Daniel Streett on Learning Greek

These points originally appeared in a comment on the previous post and Daniel Streett has given me permission to promote them to guest post status. Eventually, in the next day or so, I’ll be providing some follow up of my own.

1) Since I started teaching communicatively, I have probably heard every single argument against modern pedagogy that exists! I have concluded that more often than not defenders of grammar-translation end up arguing against any real acquisition of the language–often under the guise that it’s just too hard, or impossible, or too much work, or there aren’t enough resources, etc. I have really begun to wonder whether most Greek profs actually want to learn the language, or if they are fairly content to perpetuate the system and to continue teaching linguistics under the guise of a Greek/Hebrew course.

2) You are absolutely correct that this argument will be settled when we have enough people adopt a communicative method to be able to see the results of that method compared to the traditional pedagogy. I think over the next decade or so, we will reach a critical mass with regard to resources where we will actually have enough tools, textbooks, and supporting audio/video materials (especially with the advent of podcasting, YouTube and Skype) to see a great increase in teachers adopting a communicative method for Greek and Hebrew. In the decade following that, we will see the results for ourselves and I don’t think there will be any question as to which method is more effective.

3) I think the grammar-translation method has gotten a free pass when it comes to accountability. From the G-T classes I have taken (about 8 years worth in 4-5 different institutions) the following hold true: a) Exams test rote memory of forms, vocab glosses, or entire paragraphs of “translations,” b) Students are told almost exactly what will be on the exams so that the content is utterly predictable and requires no real understanding or comprehension of the language, merely a surface mastery of the metalanguage. c) If the student fails, it is his/her fault, not the professor’s and surely not the method itself. d) Some professors have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception when it comes to how much their students are retaining. The assumption is often, “If I covered it in class, the students *got* it,” or “If the student did well on the exam, he learned the material.” But, at my institution we tested students 1-2 years after they had taken Greek, and their performance on even the most basic parsings and translations was abysmal. They retained virtually nothing.

4) D&T are correct that most students’ goals coming into a GRK 101 class are not communicative. But, I think that the first major task of a Greek prof is to tell the students what their goals *should* be. We don’t let students write the curriculum, do we?

5) As R Buth has pointed out tirelessly, even Greek profs and “scholars” do not know the language. (For me, teaching Greek communicatively is a case of “Physician, heal thyself!”). If you want proof, I can show you the results of a little quiz I gave my audience at ETS, which asked them to give the Greek equivalent for 10 English words/phrases such as “yes” “nine” “yellow” “ball” “how are you?” etc. All these are first-week words in an ESL course, but in my audience, largely made up of tenured Greek professors and even authors of Greek grammars, no one got more than two our of ten correct.