g. "What is this?" "What am I doing?"). So total, there wouldn't be any real sort of speaking for about 2.5 months. We definitely want as much of an immersion experience as we can.

modus.irrealis wrote:I also agree with the point that if you can only read the Bible in Greek then you don't know Greek. Knowing Greek means you can pick up any work in Greek and read it like you would something written in your native languages -- that's certainly my long-term goal.


I'm curious, how many people do you think attain this level of skill?


Good question, very few. I actually only know of two people. There are probably many more out there, but I'd say 1%.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby christophe » Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:57 pm

My name is Christophe Rico. I am the author of the new Polis Greek method. Following the suggestion of some members of this forum, let me give more information about this book.
The method was published in February 2009 at Editions du Cerf. It is now available at amazon.fr or at fnac.com You will find it there under the heading "Polis". It also available at amazon.ca but only under the heading of the subtitle of the book (Parler le grec ancien comme une langue ancienne).
The contents of the book have been tested during some 10 years of teaching Greek language as a living language. It is focused on the Koine dialect of the first Century AD (New Testament, Plutarch, etc.). It includes a CD with the recordings of all the dialogs of the book.
The method is a method of living Greek, rather than a living method of Greek. That means that the characters of the book (six students and their teacher, among others) are set in a 21st Century environment, even if they talk Koine Greek. I have had to coin (or rather, to borrow fro Modern Greek) two or three words in order to refer to modern realities as the phone, for instance. But those are exceptions that are always marked with an asterisk in the vocabulary of the book.
The illustrations were made by an artist from Catalonia (Pau Morales) and I can say that they have been prepared with a lot of care. The artist got first an idea of the personality of each character and then he created their drawings.
The stress in this method is rather on grammatical skills, following the pace of natural language acquisition. So we start with the imperatives, both aorist and present, because this is the first thing that a Greek boy or girl will learn.
I am already preparing an English edition, but I have first to finish volumes 2 and 3. That means that the English edition will be available within at least 3 years. But anyway, there is very little French in the book, so it can be used also by someone who has a poor knowledge of French. All the solutions to the exercices are at the end of the volume, in Greek (there are no translation exercises).
My experience as a teacher is that the average student eventually manages to read (without need of translating) the narrative texts of the New Testament, after two years of study (3 hours of teaching per week + personal study).
I am ready to answer to more questions. You can visit the site poliskoine.com and write to me through that site.
Thank you very much to all of you for your kind interest in this method.

Christophe Rico
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby modus.irrealis » Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:00 pm

thesaurus wrote:I'm curious, how many people do you think attain this level of skill? I would love to get to a similar point, but while I'm struggling through my Greek I wonder about what level others attain. Personally, I almost don't like to say that I "know ancient Greek" because there is no guarantee that you could hand me a text at that moment and I'd understand it. At the same time, I realize that a lot of people say they "know" the language, but with the added assumption "provided a dictionary, ample time, and possibly a reference grammar." It's nice to be even that far along, but I don't think it's a very satisfying level, if you know what I mean. If I can't mostly understand a random text at sight, I feel like I don't really know anything. I've reached a point in my Latin where I'm confident that I could read most texts at sight with the occasional blunder and unknown words, and I'd like to reach this level with Greek.

The dictionary is alright -- I sometimes have to look up words when reading English, and not only for things like Shakespeare but sometimes even with an average novel, whose author was probably mining every thesaurus they could find. (It should be a monolingual dictionary, which doesn't exist unfortunately for Ancient Greek -- personally, one of my own goals it to be able to rely only on references in the target language.) But it's the ample time requirement that gets to me. I want to be able to read things in real time, so to speak, and at least be able to see the structure of the sentence clearly even if I don't know the meaning of every word. Nothing motivates me to improve as much as coming across a sentence that I have to take apart and put back together in order to understand it. But I take for example the bible readings at my church. Since we don't have the text in front of us, you can't follow along so you have to understand as you hear, and you get no extra time. Obviously it's easy with the English (except when the priest has a horrible accent :D), but even with the Greek, I can get the gist of what's being said, I can identify the words even if I don't know what they all mean, and this happens in real time. I honestly believe that if I put more time and effort into it and got more exposure, I should be able to understand things with only the rare problem. (I make no claims for Classical Greek, which I imagine would me much more difficult, but I would assume that it too can be done -- I imagine for example that educated Byzantines spoke in an Atticizing Koine and understood each other.)

As to how many people have that level? I can't say -- when I started out, I assumed it would be very high, since I figured that was everybody's goal and people get degrees for Greek and teach it and so on. I don't have contact with the world of academic Greek, but I always assumed that to get a university degree in Greek, you would need to know Greek better than I knew French in grade 12 (when we were reading authors from Flaubert to Racine), so when I see comments that suggest that's not true, I find it really odd. I also assumed that people trained theologically in the Greek church would known Greek well and that when a bishop for example quotes and explains the bible, he knows what he's talking about instead of just repeating what he's learned.

