Acquiring and Learning Greek

With this post I am beginning a new thread on language acquisition as applied to Ancient Greek. Slowly over time I hope to introduce a number of important elements of language acquisition theory to those of you who teach Greek on a regular basis, and to those who are interested in the practice of teaching Greek.

I should confess up front that my view of language acquisition is heavily influenced by the perspective of Stephen Krashen. Over the last 30 years Krashen has had a huge impact on langauge acquisition theory by introducing a number of key concepts that have stood the test of time in the relevant literature. In this post I want to address only one of them, the distinction between Acquisition and Learning.

Adults have two separate means of developing compentence in a language: language acquisition and language learning.

Language acquisition is a subconscious process. It is the way a child learns language. By hearing the language they begin to understand, yet are not consciously aware of the grammatical rules. They develop a “feel” for what sounds right. They pick up the language without memorizing rules and vocabulary.

Language learning refers to “knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them.” Language learning is becoming consciously aware of the structure of the language.

While it used to be thought that adults loose much of their acquisition ability and cannot gain language competence the way children do, this view has been discredited. Krashen argues that adults do not lose the ability to acquire languages the way that children do. In stead, adults add the ability to consciously try to learn language. Still, such learning can never be a substitute for acquiring the language if we really want to become truly competent in the language.

Research has shown that error correction has little effect on children acquiring their first language (error correction is learning strategy, not an acquisition strategy). In the same way, error correction can help adults learn Greek, but it will not help them acquire it.

SEE ASLO Conprehensible Input

6 Replies to “Acquiring and Learning Greek”

      1. Sure. I came across Krashen through US-based Latin teachers. Profoundly influenced the way I think about language learning and acquisition. I’ve written some blog posts on the topic, with reference to classical languages. Here and a summary of Krashen’s five main theses here.

        1. I first encountered his work when I was teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Louisville (Kentucky) back in the 1990s. I know in that context his method was amazingly useful. My classes never had a single common language. Some students were from African countries, others from Europe, others from Central and South America, and some from East Asia. Grammatical explanations were virtually useless at the beginning level. Thinking of creative ways to proved comprehensible input was the key to getting them started.

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