Monday, June 01, 2009

'Conversational' 'Dead' Languages, VI

See further posts by Mike Aubrey: here, here, here, and a poll

In this post, and the next, I want to attempt to offer some practical advice for those who wonder how they might implement a communicative, or some element of it, approach in their teaching, especially for those who have not been taught by that kind of method or have that kind of experience. I readily confess and remind you that I'm not in a teaching position, just a grad-student and preacher who thinks too much about classical languages and second langauge acquisition theory. I'm going to speak of Greek throughout the post, but I imagine it is similarly relevant to other languages.

1. Recognise your weaknesses, and your strengths
It's a good wake-up call to realise you don't know how to string a simple phrase together in Greek. Just have a quick glance around the room you're in now, and try to name objects in Greek. Easy? Not at all.

Cause for despair? Not at all. Don't write-off whatever Greek you've done, whether it's a semester, or a decade. All that is useful, good learning. The question that confronts us is how to capitalise on that knowledge, and employ it for acquisition.

2. Invest in yourself
If you're a teacher, particularly of beginners, your impact will be decisive for their language-learning. So, the extent to which you achieve communicative ability and can teach the same, is not just about you, but about year after year of students. For that reason, don't consider it indulgent to spend time, and money, working on your Greek.

(a) Commit to reading daily in your target language. For myself, I'm following a daily Bible reading plan, and I read all NT portions out of a reader's Greek NT. While in seminary I memorised vocabulary-glosses all the way down to about 5 occurrences and over. So, it's the occasional rare word that slows me down, and at that point, when reading and not studying, I just need a gloss to read on.

(b) Be prepared to spend some cash. I'm going to talk about existing resources later on, and if you're committed to this idea, it's worth spending some money on it. I've spent far too much, given my limited income, and non-teaching position, but I don't regret it at all.

3. Find a like-minded colleague
I wish I had one! But here I'm taking a tip from W.H.D. Rouse - find someone like-minded, and commit to meeting regularly, or even going on a short break, and converse with them in your target language. If you've got nothing to begin with, find some ESL materials or something, and spend the time to look up vocabulary you should know, and so on. Painful at first, worth it in the long run.

4. Go cross-discipline
Biblical Studies, Classics, and Foreign Language Teaching, tend to be fairly discrete academic disciplines. But it's well worth your time getting acquainted with the other two (if you're coming from a theological background). It's largely by joining mailing-lists for high school Latin teachers that I got a real start in this area. It seems to me, that Latin teachers, of all classical language disciplines, have shown the most initiative in pursuing communicative methods, with some strong results.

5. Consider TPR/TPRS training.
If you're in the USA, you've got a head-start on me here. Find a TPRS workshop, for any language really, and go along with a willingness to learn whatever they're teaching, and observe their method. Something like a Blaine Ray workshop, or the like, would be of good use.

In my next post, I'll point to some specific resources, and also make some more specific suggestions about teaching and the like.

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