Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Modest Proposal: Podcasts and Vodcasts for Comprehensible Input

Perhaps the greatest deficiency for the student wishing to acquire a communicative facility in a classical language is the paucity of materials for reading and listening which are (a) interesting, (b) pitched at a comprehensible level, (c) audio, (d) relate to everyday life.

(a) needs to be considered, because if it doesn’t engage as subject matter, we will be utterly bored

(b) needs to be considered, since we can only acquire what is comprehensible or made comprehensible. If things are too complex, we will understand too little, if they are too simple, we will gain too little

(c) needs to be considered, because listening is a vital input and skill, and classical languages are not readily spoken

(d) needs to be considered, since a communicative facility must not only deal with intricate theology, but with passing the pepper and salt

One way to overcome this would be for interested parties to commit to recording audio tracks and videos in the target languages, and making them freely available. If we had a real wealth of these materials, then students could listen/watch them and gain hours and hours of comprehensible input which would aid greatly in producing language acquisition.

As for materials, since these are recordings they would not need to be ex tempore, which allows us to hold a better standard of quality of language. I propose two options:

(1) Some recorders could source their materials from the numerous Colloquia produced especially by the Humanists. These are mainly Latin, I realise, but they give a good starting basis. They could be expanded also. As for Greek, we might need to dig a little deeper for sources, or we could even consider translating some Latin colloquia into good standard ancient Greek.

(2) Others with perhaps more time could compose original pieces, say 500 words a piece, and record these. This would allow more topical, and more contemporary, compositions.

As an example, perhaps you’d look briefly at the BBC’s “Letter to Learners” and “The Little Letter”, which are both 5-minute weekly productions aimed at Scottish Gaelic learners. They consist of the 5-minute audio, and an accompanying transcript that has both the text of what is said, as well as notes on constructions and vocabulary. This allows both reading, listening, and comprehension of more difficult parts. The Little Letter is a simplified version of the Letter to Learners. (I realise most people interested in classical languages are not equally interested in Gaelic, but it provides a good example for us).

If not one person, but several, committed to doing this, we would make great strides in promoting a revival of communicative practices in classical languages.


mapoulos said...

This has got my mind spinning with ideas. A Greek (or Latin) devotional on (some of) the Psalms (or any book for that matter) is something I would love to write one day.

How beneficial is recorded audio? It *should* be fairly straightforward to produce audio for texts that already exist. Are their readers that are out of copyright that one could format and then provide audio for? (Latinum has done lots of this for Latin right?).

I grow weary of audio because it's so much harder than reading, though I usually don't have the text in front of me. However, I do talk plenty to myself in Greek or French (still working on Latin).

Seumas Macdonald said...

Recorded audio is still quite effective. I think there are other benefits to having live-speakers and live conversation, but recorded audio is fine so long as it's meaningful!

There are readers out of copyright that one could format and use. Latinum has done quite a bit of stuff for Latin. There is much less for Greek.

I did try my hand at this a few years ago, but didn't carry things through very well. It's all up on this page

Some of the problems are getting hold of suitable old texts, and making them suitable and available. I'm going to look into this again.

Audio is harder than reading. I find it harder to stay focused. But I think listening has better results than only doing reading.