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How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

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How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby korudos » Thu Apr 29, 2010 12:58 am

Since I have been trying to learn Latin and Greek for almost ten years, and since I mainly failed to do so for eight of them, I have become quite an expert on how NOT to do it.

And since I learned more in the first half of my first semester of college than I did in all that time on my own, I am, of course, an expert on how TO study classical languages.

All kidding aside, I did have a look at what I was doing right in school and what I was doing wrong out of school, and I have come up with a list. You might have your own. Here is mine.

What I did wrong:
  • No real method
  • No disciplined system of goals
  • No schedule

I thought I could just dive in wherever and use a dictionary to define terms. Wrong. I did realize that I needed more grammar, and I surely did learn a lot about that, not only in English, but Greek and Latin, but given my haphazard lack of discipline, it is no wonder my effort was doomed. As an example, I never so much as decided I would finish any particular book at any particular date or scheduling chapter or exercise completion goals.

The short list of what I did right:
  • I persisted anyway.

There is more I could say on this topic, but the above seem to me to be the points that nail my particular problems. Do you not find the the process of being wrong is often more enlightening than being right? Is it not a much more fun question to ask what is the wrong way to do it? How about you? What's the wrong way to study classical languages?

***
Nemo liber est qui corpori servit
No one is free who is slave to the body — Seneca
Last edited by korudos on Sat May 08, 2010 1:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby rustymason » Sun May 02, 2010 1:43 am

I think you nailed it. Discipline and lack of persistence are the key missing ingredients in most people's study. I think I've done many wrong things, one of which is trying to teach before I've learned enough. Spending too much time on computerized methods such as flashcard programs and spreadsheets has also burned a lot of valuable time. No effort was a total waste of time but there was much inefficiency.

Chanting is a shortcut I discovered after several years of very slow learning. I have made chant sheets and now my students and I chant the noun and verb form endings, pronoun declensions, irregular verb paradigms, and common prepositions every day and at the beginning of class. It has sped the progress of my younger students so much that they are catching the older students mit affenartiger Geschwindigkeit.

Speaking conversational Latin and Greek in and out of class helps, too, as does playing games such as Latin Scrabble, "Simonides Dicit," and a Greek Vowel Contractions card game we made up.

Xaire et Vale,
Robiginosus Caementarius
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby korudos » Sun May 02, 2010 2:35 am

Heh. I was beginning think this post was as welcome as a dead cat at a cocktail party.

One thing I left out—intentionally—was any discussion of method. I do not think there is any one way or any way inherently better than another; except, one must follow whatever road one follows.

As an example, I bought this textbook by Donald Mastronarde, Introduction to Attic Greek. I love it. I love the thorough explanations and its methodical style. I like the way it reintroduces English grammar and relates this to Greek. I love that it has an available answer key.

But all my professors dislike it. They say it is too difficult too soon and it turns new students off from Greek. Most classics department have to fight for students, so they opted for Cynthia Sheldermine's text. According to my teachers, a student can get a good feel for Greek in one semester. Yet I really disliked this book at first. I wanted longer explanations and more examples. Finally, it started to grow on me. The author is a master at imitating the styles of various authors, for one thing, so her adaptations have real authenticity while corresponding to the topic of the week. Other students complain about Wheelock, but I like that text. The author's charm and humor come through. He has the ability to show how Latin is grand and powerful from the first chapter. Quite a feat.

Others can evidently just totally teach themselves. I thought I could, but I simply have this tendency to chase butterflies if left to my own. Learning Greek and Latin is hard! It really helps me to have the discipline of the class environment. (Also, I enjoy the company of my fellow nerds.)

Cheers
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Smythe » Mon May 03, 2010 1:53 am

I, too, have struggled. I always have had good intentions - it's the follow-through that has been lacking. This go-round, I've been working my tail off for months. Possibly a little more maturity will see me through to the end.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Scribo » Mon May 03, 2010 9:50 am

Have struggled also. With Greek we used "From Alpha to Omega" which was terrible, the idea of the beginners Greek course is to get you translating within one academic year...this book was insanely under par for it, terrible waste. In anticipation for the second year I went through "reading Greek" and whilst I'm not the best, I'm competent.

With Latin I basically self taught myself for a few weeks from Wheelock's before going onto Latin 2. I'm having a generally easier time than the people who had started at Latin 1 and worked there way through the Oxford Latin Course...

...by and large it's just finding what works for you.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Episteme » Mon May 03, 2010 1:55 pm

Scribo, I also learned Greek grammar using From Alpha to Omega, and I concur with your opinion. It is simply too detailed and is hindered by unnecessary information. Do beginning Greek students really need to understand quantitative metathesis? It is useful to know, for sure, but perhaps we could leave that to the upper-level and graduate courses. One can, of course, learn Greek from this book as I did (since all the necessary information is there), but to encounter too much all at once can and does lead to high attrition rates (one of those specters perennially haunting the field of classics, and Greek language study in particular).

