Monday, August 25, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (5): Casper Porton

Here’s part five of this interview series with Communicative Greek Teachers.
(Parts OneTwoThree, Four)

Today I'm really pleased to offer an interview with Casper Porton. To be honest, until I wrote that post some months ago trying to collect information about a range of activities going on, I had never heard about him, and despite having a Dutch dictionary on my bookshelf, things going on in the Netherlands are generally unknown to me! But Latin and Greek are now truly 'international' languages because they are a common history for so many of us.

Casper Porton founded and runs Addisco (http://www.addisco.nl/), and I'm sure you'll find his answers very interesting.



1. What’s your personal academic background?

I’ve studied Greek and Latin for six years at the VU in Amsterdam, but I rather think of myself as an autodidact, for all of the most valuable things I’ve learned about the Greek and Latin languages in my life, I’ve taught myself with the help of loads of books, YouTube, other websites and especially by teaching (docendo discimus, or in my case: docendo addisco).

2. How did you first learn Greek/Latin?

In high school Greek and Latin are mandatory at the highest education level in the Netherlands for six years. That’s where I first heard about these wonderful languages, and immediately I was hooked. I love the flow of the languages themselves and also the texts and stories written in them. The year before I would go to college I suddenly realised that after high school I would never use Greek and Latin whichever study or job I choose to do... unless I went to study Greek and Latin and became a teacher. I’ve always like to teach, so my choice for this study was easily made. It combined my passion for the languages and teaching and there seemed no better option for me.

University however did not live up to my expectations at all. I’d thought to learn to really comprehend, speak, read and write Latin and Greek at university, which are very handy skills to have when becoming a teacher. Instead the study turned out to be more of the same as high school: analysing and translating texts to the letter. Out of discontent I started to look for books, people and places I could really learn the languages I love so much. I thirsted for more knowledge than the professors at my university could offer me, and that’s when I discovered there’s another way to learn Latin and Greek. So I fully focused on that.

3. What made you shift to a communicative methodology?

As I got better results with the books and websites I found than with the books set by the university, I changed my own learning drastically to more befit my needs. I learned a lot from Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se illustrata and dived into the research of Krashen and Asher about second language acquisition. More and more I was becoming convinced that techniques such as TPR, TPRS, Embedded Reading and the concept of Comprehensible Input could also be used to learn to comprehend Latin and Greek. As I taught Latin courses for adults already at the time, it kind of became more and more necessary that I spoke Latin during the lessons. The success of using the techniques that are usually only used for teaching modern languages for a ‘dead’ language such as Latin thrilled me to no end.

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

I did a lot of reading! Really, my fiancée is getting a little desperate about the number of books I’ve collected (still collecting actually). Also I found YouTube very helpful. Videos of important and learned people (Aloisius Miraglia, Terentius Tunberg, Milena Minkova, Annula Llewellyn, Chistophe Rico et multi alii) speaking Latin and Greek and proving over and over again how you could learn to comprehend a language, not just analyse and translate it, kept me going when my professors at the university told me I was ‘wasting’ my time with all the ‘spoken Latin stuff’. Some even said it wasn't possible!

What you need to understand is that ten years ago, when I started to learn about the communicative method and founded my own school, I was practically alone in the Netherlands. I couldn’t find anyone else who thought the same about learning Greek and Latin. Now it’s gaining in popularity very slowly: there are some high school teachers who are starting this year with Lingua Latina per se illustrata in their junior classes, but at universities the only method of ‘reading’ and teaching Greek and Latin is the grammatical/analytical approach.

What I missed most during that time was a person who could give me feedback on my progress in real life. Of course, I learned tonnes from YouTube and books, and websites, but I missed a teacher with whom I could communicate in person. Last year I visited the Accademia Vivarium Novum twice, but at that time I already spoke the language. It would have been easier if I visited them ten years ago!

5. What courses or materials do you currently offer?

At the moment I offer tutoring for students, Latin/Greek courses for adults and didactic lessons for teachers. I’m doing pretty well with my little language institute, Addisco Education, which I’ve founded back in 2005. And there are some big changes coming in the next year, like translating my website (www.addisco.nl) and blog (www.classiculus.nl) to English.

This year I’ve organized the first ever Summer School Spoken Latin in the Netherlands (including a didactic component for teachers), and I think it’s a success, so there’s definitely a summer course in planning for next year. I’m happy to say participants are very enthusiastic about the lessons, which I give together with Roberto Carfagni, who taught for years at the famous Accademia Vivarium Novum.
Central in all my courses is that anyone can join. Everyone is welcome to learn Greek and Latin. You do not need a certain educational background. I think it’s very important to make Latin and Greek accessible for anyone who wishes to learn the languages. Since 2013 I’ve got the publishing rights of Lingua Latina per se illustrata and I’ve been developing digital, interactive course material to complement the book (www.addisco.nl/exercitia-latina.htm). All the exercises are tantum Latine. At the moment I'm also working on an embedded reading (Ørberg style) of Ovid's Metamorphoses that students will be able to read after Familia Romana. And there's even more coming up.

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?


The level of the student after a course fully depends on how long one studies with me and what their goals are. What I’m most proud of is that my students, at whatever level they are, can actually read and understand Latin at their level. They do not need to analyse and translate before comprehending a sentence. They understand the meaning of Latin in Latin, and I think that’s worth a lot. And mutatis mutandis the same can be said for Greek.



Post-word.

Again, excellent to hear from another practitioner in this field!

This is the last interview I have currently received for this series. If you are also involved in a communicative approach to teaching Greek and would like to share about it here, please e-mail me directly, I'd be happy to facilitate that.

1 comment:

Paul Nitz said...

Well done, Caspar. He pioneered on his own. He has some nice resources in English on his website already. I look forward to the rest of his material being in English.