I've recently heard that some psychologists theorize that 10,000 hours/10 years (depending what I read) of training are necessary to become an "expert" in something. They sometimes give the example of chess, and I wonder how this concept applies to Greek and Latin. Do you think you'll eventually hit that fluent reading ability once you've amassed enough hours of reading? I worry about the cases of those many people who never get beyond "decoding" the languages, yet have been studying and teaching them for most of their lives. At the same time, as a natural human capability language learning seems to operate by its own rules. I think I could move to France tomorrow and become completely fluent in French in a lot fewer than 10 years.

The scientific consensus seems to be that second language learning is fundamentally different than native language learning and that our natural ability to pick up language only works in the latter case and eventually disappears as we grow older, but I don't know. I see immigrants here who don't get any institutional learning and have no time to actively work on their English and get exposed as much to the English of other immigrants as they do of native speakers, and they reach decent levels. If the test for Greek is to be able to express yourself about simple matters, they would pass that test for English.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby modus.irrealis » Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:09 pm

mga318 wrote:Since I wrote the post, I'll say a word or two. When I say "communicative," I'm thinking more about your immersion experience sort of methodology than I am about simply Greek production. In fact, were I teaching a course, I would likely prohibit any speaking whether Greek or English for at least a week. And then for the next two months I wouldn't allow anything beyond simple greetings and questions for vocabulary elicitation (e.g. "What is this?" "What am I doing?"). So total, there wouldn't be any real sort of speaking for about 2.5 months. We definitely want as much of an immersion experience as we can.

Sorry about the confusion -- there are some methods that go under that name that emphasize getting the student to talk as much as possible and to learn how to express themselves in spite of any errors they make, but I agree with those sites I linked to that the early errors are the the ones that are the hardest to correct later. I also kind of like the idea of giving students texts in Greek and then having them answer questions about it in English. That way you can test comprehension directly.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby Bert » Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:49 pm

http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-gr ... 49313.html

Here is a B-Greek posting by Dr. Randall Buth, (who teaches Koine Greek as a living language)about this book.
It may be of interest to you. It is to me.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby Essorant » Mon Jun 01, 2009 6:25 pm

If you will be living in a society that speaks ancient Greek, then I recommend learning it as if you are. But if you aren't, I don't. I don't live in a society that speaks Homeric, but I specially go out of my way to read Homer. That is a speciality, and an artistic addition to my life, not much like the need to use everyday and common English in the society I live in. Likewise I think Greek is a speciality and artistic addition for most English-speakers that study and learn it, and therefore they should study and learn it accordingly: artistically and specially. It is not a "natural" process. It is specially going out of one's way to learn another language and that is how I think it ought to be treated.
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby annis » Tue Jun 02, 2009 12:33 pm

Essorant wrote:Likewise I think Greek is a speciality and artistic addition for most English-speakers that study and learn it, and therefore they should study and learn it accordingly: artistically and specially. It is not a "natural" process. It is specially going out of one's way to learn another language and that is how I think it ought to be treated.


Two observations on this.

First, learning greek is emphatically not merely an artistic extension to the lives of most people who study Koine. Correctly understanding the Greek of the NT is of critical importance.

Second, regardless of the role ancient Greek plays in our lives, learning which includes producing lots of whatever language you study — and if spoken as well as written, all the better — results in much better command of the language. This not, I think, a controversial point. Even an artist spends a lot of time sketching banal subjects before attaining mastery.
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τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;
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Re: Greek pedagogy - communicative v. grammar-translation

Postby Markos » Sun Jun 28, 2009 2:05 pm

Thank you, c.b. for finding Rico's book Polis and passing it along. I have just finished it and enjoyed it a lot. The issue of living language methods in learning Greek has been much discussed. Proponents often sound like they are exagerating the
claims that hearing, writing, and speaking ancient Greek is necessary to read it well because the fact is, for many of us we have really done nothing but read. I agree that time spent on Greek is more important than what we do, and the fact is, Rico's method does take up much time that could be spent reading. But I just came to a point where I WANTED to try the communicative approach, and Rico's book is a lot of fun. I don't think it replaces a traditional book like Machen or Chase and Phillips but anyone who loves Greek will at least want to take a look at the book, or the similar stuff produced by Randall Buth. If you don't believe that ancient Greek can be used to communicate, just try e-mailing in Greek someone who knows a little Greek, and you will see that it does work, and you do learn more than you would from just reading.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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