Chase and Phillips, though reviled by many, gets the job done in my opinion. Granted, we used C&P in my first reading course as a review mechanism, so perhaps my already having learned the grammar allowed me to appreciate the straightforward, streamlined treatments of grammatical principles. I must admit I've never seen C&P in action as a first encounter with Greek grammar, but I nevertheless admire its cut-and-dried, just-go-memorize-this approach. Anyway, my $0.02.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Auberon » Tue May 04, 2010 2:23 am

Prof. William C. Dowling has a lot to say about the matter. He focuses on method issues for the most part:

Is There a Recipe for Disaster?

Suppose you want to make sure that, no matter how many years you put into studying Latin, you'll never be able to really "read" a sentence. Is there a recipe for disaster here?

There is.

Here's how to do it: (1) begin studying from Wheelock's Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors, (2) following the book, learn little snippets of Latin grammar, always moving around among categories so that you're thoroughly confused -- e.g., study a couple of verb forms the first week, then learn a noun declension, then learn a different verb tense, then move to adjectives -- and (3) make sure that your reading consists of short sentences taken from Latin authors about how the Romans hated money.


Regarding favored methods you can read about it on his site

As far as habits, I agree with those who say one must start reading in the new language as soon as possible. Not being the Michael Ventris type, I need lots of practice and get the best results when I plunge in headfirst. With Latin, I have no love for Wheelock's book, but the free at Textkit D'Ooge book is good as is the Moreland and Fleischer Intensive Latin book.
Given the choice between accomplishing something and just lying around, I'd rather lie around. No contest.—Eric Clapton
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby korudos » Wed May 05, 2010 12:37 pm

Since I'm still a newbie, my replies are yet moderated; thus, I must err in overquoting to avoid a lack of context.

Auberon wrote:Prof. William C. Dowling has a lot to say about the matter. He focuses on method issues for the most part:

Is There a Recipe for Disaster?

Suppose you want to make sure that, no matter how many years you put into studying Latin, you'll never be able to really "read" a sentence. Is there a recipe for disaster here?

There is.

Here's how to do it: (1) begin studying from Wheelock's Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors, (2) following the book, learn little snippets of Latin grammar, always moving around among categories so that you're thoroughly confused -- e.g., study a couple of verb forms the first week, then learn a noun declension, then learn a different verb tense, then move to adjectives -- and (3) make sure that your reading consists of short sentences taken from Latin authors about how the Romans hated money.


Regarding favored methods you can read about it on his site

As far as habits, I agree with those who say one must start reading in the new language as soon as possible. Not being the Michael Ventris type, I need lots of practice and get the best results when I plunge in headfirst. With Latin, I have no love for Wheelock's book, but the free at Textkit D'Ooge book is good as is the Moreland and Fleischer Intensive Latin book.


I came across that site and those methods some years ago. Regarding Dowling's comments about the futility of Wheelock, I would say that had he a strong case, he would not need to resort to exaggerations so egregious they ring false.

Second, we all know that so long as you are parsing sentences, you are not reading. This is old news. With my favorite Latin professor, I have discussed this very matter frequently. Her take is the student must build up a repertoire of conceptual placeholders before the faculty to read inflected languages develops, and it develops incrementally. Certainly, thousands of people who have used Wheelock or any of the many other good books in that tradition accomplish this. I can imagine what a train-wreck a program of grammar and brute memorization without example sentences would be. The students would be splattered in droves, but it would surely work, if actually done. But surely Prof. Dowling knows more Latin than me, so who am I to question his autoritas?

Last, even sentence parsing has virtue. Have you ever looked at, say, the Athenian Tribute Lists? This is an exercise in cryptography, and those are relatively easy examples when compared to the fragments of stone and papyri still extant.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Auberon » Wed May 05, 2010 7:09 pm

The part about Wheelock's uselessnes I most agree with is his point about the jumping around with regard to grammar. It was a bit chaotic trying to pick through it when I was beginning Latin.

With my favorite Latin professor, I have discussed this very matter frequently. Her take is the student must build up a repertoire of conceptual placeholders before the faculty to read inflected languages develops, and it develops incrementally. Certainly, thousands of people who have used Wheelock or any of the many other good books in that tradition accomplish this. I can imagine what a train-wreck a program of grammar and brute memorization without example sentences would be. The students would be splattered in droves, but it would surely work, if actually done. But surely Prof. Dowling knows more Latin than me, so who am I to question his autoritas?


