Monday, July 21, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (1): Sebastian Carnazzo


All the way back in March I posted about Communicative Approaches to Latin and Greek: Who is doing what? and tried to summarise a little about what I know various people are doing. I thought that over the summer it would be good to interview a few of these folk and find out more about what they are doing, and how they ended up there. Today I'm pleased to share responses from Sebastian Carnazzo from the Academy of Classical Languages. So without further ado, let's hear from Sebastian.

1. What is your personal academic background?

My BS was in Animal Science with a pre-veterinary concentration.  Having become more interested in religious studies toward the end of that program, I decided to change directions and went on to complete an MA in Theology with a concentration in Sacred Scripture.  After that I entered a doctoral program at Catholic University of America (DC) and completed a PhD in Biblical Studies.  My dissertation was published as Seeing Blood and Water: A Narrative-Critical Study of John 19:34.

2. How did you first learn Greek?

I dabbled a bit in Greek during my MA but only began serious study during the doctoral program where, along with the study of Hebrew and Aramaic,  I had the immense privilege and honor of taking five intensive semesters of Greek under the late Francis T. Gignac, author of, among others works, A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods.  The program was very fast paced.  Using Gignac's beginning Greek grammar (An Introductory New Testament Greek Course), we completed basic Greek grammar by Thanksgiving vacation the first semester.  After that it was speed reading/translation with Gignac.  Gignac was a marathon runner and I think he was always on a race no matter what he was doing.  So studying Greek with him was basically like running a marathon at a full sprint.  The pace was taxing but as a result we covered an amazing amount of material in those five semesters.  The last semester, the history of the Greek language, was the most enjoyable.  We began by reading Mycenaean Greek in the Linear B syllabary.  Then through looking at various sample texts, we surveyed the particular characteristics of the disparate dialects of the classical period.  After that we examined and discussed the Koine, Byzantine, and modern periods.  It was incredible.  Gignac was not only a world class Greek grammarian, he was also a master Semitic and Indo-european Linguist.

3. What made you shift to a communicative methodology?

During my language studies in the doctoral program, while racking my brain memorizing paradigms and principle parts, I would often think back to the ancient world and wonder about the natural acquisition of these languages by the ancient native speakers.  After the doctoral program I got a job teaching Scripture and Biblical Languages in a seminary.  I continued to ponder this question as I would watch the pain in the faces of my students going through the same process as I did memorizing those same paradigms and principle parts.  I knew there had to be a better way.  Once I learned about the communicative method and saw the results I shifted almost over night.

4. How did you first equip yourself to use a communicative method? What were some of the difficulties?

While teaching at the seminary and continuing the search for answers to the above stated question I did an internet search "Koine Greek Living Language" and came upon Randall Buth's program, Living Koine Greek.  I ordered the first volume and started to reteach myself Greek.  After spending a few hours with the program I was convinced that I had found a treasure.  I decided to experiment on my kids.  They loved the program.  I was so impressed with the results that I began incorporating the program into my Greek courses at the seminary.  You asked about difficulties.  The problem at this stage was I just didn't really understand the teaching techniques.  I had never seen someone teach Greek this way.  Then I went to an intensive program in Fresno, CA, put on by Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center to help Greek teachers learn how to teach Greek as a Living Language.  While there, among a number of other things, I also learned about the work of James Asher and his work in TPR.  I read all the pertinent articles about TPR and TPRS on his website.  That summer changed everything.  The following fall semester  I went back to the seminary classroom with the tools to accomplish my goals.  The seminarians loved it and so did I.

5. What courses or materials do you currently offer?

A few years ago I created the Academy of Classical Language site and began teaching Greek online (  The Greek program is multi-level in both Koine and Classical and incorporates Randall Buth's, Living Koine Greek, vol. 1 and Athenaze, vol. 1, respectively.

6. What sort of outcomes do your students generally finish with? Where are they ‘at’ when they’ve completed a course of study with you?

They all come to the program with different backgrounds.  Some have never studied Greek.  Others have quite substantial experience.  Our goals are simple.  Teach Greek (Latin is also taught on the same site) as a living language to help those who have never studied Greek learn Greek and those who have already studied Greek learn Greek in a more natural way.  Everyone moves through the program at their own pace.  Most of the students come with a desire to learn a little Greek for their own personal bible study.  Once they have learned enough to satisfy their desire they move on to other things.  Others, like myself, can't get enough of it and, I think, would study Greek to the detriment of their health if given the opportunity.

All joking aside, I have been quite impressed with the results.  I have seen a number of students go from not knowing hardly anything about Greek to becoming quite proficient at it, surely beyond a typical seminary program, and that's through spending only a few hours a week and enjoying it all along the way.  That's a far cry from the pain of memorizing paradigms and principle parts only to be able to do little more than recite paradigms and principle parts.

As I have said to my students and other teachers involved in this way of teaching Greek, it is clearly superior to the conventional method, but we are not yet able to reach the full potential because we don't yet have the proper environment.  For example, when someone studies a modern language like Spanish or French as a living language in a classroom, they can then go from the classroom to a few months or a semester in a real language immersion environment, like Spain or France.  There they can complete their living acquisition of the language in a real world.  This is, in fact, the way most modern language programs work.  We who teach ancient Greek can create the same classroom experience but don't have a way, at least yet, to then put that student in a real language immersion environment for a few months were they can complete their living acquisition of the language in a real world.  I'm currently pondering buying a small country like San Marino or Liechtenstein to where we can all immigrate..hmm...or maybe a Greek Island would be more appropriate.  Any donors?

Epilogue: And that's all from Sebastian, thanks very much for taking the time to share with us. I have about 6 more of these little interviews lined up, and should be posting one every Monday for the next month and a half. If you happen to be doing something in this field and would like to be interviewed, please send me an email and it can be arranged.

You can read the next interview in this series, with Michael Halcomb, here.

1 comment:

Paul Nitz said...

Thanks much Seumas. Very interesting.
Sebastian, your paragraph 4 answer was mirrored in my life, maybe a couple years later.