Monday, August 11, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (3): Christophe Rico

Here's the third installment in this interview series (Here are parts One and Two).

I think it's fair to say that most of those with an interest or activity in this field have heard of Christophe Rico, and his Polis method. However, particularly for Anglophones, it's a little harder to get to know more about Rico. I remember first hearing about the Polis method and the first book produced in it. I knew enough Greek that I was confident that being Greek-French wouldn't matter, so I ordered a copy from and did not regret it.

So it's a great privilege to hear from Prof. Christophe Rico today...

1. What's your personal academic background?

  I studied Classics at Aix-en-Provence University (France). In 1990, I got the Agr√©gation de Grammaire (French, Latin and Greek literature and linguistics), a French State exam that is a prerequisite in order to teach at the University level.

  I then got a PhD in Greek linguistics (semantics) in Paris Sorbonne (1992). The subject was the suffixal system of Homeric nouns and adjectives. Finally, in 2011, I got my Habilitation √† Diriger des Recherches at the University of Strasbourg: the subject was the relationship between sign and meaning. 

  I have published two books (an ancient Greek textbook Polis and a book on the semantics of the word 'almah in Isaiah 7,14) and I am about to publish three other ones (a new version of the Polis method; a book on the art of translation displayed by Jerome; the proceedings of a congress on the origin of the alphabet). In addition, I have published some 40 specialized articles on General Linguistics, Indo-European, theory of translation, Greek linguistics, and Greek of the NT.

2. How did you first learn Greek?

  I started learning Greek at the age of 16 at high school. Ever since I have been either studying or teaching Greek.

3. What made you shift to a communicative methodology?

  I was impressed, when I arrived to Israel back in 1992, by the way Modern Hebrew was taught here and how it helped reading the Bible. Then in 2001, I had a group of students who encouraged me to teach Greek in Greek and I started to do it in that way.

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

  I have been reading Koine Greek at least some minutes every day ever since I was 18. This is how I acquired a command of Greek.

  When I first tried to speak the language (in 2001), my first problems were to display an active knowledge of the verbal forms (especially imperatives) and of the everyday vocabulary. I had to learn the paradigms again but in a different way: not only to recognize the forms but to be able to produce them without thinking about it. And I had to read more Greek texts in order to search the relevant vocabulary for my conversations in Greek. I have been compiling a French-Greek thematic lexicon for the last 13 years: it helps me improve my command of Greek (idioms, vocabulary, etc.) and to be able to converse about most of subjects. I will start publishing that lexicon in several volumes in the coming years.

5. You're associated with the Polis Institute, what sort of courses or materials do you currently offer? Is there a timeframe on further books in the Polis method?

  The Polis Institute provides language instruction with regular courses along the year and intensive summer courses organized in Jerusalem and other cities (Rabat, Florida, Rome, Lima).

Classical Languages

The instruction is given in six levels (of one semester each).
- Biblical Hebrew
- Koine Greek
- Latin

There are also immersion courses of Rabbinical Aramaic and Classical Syriac.
The ancient languages courses require no previous knowledge. 

Modern Languages

- Arabic (six levels)
- Modern Hebrew  (six levels)

The Polis Method

  The Polis teaching method takes inspiration from two models of language pedagogy that have proved themselves in the past:

- The Ulpan Method for learning Modern Hebrew, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants to master in record time a language known to be difficult. The system achieves a total immersion in the new language and the constant involvement of the student in the learning process.

- The Total Physical Response method, according to which learning foreign languages should follow the physical and oral process by which a mother tongue is acquired – a process in which stages of passive learning precede those of active learning. Just as children communicate with their parents physically before they can do so verbally, adults learning a foreign language are encouraged to demonstrate by actions, as well as by words, their understanding of what is being said.

  The main innovation of the Polis method is the application of these two methods to teach the so-called ‘dead’ tongues as if they were ‘living’ ones. Since it stimulates all the cognitive faculties of the student, the Polis method facilitates the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary and enables the student, after two years of learning, to read and understand a simple text without any dictionary or translation.
  The Method was originally developed for the teaching of Koine Greek and took form in the Polis Manual published in French (Cerf Editions). Thanks to its success it has been translated to German (Helmut Buske Press) and Italian (San Paolo Press). Editions are also being prepared in English (2014, Polis Editions) and Spanish (2016, Polis Editions). There is also a Greek verbs handbook in preparation.

  The method has been well received by researchers who have discovered its advantages. Thanks to its reception it is being adapted for teaching Biblical Hebrew (Salem Manual, 2016), Spoken Arabic and Latin (Forum Manual, 2016). 

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?

  After 120 hours of instruction (Greek 1), good students possess an 800 words active vocabulary and they have internalized the basics of the Greek morphology (that means, they can hold a basic conversation without searching for their words or for the grammatical forms). They can read adapted texts from the Gospels without a dictionary and without grammar, without translating.
  At the end of Greek II (another 120 hours) good students possess a 1,500 words active vocabulary and they have internalized most of the grammar. They can read all the narrative texts of the NT and many narrative texts of the LXX without a dictionary, without grammar. They can hold more substantial conversations in Greek.

  At the end of Greek III, (another 120 hours) good students possess a 2,500 words active vocabulary and a 3,500 to 4,000 words passive vocabulary and they have internalized all the grammar. They can read easy and average Koine texts (such as the life of Esopus, the works of Diogenes Laertius, Pastor Hermas, the Apologies of Saint Justin...) without dictionary, without grammar. They can talk about most everything in Greek. 

Postscript (by SM)

I think you can agree with me that it’s a real pleasure to hear about the work that Rico has been involved in, and some of the future possibilities in view. It almost makes me wish I had another spare year and money to go and study at the Polis Institute! Perhaps I will fall into some money for some summer courses one day.

If you want to find out more about the Polis Institute or the Polis method, you can visit their website at

1 comment:

Paul Nitz said...

Very interesting. According to the best Koine speaker I know, Christophe is the most fluent Koine speaker alive!