Interesting. It could be there are many roads to the same goal. I knew someone who developed a functional knowledge of a language with only a grammar before he went overseas to school in a country that spoke this language. Within a few months he was fluent, to hear him tell the story.
Given the choice between accomplishing something and just lying around, I'd rather lie around. No contest.—Eric Clapton
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby Smythe » Wed May 05, 2010 8:38 pm

Korudos, Auberon,

Yep, Dowling is a bit over the top when he describes Wheelock, but there is enough truth there to warrant further investigation. I used Wheelock in high school and college. It just didn't stick. Reading a somewhat complex sentence was always agony. That's why I am so excited about Lingua Latina and the so-called Dowling method. I already have the basic concepts in my head from previous studies - things like declensions, conjugations, adjective/noun agreement, ...etc, so understanding what he (Dowling) was talking about wasn't hard. So recently, I spent about four and a half months and memorized all the paradigms cold. I mean "I'm-not-sure-I-can-ever-forget-them-even-if-I-had-a-stroke" cold. Now, I am working my way through Lingua Latina. It's pretty damn awesome. I do as Dowling says and make sure I understand what every word of every sentence is doing before I move on to the next chapter. Plus, with the Pensum (included in the book), the supplementary Colloquia and Exercita, I get a lot of practice with repetition - a whole lot. This is another thing that I was missing from Wheelock. Since I have memorized all the paradigms already, things just fall naturally into place. I feel like I am reading and thinking in Latin and not just parsing a seemingly intelligible sentence.

So, could you teach via the Dowling method in a class room? Hell, no! What group of students is going to put that much time and effort into brute memorization for zero results until they start reading Lingua Latina six months later? If a teacher tried, he'd just have the Churchill scenario. No one wants that.

Who, then, is the Dowling method for? People like me, I guess. People who've been exposed to Latin but have become very frustrated when trying to become fluent in it. And, to quote Forest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

-smythe
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby korudos » Wed May 05, 2010 9:49 pm

Thanks Smythe for the link to the Churchill site.

When I read that, I was thinking, he must have changed his mind later, for I have heard of his praise for the teaching of Latin and Greek. It was something to the effect of "Latin as an honor and Greek as a treat."

I searched for the quote, and found it referred to here on these very forums. Thesaurus was the poster of the answering response.

(Not sure this will work, but here is the link): viewtopic.php?f=3&t=8189

It actually comes from the same source as the one used in your link.

Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission, Scribner's, New York, 1930 p.17

And here is the quote in context:

And when after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be for not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby rustymason » Thu May 06, 2010 1:30 am

Bene factum, Smythe! Sed:
Smythe wrote: So, could you teach via the Dowling method in a class room? Hell, no! What group of students is going to put that much time and effort into brute memorization for zero results until they start reading Lingua Latina six months later? -smythe
I start my Latin students out first day, cotidie, with Latin noun and verb ending chants and easily confused pronoun chants at the beginning of every class. Then we do the lesson diei. In principio, the beginners don't really understand what they are chanting, but we all do it together and it only takes 5-10 minutes, so no one is ready to mutiny or walk out because of it. After a few weeks it becomes a habit which they expect (and some cannot live without) and before they know it, they've memorized the declensions and conjugations without really trying. But you are right: especially in this day and age, no one is going to memorize acres of tables before beginning to read and write some real Latin or Greek.
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Re: How NOT to Study Latin and Greek

Postby korudos » Fri May 07, 2010 11:54 am

Smythe wrote:I start my Latin students out first day, cotidie, with Latin noun and verb ending chants and easily confused pronoun chants at the beginning of every class. Then we do the lesson diei. In principio, the beginners don't really understand what they are chanting, but we all do it together and it only takes 5-10 minutes, so no one is ready to mutiny or walk out because of it. After a few weeks it becomes a habit which they expect (and some cannot live without) and before they know it, they've memorized the declensions and conjugations without really trying. But you are right: especially in this day and age, no one is going to memorize acres of tables before beginning to read and write some real Latin or Greek.


I would enjoy a class like that. Group vocalizations are fun, and they are fantastic memory aids. It's like learning a song. It just happens naturally. If it ever happens that I teach Latin or Greek, I would do that too.

I should mention that Mastronarde's text, which I mentioned earlier, while not using the Lingua Latina method, does require a lot of early memorization. One goes some seventy pages before the first verb is introduced. My second semester Greek teacher, when I asked her about that text said laughingly, "Oh, he's one of those Berkeley guys. He's a genius, so when he wrote a text, he wrote it the way a genius would learn Greek."

(Mastronarde, BTW, is also the developer of GreekKeys, which some of us might use for typing Greek.)
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