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Geriatric Learner

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Geriatric Learner

Postby Annabel » Mon Nov 30, 2015 4:31 am

Hello!

Am I too old to re-learn Greek? I am British and passed the basic exam in Greek (General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level) 56 years ago! I have forgotten practically everything in the ensuing years, but now, in my dotage, I have a real longing to recapture the little Greek I had, and perhaps add to it. My life is very restricted as I care full-time for my severely disabled husband so I try to enrich our home life through books and continuing learning.

Can anyone give me a word of encouragement? Can anyone suggest a basic grammar book to begin with?

Many thanks in advance.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby daivid » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:55 pm

Annabel wrote:Am I too old to re-learn Greek? I am British and passed the basic exam in Greek (General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level) 56 years ago! I have forgotten practically everything in the ensuing years, but now, in my dotage, I have a real longing to recapture the little Greek I had, and perhaps add to it. My life is very restricted as I care full-time for my severely disabled husband so I try to enrich our home life through books and continuing learning.

Can anyone give me a word of encouragement? Can anyone suggest a basic grammar book to begin with?

Many thanks in advance.


It is generally agreed that learning a language gets harder as you get older and I am myself, in my early sixties, finding Ancient Greek a lot harder than when I was learning Serbo-Croat 15 years ago. However whether it is too you will only find out by trying.

As to textbooks, you will find lots of suggestions in the resource thread here http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=12640. What works best differs with different people - there are a number that I like but as a safe option I would suggest John Taylor Greek to GCSE. There of course several free textbooks you can download here which might be a good way to test the water as they are free.

If you try a textbook and it doesn't suit you, you can always post this question again here - if you say why it didn't work out for you it will be easier for others to make suggestions that do suit you.

There a lot of resources available on the internet while my most face-to-face Ancient Greek classes seem to be too old fashioned to be of value so the fact that you will be learning from how is probably no real disadvantage.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby Markos » Mon Nov 30, 2015 8:15 pm

Annabel wrote:Am I too old to re-learn Greek?...Can anyone give me a word of encouragement?

William Bradford started to learn Hebrew when he was 60.
William Bradford wrote:Though I am growne aged, yet I have a longing desire to see, with my owne eyes, something of that most ancient language, and holy tongue, in which the law and Oracles of God were written; and in which God and angels spoke to the Holy Patriarcks of old time; and what names were given to things at the Creation.

Let's go backward when forward fails.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby mwh » Tue Dec 01, 2015 3:31 am

Go for it! As Markos’ post suggests, motivation is all!

Since you took O-level Greek, you might find daivid’s suggestion of the John Taylor book to your liking as a refresher course. (Or you might not, of course, in which case look more widely.) There’s a Memrise course built on it, which will help your retention of what you learn, if it’s well constructed (I’ve haven’t looked at it), and JACT puts out good books and subsidiary materials for learning and reviewing ancient Greek. For a grammar Smyth is what’s generally used. It’s reliable but gives you far more than you need; can be confusing for the less experienced, and makes everything seem more difficult than it is. So if you use it don't let it put you off.

As for age, I have successfully taught Greek to people in their 60’s and 70’s (and 80’s too), and for the most part they were without your prior experience. In my 60’s, during a prolonged stay in hospital, I set about teaching myself Chinese, to see if my brain was still capable of learning a language so very different from any I had any acquaintance with. It was tough, certainly tougher than it would have been had I been young (six, say, or even 26), and my success was not all that I’d hoped, but I did reach a degree of competence in the spoken language at least, even without anyone to converse with. Beside Chinese you’ll find relearning ancient Greek a piece of cake.

This may seem a wacky recommendation, but I’d suggest you work with some real Greek too, without waiting till you’re on top of the grammar and vocabulary. Try the beginning of one of Plato’s dialogues, say, or a play by Euripides once you get a little further, and see what you can make of it. Or one of the New Testament gospels if you’re that way inclined. Geoffrey Steadman’s productions are convenient, with facing text and vocabulary, and elementary (but not wholly trustworthy) grammar notes.

And of course do ask questions here. We’re a helpful crowd, or try to be.

