Communicative Language Learning Quote of the Day

I began reading When Dead Tongues Speak today. The first essay was fantastic. Here’s the quote of the day. If it was legal, I’d simply quote the entire essay online. It should be read by anyone teaching or learning a “dead” language.

When I was first teaching, I was more concerned to “cover the grammar” and “finish the book,” and then, I thought, my students would know Latin and Greek. After all, time is short, so it was best, I thought, to focus on what the book had to offer. There were paradigms to be memorized, vocabulary to be studied, exercises to be completed, and passages to translate. Once my students completed these hurdles, I assumed (or at least hoped) that they understood the new grammar well enough and had learned enough vocabulary to move on to the next chapter. Somehow, I expected my students, after memorizing forms, studying vocabulary, and practicing sentences, to be able to read and understand—almost magically—Latin and Greek. And if they could not read yet, I usually gave them more of the same: exercises that focused on sentence-level syntax rather than the strategies needed for reading chunks of discourse. Instead of helping my students learn to read, understand, and interpret Greek and Latin within their cultural context, I was focusing on accuracy at the sentence level, only one aspect of what linguists call communicative competence[*]. In short, I was practicing a theory of language teaching and learning that did not fit with my goal of helping students read Greek and Latin fluently and accurately, of appreciating it as a “living” language. What I needed to do was to reexamine these assumptions in the light of what I hoped my students would be able to do after they had studied beginning Latin and Greek.

—John Gruber-Miller, “Communication, Context and Community: Integrating the Standards in the Greek and Latin Classroom,” in When Dead Tongues Speak: Teaching Beginning Greek and Latin edited by John Gruber-Miller (APA Classical Resources Series; Oxford: University Press, 2006), 3-4 (Google books: HERE).

*Note: Gruber-Miller’s use of the word “communicative” and “communicate in this essay, primarily refers to the communication of the Greek and Latin authors to the contemporary reader. This should be clear from the following sentences in the quote above.