This year I’ve taught more Greek than ever before, and more in ways that reflect my own pedagogical commitments. And so here’s some reflections on teaching Greek and Latin from my experience with The Patrologist courses, aka SeumasU
I decided to whole-heartedly adopt Athenaze as a text this year and use it as a basis for most of my intro Greek classes. This allowed me the freedom, ironically, to lean into the text. Previously I’d tried teaching from the Italian version alone, but the difficulty in getting hold of that text makes it somewhat prohibitive for learners.
The more time I spend with Athenaze, the more I grow to both like it, and be sorely aware of its faults. In my view, it’s still the best, currently available, continuous narrative text for learners. That’s my main reason for using it. I typically ignore all the grammar sections and let my students read them if they wish; my video course has grammar videos that go over those points too. But in class, we read the text, and as far as possible, use in-Greek question and answer to go over it, clarify meaning, etc., so that the text itself is understood. Comprehension is my main focus, and the text is both the means and a certain end, because it’s a good story for the most part.
It’s also far more text than you get anywhere else, except for maybe JACT’s Reading Greek. Which brings me to Athenaze’s great fault – too much vocab, too steep a slope. Because, under the hood, Athenaze is still a grammar-translation driven textbook. It still very much expects you to be translating the readings, memorising paradigms, and rendering things into English. So every chapter has too many new words, and too much new information.
That is, however, why I don’t instead use Reading Greek, because it’s actually worse at that. Much more grammar-as-a-hammer, pages of glossed vocabulary, and an even steeper difficulty curve.
All this has given me 3 main takeaways:
- We need lots and lots more easy to read Greek aimed at learners. Novellas, novelliolas. Stand alone narratives. Connected narratives. Interconnected narratives.
- The most useful thing for students to do on their own time, generally speaking, is to read things they can understand, including text they have already read. Corollary: the most useful thing they can do with my time is in-Greek communicative discussion, and making-comprehensible things they can’t do themselves
- The more I can get away from the textbook, any textbook, to comprehensible Greek activities, while also ensuring that learners continue to develop reading skills, the better.
I mostly teach Latin from LLSPI, with a combination of some visual resources, and in-Latin discussion and paraphrase, and personalisation of q&a. This is one area where it’s clear just how good Ørberg’s LLPSI really is. The more I work with it, the more I see how carefully it has been constructed, and the progress I have seen with students in understanding Latin as Latin, as well as producing Latin output, has been tremendously encouraging.
Post-Beginner Conversational Classes
These were a bit of an experiment for me this year. I knew I wanted to run some classes that were, “okay, you learnt Latin/Greek, but you’ve never spoken it, so how do you start doing that”. And I also knew that I wanted to incorporate some of the standard gambit of CI type techniques – things like Picture Talk, Movie Talk, Storyasking/TPRS, as well as giving students a vocabulary to talk about things that they wouldn’t necessarily have ever encountered (e.g. modern things, grammar itself, daily activities).
I do think these courses could become a bit more structured from my end of them. That’s a little hard for me because I really do enjoy flying improv with just enough preparation to not fall entirely flat on my face. But that’s something I’ll be thinking about – clearer structure and progression in these kinds of classes.
Post-Beginner Reading Classes
Teaching μὲν beginners is super fun and super helpful for me. It’s like building and thickening and strengthening my own foundation as a speaker and developing my skills as a teacher.
Post-beginners δὲ are a different source of teaching joy. This year I taught a Greek patristics reading group for a term, and a 4-term sequence of theological Latin through the ages (right up to and including the Reformation era). It’s incredibly interesting to read texts and discuss them with students in their language. This is something I’m excited to develop further next year and beyond, with offerings in Biblical, Classical, and Post-Classical texts in both languages.
My last ‘type’ of course has been running table-top RPGs in Latin. I ran two groups this year, and both were a great deal of fun. They came about because (a) I really love RPGs, (b) I had a great time playing D&D at the Australianae Rusticationes, (c) I think they have a huge potential at all levels for language acquisition. I’ll have a bit more to say about these in an upcoming paper at ASCS42, which I will also release at that time. There will definitely be more Latin RPGing coming up in 2021, and maybe Greek?
All in all, it’s been a big year of teaching for me, and I’ve loved 95% of it. Teaching teaches me a lot, and it keeps me committed to learning as well – I am always working on my own Latin and Greek behind the scenes, as well as self-professional-development as a teacher. Looking forward to a veritable smorgasbord of ancient language teaching in 2021.