ἀγαθῇ τύχῃ,
Michael
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby swtwentyman » Tue Dec 01, 2015 5:53 am

Michael:

What made the Chinese particularly difficult? Considering it's so radically different in grammar and vocabulary to Indo-European languages I'd expect it to be hard for anyone to learn it, let alone teach themselves (although your mind is greater than mine). Do you think you'd have done much better with an IE language? Just curious.

As for the OP's question: I just turned 30 so I'll have to plead ignorance, but to a certain extent I've found the opposite to be true. When I was younger I was more impulsive and prone to start things without finishing them; studying Wheelock's Latin is just about the first project I've ever completed, and I also have a much firmer command of formal grammar than I had had. But obviously I'm ignorant of the total effects of age on language-learning. There are many older posters here, though, and at least some have taught themselves, or are teaching themselves, at more advanced ages, to good success.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby Hylander » Tue Dec 01, 2015 2:00 pm

Smyth's Grammar is good for details--sometimes there's actually too much. You might want to try Morwood's Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, which is very concise, yet gives you everything you really need to know and presents it in a digestible form.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0198604564?keywords=morwood%20greek%20grammar&qid=1448977942&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

His dictionary is good, too, though eventually you'll want a dictionary with more information about morphology and usage:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pocket-Oxford-Classical-Greek-Dictionary/dp/0198605129/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1F61AWK6Y6SD358H1C4S

Both are real bargains!

One piece of advice: don't obsess too much over the accents. A passive understanding of the basic rules is entirely adequate for reading.

Good luck with your efforts, and be sure to post any questions you might have.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby mwh » Tue Dec 01, 2015 9:35 pm

Annabel,
I don’t myself know the Morwood books recommended by Hylander, but it looks as if they are what you’ll want to use. I’d have suggested the Morwood Grammar myself if I’d thought of it. Later you can move up to a more advanced grammar and dictionary. I also second Hylander’s advice about accents. Don’t ignore them, mind; they’re fundamental to the language, and they can be useful.

PS. Just in case you don’t know, "OP" stands for Original Poster, i.e. you. Not Old Person.

swtwentyman,
The only languages I had any acquaintance with were IE. I wanted a taste of something completely different. And Chinese does indeed give you a different view of the world, as well as insight into how language works. As to ageing, it sucks.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby Victor » Sun Dec 20, 2015 10:17 pm

Annabel wrote:Can anyone give me a word of encouragement?

I think it's great that you have the curiosity to pursue this. Most people only stop learning as they age because they choose to.

One course book I'd recommend is Gavin Betts' Teach Yourself Ancient Greek. Forget the negative Amazon reviews, which focus on script problems in digital versions. The book is very clearly written and laid out, and gives you examples from authentic Greek very early on, which I'm sure you'll find motivating if it's your goal to progress quickly to reading Greek writers in their own unabridged words.


Gavin Betts was an interesting man. There's some info on him here: http://tylatin.org/eulogy.html


swtwentyman wrote:What made the Chinese particularly difficult?

It's bound to be relatively difficult for native speakers of an I.E. language. People say pronouncing the tones correctly makes the spoken language difficult, but I don't think it does really, except in the early stages. In the spoken language I'd say the number of homophones, the paucity of different syllables, and the frequent need to distinguish minimal pairs are what make it difficult. The written language is where the real difficulties lie, even for native users. This topic came up a while back: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=62437&p=168139&hilit=moser#p168139
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby swtwentyman » Mon Dec 21, 2015 2:15 am

Victor wrote:
swtwentyman wrote:What made the Chinese particularly difficult?

It's bound to be relatively difficult for native speakers of an I.E. language. People say pronouncing the tones correctly makes the spoken language difficult, but I don't think it does really, except in the early stages. In the spoken language I'd say the number of homophones, the paucity of different syllables, and the frequent need to distinguish minimal pairs are what make it difficult. The written language is where the real difficulties lie, even for native users. This topic came up a while back: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=62437&p=168139&hilit=moser#p168139


Thanks. I ask partly because a friend of mine recently took a Chinese wife and he's learning the language and goes on about how easy it is. There's always the possibility of a bit of braggadocio but he says that the verb system is very simple (which from what I know of the language seems true, though I'm not clear on the details). He for some reason had inordinate trouble with French conjugations in school -- it's interesting what different people find difficult. Personally Chinese seems interesting but unless they take over as a global hegemon I don't have much use for the spoken language, and as you say the written form seems nightmarish. But I've read in several places that PRC is heading for a demographic crisis.

