Friday, June 05, 2009

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, VII

This will be my last post in this series. Here I offer five more tips for developing and/or teaching in a communicative approach.

6.Work around, not outside, your administrative restraints

If you're in an institutional setting, there are certain expectations you have to work with. Likely, these include (a) the set curriculum and outcomes needed for a particular course, (b) allocated time. If you're teaching first-year Greek teacher, then typically you need to cover most (all) basic grammar within a year, on 2-3 hours a week. Further, you may well be unable to change the curriculum at all, only your teaching of it.

I would suggest: don't try changing structures, simply work out how to work around them. One of the greatest points of resistance to a communicative approach is the idea that grammar is 'lost', or that the workload effectively doubles: grammar + communication. Neither of these, I would argue, is necessarily the case. If you take a look at some of the resources I will mention later, especially Buth, and Orberg, I think it's clearly possible to integrate grammar into a communicative method. That's integrate, not add.

Indeed, if you structure your teaching well, there should be a progression of grammatical complexity to the communicative language being used and taught. That itself gives you the opportunity to point to grammar as you go. Further, if you are tied to a textbook, then it's perfectly reasonable to get to the end of a communicative class, and refer your students to the textbook. Many of them will get far more out of the chapter having seen, read, heard it in practise, and others will have their analytical questions answered.

As far as time goes, I have previously in this long series mentioned the fact that class hours are normally met with an expectation of extra hours of personal study. This is essential to grasp. You may not be able to increase your face-to-face hours, but you can strongly advise and direct students' additional hours. Develop, model, and organise small-groups that will work through communicative material.

Additionally, and if your situation is particularly constrained, turn some office-hours into open-invite tutorials run along a communicative line. This is particularly useful if your class must conform to a traditional pedagogy, but you want to experiment a little. Just set up a single hour each week, teach it communicatively, and assure your students that it's entirely optional but beneficial.

7.Acquaint yourself with existing resources

I'm going to break this section down by Language, and provide a list of materials you might find useful either for communicative teaching, or for developing some kind of communicative proficiency yourself (predominantly texts/audio designed for graduated comprehensible input).


I've said it before, and I'll continue to promote it: Hans Orberg's Lingua Latina per se Illustrata is some of the finest Latin learning materials out there. I came to it after 4 years or so of traditional Latin learning, and it improved my ability to sight-read Latin immeasurably. It's the best example of direct-method teaching materials I know of.

The first book, Lingua Latina: Pars I: Familia Romana (Latin Edition) (Pt. 1), also goes a long way to showing how you can integrate grammar into a communicative method. It took 3 semesters of university to cover all major grammar; LLPSI integrates it into a book of 35 chapters, entirely in Latin, that could easily be taught in a single-year program. Add to it the second book, Lingua Latina Part II: Roma Aeterna (Latin Edition), with its extensive readings from latin literature, becoming increasingly less-adapted, and you're set. There are also audio recordings, which are invaluable.

I would supplement it with Jeanne Neumann's Lingua Latina: A College Companion based on Hans Orberg's Latine Disco, with Vocabulary and Grammar, and set that book as reading external to class. I'd then consider using some of Orberg's supplemental readers in 2nd year, and moving into unadapted Latin in the 4th semester, by that stage seeking to ground discussions of Latin in Latin, and reading more text than is usual in a standard classics course.

As far as other resources go, I'd draw attention to Traupman's Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, Piper Salve (a German offering I think), Thomas McCarthy's Nunc Loquamur: Conversations for Latin (Latin Edition); as well as reading something like Distler's Teach the Latin, I Pray You, and the little volume by Dexter Hoyos, Latin, How to read it fluently available from CANE.

It is also worth checking out some online materials, such as Latinum, Schola, and the rapidly growing number of stories at Tar Heel Reader


More than a few classicists have wished there was an Orberg-type text for Greek. The closest thing to it is the Italian adaptation of Athenaze, done by Luigi Miraglia among others, who, from what little I know, is all about teaching Latin and Greek communicatively as living languages. Would love for him to produce some materials for the broader market.

In the meantime, I have no hesitation in telling you to get hold of Randall Buth's materials. His Living Koine stuff is fantastic, and the integration of audio makes it very effective. Given that most of you reading this are probably more interested in Koine than Classical anyway, you're own ability with Koine will give you some kind of head start (though if you're like me, adapting to his Reconstructed-Koine pronunciation takes a while), but it will help your own communicative ability no end.

