Input and Output in Acquisition of Hellenistic Greek

In earlier posts I have mentioned the notion of Comprehensible Input and its crucial role in language acquisition. Now I want to address a different issue that has equal implications for teaching and acquiring Ancient Greek: the distinction between receptive and expressive language, also called the input/output difference.

In acquisition of an additional language, reception precedes expression. That is, a student’s ability to understand develops much faster than her or his ability to speak. The ability to read develops faster than the ability to write. While research has clearly demonstrated this, it’s quite easy to see for anyone whose ever taught a modern language to any degree of fluency. Students that have a great deal of difficulty speaking German in class can nonetheless understand what the teacher is saying in German at a significantly higher level. Students who struggle with writing in French can nonetheless read French texts with grammatical constructions well beyond the ones they are able to write.

Now let’s think about the implications for teaching Ancient Greek. What is our objective? I think it is quite uncontroversial to propose that most Ancient Greek classes are focused more on reading than on writing. What we want our students to be able to do is read fluently, not write fluently. That is, our objective is most clearly aligned with reception, not expression.

While we might disagree over how beneficial it is to have students speak or write in class (output), these activities are clearly not our goal in and of themselves. Since our goal is reception rather than production, we could argue that having students learn to speak Ancient Greek is not a productive use of time (though some would disagree). Still, hearing Greek spoken clearly is a good use of time. It provides, in addition to reading, input that is useful to the student. Of course, the quality of this input must be high to be of real value. It must be comprehensible input.

I would love to hear comments from any of you who have experience relevant to this question. Have you been asked to speak or write (output) Greek in your classes? How helpful did you find that experience? Have you had instructors who spoke to you (input) in Greek? Did you find it helpful? If not, what was the nature of the way the instructor spoke? Were you able to understand based on the context? If not, it was not really comprehensible input.

It is my view that speaking to the class in Greek WILL aid acquisition so long as what is said is comprehensible based on the context in which it is spoken.

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