One thing that's crossed my mind is that I wish there were a French course or book about learning the language for literary and philological interest. I've been fluent in that language in the past but I've forgotten a lot of it, and I'm hardly in a financial position to go overseas anytime soon.

I'll be sure to look through that thread. Thanks for posting it.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby Timothée » Mon Dec 21, 2015 7:03 pm

daivid wrote:It is generally agreed that learning a language gets harder as you get older and I am myself, in my early sixties, finding Ancient Greek a lot harder than when I was learning Serbo-Croat 15 years ago. However whether it is too you will only find out by trying.

Rather, it is generally alleged that learning a language gets harder as one ages. To my knowledge this has never been proven. Instead, researchers emphasise that human brain never loses its plasticity. Obviously personal experiences do vary. My Sanskrit professor in his 70's says that he finds learning Russian really difficult, that he cannot for the life of him learn the words. Then Marja Itkonen-Kaila, Finnish translator of Plato's Republic, Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou and More's Utopia, amongst many others, says she's currently in her 80's learning Portuguese and Modern Greek. And let us not forget the dear old Cato.

As other commenters have said, I, too, am a firm believer that the most important avail for learning a language is the desire. If one has it, one should be able to acquaint oneself with a great many languages. So I would urge you, dear Annabel, to »go for it», as Michael said.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby Victor » Mon Dec 21, 2015 8:21 pm

Timothée wrote:Rather, it is generally alleged that learning a language gets harder as one ages. To my knowledge this has never been proven.

It's pretty firmly established that our powers of memory decline as we age even in the absence of cognitive afflictions such as Alzheimer's disease, so it's hard to envisage how we can remember new information just as efficiently as we did in our youth when our memory is measurably inferior. One thing you do gain with age that can offset the loss of memory when learning a language is knowledge of other foreign languages you've already got under your belt. This assumes you've got some under your belt to begin with, though.
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby sydneylam19 » Fri Jan 01, 2016 2:15 pm

Annabel wrote:Hello!

Am I too old to re-learn Greek? I am British and passed the basic exam in Greek (General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level) 56 years ago! I have forgotten practically everything in the ensuing years, but now, in my dotage, I have a real longing to recapture the little Greek I had, and perhaps add to it. My life is very restricted as I care full-time for my severely disabled husband so I try to enrich our home life through books and continuing learning.

Can anyone give me a word of encouragement? Can anyone suggest a basic grammar book to begin with?

Many thanks in advance.


Hi Annabel, finally I've got one who can tell me about his/her experience on Classics classes in the 50's and early 60's. :mrgreen: I apologize for my impertinence.

I've always been intrigued by Latin and Greek instruction in the old days, when the Classical Languages were the Queen of all subjects and every aspiring applicant for Oxbridge had to take Latin O-level. Could you recall the set texts and pedagogy in those days?

From what I read on Google, a heavy portion of the Latin curriculum was prose composition, and I guess this would also be similar for Greek. Caesar's De Bello Gallico (or De Bello Civili for Oxford Local Exams - probably in early 1960s) for First Year, followed by ample selections from Livy's Ab Urbe Condita and Pliny's Letters, eventually culminating at Virgil's Aeneid and Cicero's orations. This is very different from our current syllabi, which include a wider range of authors but the writings come in the form of extracts instead of chunks. I don't think I can personally pass GCE (not only Latin but also for subjects like 'Botany') - it was really a different world to me, reading those vague question prompts and antiquated words!

Thank you very much for your precious information. Although my post may come a bit too late, I wish to show my ardent support to your academic pursuit. I hope I still had the time for Latin in the years ahead, in view of the foreseeable surge in workload along my career...... :cry:
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Re: Geriatric Learner

Postby sydneylam19 » Fri Jan 01, 2016 2:20 pm

Last but not least, I think age is not a reason to impede one from learning. Non scholae sed vitae discimus. It is the exhilarating process instead of the outcome that matters, especially when one is free of the practical burden to get an A* in A-level or earn a living by being a Classicist. I'm very confident that you can have a lot of fun by picking up Greek and conjuring up the old memories attached. (y)
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