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

Randall Buth on Hellenistic Pronunciation

While I’m on the topic of Randall Buth’s recent contributions with regard to teaching Greek, I should point out his discussion of Hellenistic pronunciation that relates it directly to the task of teaching and learning Hellenistic Greek: Ἡ Κοινὴ Προφορά (Koine Pronunciation): Notes on the Pronunciation System of Phonemic Koine Greek (PDF).

He does a very nice job of summarizing the state of reconstruction of Greek pronunciation for the Hellenistic period and laying out key assumptions about the criteria a reconstructed pronunciation should meet.

Do any of you know how to get a copy of his Living Koine Greek For Everyone?

Randall Buth on Greek Lexicography

Today I had the pleasure of reading Randall Buth’s article, “Verbs Perception and Aspect: Greek Lexicography and Grammar.” It’s refreshing to read a Biblical Scholar talking about the work of Stephen Krashen on language acquisition.

While I did not find Buth’s argument about the aspect of Greek perfects convincing, his arguments for using the infinitival forms as the lemma in a lexicon is well informed and well presented. He argues for listing both the aorist and present infinitives, giving the aorist first place.

In the early part of the article he gives an insightful and challenging account of what happens in Biblical Greek classrooms and an honest acknowledgment of the results. This account forms the background for his proposal of a different type of lexicon. I would like to propose, though, that his critique has more far reaching implications. For the good of the field, we need major changes in the way Hellenistic Greek is taught. The methods currently employed do not produce fluent readers who can “think in Greek.”

I’ll try to find time later to write a post on the implications of Krashen’s work for the way we teach Greek. I have struggled with this issue for many years.

Smart Board

I have gone through all 21 lessons on a Smart Board to insure that everything works without complication. All of the exercises work perfectly, and the lessons display well enough to be read comfortably.

The Smart Board allows the teacher to highlight key parts of the lesson by simply dragging a finger across them, or write on the lesson with one of the pressure “pens” to highlight particular items.

If you are teaching Greek and have access to a Smart Board, give it a try and tell me what you would like changed, improved, etc.

Back to Greek tomorrow

I spent the day today in a training seminar on teaching English to speakers of other languages. I’ll be back to working on Greek tomorrow.

I spent Monday working on the next lesson for the online grammar, dealing with the middle voice. I hope to finish it in the next few days.

Teaching Greek with Basic Linguistic Tools (via ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ)

If you’re interested in the way a knowledge of linguistics can impact teaching Greek, see the following post by Mike Aubrey. I have had many similar experiences. It’s good to see him enjoy the fruits of his studies.

Do you have stories of how a basic knowledge of linguistics has impacted your teaching or your study of Ancient Greek (Biblical Greek, Hellenistic Greek more broadly, or Classical Greek)?

Using a couple of basic methods borrowed from linguistics, I helped a friend whose just working through first year Greek understand how the verbal system works: Binary Features (from Phonology) Position Class Charts (from Generative Morphology) So simple; so basic, but today I received an e-mail from him saying, “[Y]ou’re a life saver, this stuff makes so much more sense now, THANKS!” These are the days I’m glad I studied linguistics. … Read More