In this post I'm picking up some comments emailed to me privately by Daniel of Hebrew and Greek Reader. The comments were emailed privately largely because of the limitations of comment length that blogger allows. What I hope to achieve in this post is a clarification and nuance of the discussion.
Analysis vs. Reading
I admit to being a little slippery in the way I have used 'reading' in the initial posts. I take it that our goal is a close and attentive study of the ancient texts in our discipline. That's the kind of analysis we are after. However, the tendency has for a long time been for this to be quite microscopic: to deal with words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. The recent shift and rise in the popularity of Discourse Analysis seems to me to be the waking up to the idea that we read paragraphs, and longer segments. Narrative Criticism is of the same ilk, only with a certain genre and a very broad range.
In English Literature circles, we'd call that 'reading', and that's what I mean by saying that study = reading – a close and attentive study of the ancient texts at both the macro and micro levels.
Acquisition vs. 'Learning', L1 and L2
There's certainly a larger debate going on here, and one that probably hasn't been and won't be settled for some time, if either. That's whether an L2, learnt post-adolescence, can ever be considered equivalent to an L1. I'm currently convinced that L2s are never learnt in the same way that L1s are, and that probably the way the brain processes and utilises them is significantly different. Nonetheless, I would refer to someone with communicative fluency in an L2 as having acquired the language.
This I differentiate from 'learning about' an L2, by which I denote the kinds of facts taught in (for example but not limited to) Grammar-Translation classes. Such classes are taught in the native, not the target language, and tend to objectify and externalise pieces of the target language for analysis. It's perfectly possible, and I've seen this among Classics teachers at tertiary institutions, to have a vast command of the grammar of a language, and a real inability to read, hear, speak, write simple phrases and statements, without doing some English-language thinking and analysis first.
Sometimes I use the term 'meta-language' to refer to this learning-about, this grammatical knowledge of a target language in the terms of the native language. It's why 2nd year students have endless debates about what kind of Genitive Paul is using. It's why they get a little confused when you point out that Paul probably didn't sit down and select a type-of-genitive from a drop-down menu. We teach a language to talk about language, sometimes without teaching the language itself.
I agree that L2s cannot be learnt as if they are L1s. There is an unfortunate historical tendency to equate Direct methods with Natural methods. The latter are those that seek to imitate the patterns of children learning their L1, the former are those that recognise the difference that adult learners bring to the learning situation, and aim to teach, in a structured manner, the language through the medium of the language so far as possible.
It's the common concern of Grammar-Translation teachers that such communicative and/or Direct methods will leave students grammatically at-sea when it comes to analysis. That can be the case, but it doesn't have to be the case.
Goals and Limitations for Seminaries.
I think there are real and hard walls that we come up against when we come to think of Seminary Education. There's the combined pressures of time, curriculum, student expectations and demands, faculty time and ability to teach, denominational expectations, and on and on. I also recognise that I don't speak from the inside of a seminary.
Let me reflect a little on my own experiences. In an Australian university, an Arts major has a workload of 4 subjects a semester, generally 3 hours contact, a nominal further 9 private study (I'm sure no-one has ever done that). I did my Latin by correspondence, but presumably if I'd been on campus it would have been the same - ¼ of the workload.
Contrast the seminary I went to: a rigorous languages program by most standards. In the first year, 6-8 classes over the course of the year, each with 2-3 contact hours and much the same expectations as the ¼ load of a university. Greek compulsory for 3-4 year degrees. Hebrew optional. First year Greek was grammar, with 1 hr set to small-group reading through Mark. Second year Greek was all Wallace. They have recently introduced a 4th year Advanced Greek Grammar. 2nd to 4th year New Testament courses were all taught from the Greek text.
Hebrew was grammar first year, then Old Testament courses through years 2-4 were streamed Hebrew/English, with further grammar in 2nd year.
I get the impression this is far above most U.S. seminaries, but I don't have the experience to verify. It's incredibly hard with that kind of workload to convince students to do conversation, read outside the NT, and so on.
If I had the chance to restructure either a university classics program or a seminary languages program, I'd do this:
Change the 1st year program to a communicative method. I'd look at something like Hans Oerberg's Lingua Latina: Familia Romana
alongside Neumann's Lingua Latina: A College Companionfor some inspiration.
Develop a systematic graded reader built heavily upon the source texts.
Move from 'expected outside class hours' to making most of those hours class time. I realise that means virtually 12 hours contact! I don't think you need to go to that extreme, but I think you want to head that way; if science degrees can get students spending 7-8 contact hours in lectures, tutorials, and labs, I think languages should be able to do the same. I'd make some of this sustained reading. Some of it conversational. Some of it grammatical analysis. Probably I'd look to commit some of the class hours of second year Greek students to facilitating small groups of first years.
If you can do that in the first year, you can still teach something like Wallace in the second. Alternatively, one could seek to develop a Greek vocabulary and text for talking about linguistics and rhetoric. That, I confess, is very ambitious.
Of course this is all speculation. I'm not in such a position, and maybe my aims are too high. We won't know how such an approach would turn out until someone does it and commits to it for a few years. All it would take is someone committed enough to doing it, and to trial it for a few years, with the backing of their institution, and to get some good Second Language researchers in to do some fieldwork, and the proof would be there (one way or the other – I'm prepared to be proved wrong!).