As I said elsewhere, work on integrating daily reading of Greek into your life. Besides the NT, here are some texts that I have found helpful:
Morice's Stories in Attic Greek. This volume is a gem; literally hundreds of short 100 words passages pitched for an intermediate student, they make great simple reading material, while developing your vocab and grammar, as well as exposure to Attic.
Whitacre's A Patristic Greek Reader Another reader, this one from Patristic texts. Read a little a day, like everything else. [There certainly should be a Latin Patristic reader like this; I have an old Latin patristic reader, but it has no actual reading aids, it's more a selection].
It's also worth tracking down the PDF of WHD Rouse's "A Greek Boy at Home". I seem to recall that someone is working on a re-issue of some of Rouse's Greek materials.
JACT Readers: various classical texts.

Recent attention has been drawn to Polis, a new offering from Dr. Christophe Rico. The website has a video that should convince you of the practicality of communicative techniques. I can't comment directly on the textbook, but I plan on ordering one and I'll let you know.

There is a small, and mostly quiet, mailist list at Classical Greek Pedagogy for discussion on teaching Ancient Greek. Feel free to join and start some conversations.


Hebrew is a weakness for me, despite 3 years on it at seminary. Once again, Buth's materials are a good starting point, especially since his Hebrew ulpans and methodology has a slightly longer pedigree. Beyond that I'm not sure I have anything else Hebrew to direct you towards.

8.Develop your own resources (and share them)

One of the frustrations we all share at this stage is simply a paucity of suitable materials. It's almost inevitable that you will need to develop your own resources. It's almost certain that there's a (small, emerging) market for communicative resources for classical languages. Preparing good quality resources will take time, field-testing, revision, effort, and more time. Be prepared to do that.

And, may I encourage you to be generous with such resources. To see the possibility of communicative teaching of classical languages as some kind of broad collaborative project. Make it easier for others to follow your lead.

9.Stay a step ahead

Start with beginners. Work from there. Since they don't know 'anything' (except those you're probably going to have to re-educate anyway), you're already a step ahead of them. So, if you're going to adopt a communicative methodology, even if you've got almost zero proficiency yourself, you just need to stay a step ahead.

Normally I'm wary of personal anecdotes, but I think this is a good point for one. Over summer I co-taught a week long intensive for beginner's Latin. About three days in I took two afternoon sessions, days 3 and 4, and each session I had a simple hand-out with basic question words in Latin, which we hadn't really covered yet. These were students who had been exposed to 1st and 2nd declension nouns, and 1st conjugation verbs in the present active. Through simple question and answer, in Latin almost exclusively, we co-authored two short stories. It was (a) a lot of Latin, (b) a lot of fun, (c) entirely feasible.

It's possible; I think that is what I am trying to stress. I think it's one thing to be persuaded by communicative methodologies, quite another to be ready to adopt them. As long as you are a step ahead of your students, and willing to humbly confess your inadequacies, it's do-able.

10.Document successes

Lastly, let me suggest that you document your successes (and failures). The whole reason for this discussion is that this pedagogical approach has not been tried and tested in recent centuries. If there is to be a shift, and a beneficial shift, in classical language pedagogy, it will only make headway with persuasive evidence. So, if you're going to go down this route, I would encourage you to make records, observations, and results of both subjective and objective kinds. If things fail, we need to know why as well. So, document, document, document! Get in some linguistics students doing research on SLA. Compare outcomes between former years on traditional methods. Make some case studies.

I hope these suggestions are of some use.


ktraphagen said...

This is a very helpful and practical post, Seumas.

In particular, I agree that better direction of student out-of-class study time is important and under-utilized. Many students simply do not know how to use those hours productively. I think Daniel Streett is working on resources for Greek students that would meet this need. I am inspired to consider taking up the challenge to work on Hebrew resources.

Much of my own teaching of Hebrew needed to fit the very defined constraints of the particular institution I taught in. Nevertheless, I was able to begin to institute change. Positive student evaluations and documented pedagogical success can be used to encourage administrative/institutional acceptance of new directions for language learning.

Thank you for bringing this topic to a larger audience. I have benefited from finding some more colleagues to learn from.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks for the encouragement and dialogue. I thought it was time just to be a little practical, as well as recognising the need for ongoing discussion of the (various) issues.