Naming the Movement

Every Movement Needs a Name
I have often wondered how to name the movement (of which I am a part) to teach Koine Greek as a living language. I think every movement needs a good tag to be successful, one that captures the essence of what the movement stands for. Several possibilities present themselves:

  • Living Language Ancient Greek – this emphasizes the fact that we want to teach Greek the way that living languages are taught, with a prominent oral-aural component. It also forces us to deal head-on with the most prominent objection to the movement, namely that Greek is a dead language. [Edit: As noted below in the comments, another objection this label provokes is, “Oh, you’re trying to resurrect a dead language?” Well, yes, but that’s beside the point 😉 We don’t really think that we can resurrect ancient Greek, but we think that we learn it better if we treat it as a living language.]
  • Ancient Greek as a Second Language (AGSL) – I like this one because everyone is familiar with English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, and so it invites the hearer to imagine what it would be like to learn Greek that way.
  • The Natural Approach to Ancient Greek – this applies Stephen Krashen’s model to ancient Greek. It stresses lots of input and a low stress level, and downplays the explicit teaching of grammar. This is good, because it gets people thinking about the way that children naturally learn languages, first by a lot of listening, then by speaking (with many mistakes), and only much later reading and writing.
  • Communicative Ancient Greek – I like this because it emphasizes that ancient Greek was a real language, a vehicle of communication and interaction. It also clues people in that the best method for learning Greek is through meaningful communication and manipulation of one’s environment via the language. Furthermore, it allows us to explain the difference between a communicative learning order and a grammatical one. A communicative syllabus is ordered topically. Week one may be names and greetings; week two might cover family members, and so on. This is completely different from a grammatical syllabus where week one covers nouns of the first declension, and week two covers nouns of the second declension, and so on.
  • Conversational Ancient Greek – This is helpful because it makes clear the oral-aural component, and emphasizes communication/interaction. However, I don’t really like it, as it gives most people the impression that we’re just learning how to order coffee and talk about the weather in ancient Greek, and not getting into reading great literature, which is the reason most people sign up for Greek in the first place.
  • Some other possibilities:
      • Greek Students’ Liberation Movement
      • The Occupy Greek Class Movement
      • Students for a Δημοκρατικη Κοινωνια
      • Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Greek Students

Method vs. Goals
A problem I see with many of these, however, is that they mostly focus on the teaching method, especially use of the spoken language, natural learning techniques like TPR, etc. The real challenge, though, in my opinion, is not necessarily to get teachers to adopt communicative language techniques. I’ve found that to be pretty easy–many are quite willing to incorporate bits and pieces of TPR, TPRS, oral-aural components, etc. into their teaching. Rather, the hard thing is to get Greek teachers to rethink the goal of their teaching. (I dealt with this very topic recently in these posts on where to set the bar: pt 1 and pt 2.) In the minds of many Greek teachers, it seems, a successful student is one who can ace a parsing test, memorize vocabulary, translate a difficult passage “accurately and precisely,” do an “in-depth exegesis,” or prepare a sermon outline from a Greek text.

What if we could, instead, convince Greek teachers to aim at fluency–at developing students who have internalized the language, can think in Greek, and have a real “feel” for the language, and who, as a result, can read the literature fluidly and for pleasure? Once we establish fluency as the goal, we can fight over what method of teaching gets us there most quickly. Do students become fluent readers through a grammar-translation model? Then, go with that! Maybe a natural approach works best; if so, we will find out fairly quickly, just as modern language training institutes have. But establishing the goal or aim of our teaching is the key.

My Proposal
Thus, I suggest it might be helpful to call the movement the Ancient Greek Fluency Movement. This lets us start with the most important thing–not teaching method, but the goal of true fluency in the language. It helps us define the conversation: what does it mean to be fluent in ancient Greek? To “know” Ancient Greek? To “read” Ancient Greek? And, it allows us to remain method-neutral; whatever method gets us most quickly and painlessly to fluency is to be preferred.

What do you think? Perhaps you have another name to propose for the movement. Let us know in the comments!


About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
This entry was posted in Greek Pedagogy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Naming the Movement

  1. ΑρΕλΆρΚ, short for Google Translate’s “Άριστη γνώση της Αρχαίας Ελληνικής Κίνημα” for “Ancient Greek Fluency Movement.” I have no idea if these are good translations, though I see the roots for “archaic” and “Hellenic.” I presume that a true translation of the meaning would still have words that began the same.
    The idea is to have a Greekish name for this movement.
    Anyway, the abbreviation would be pronounced “Real Ark.” Fluency would flow like the Flood on which the Ark of Noah floated. Through a living (language) Bible, we’d encounter the Inspirer, much like Christ Himself is our real Ark.
    Yes, I wrote “Greekish.”

  2. Stephen says:

    First, a quibble: Ancient Greek as a Second Language might be more appropriately termed Ancient Greek as a Foreign Language, to parallel the modern language distinction between second- and foreign-language contexts (i.e., ESL refers to learning English in the U.S., U.K., etc., while EFL refers to learning English in France, China, etc.). It’s not possible to get much more “foreign,” in that sense, than Greek and Latin classrooms, thanks to our regrettable lack of time machines.

    A few thoughts on some of the suggestions:

    I’m not fond of “The Natural Approach to Ancient Greek” because Krashen’s key claim — that comprehensible input is not only necessary but sufficient for acquisition — has been rejected by the SLA community. Comprehensible input is necessary, but hardly sufficient. CI and TPRS are not the only ways to teach language communicatively.

    “Communicative Ancient Greek” — I think I might like this one even better than “Ancient Greek Fluency.” This is probably because I would switch the reasons why you chose one over the other. To my mind, “Communicative Ancient Greek” is more provocative than “Ancient Greek Fluency,” but in the right way. It forces you to confront your presuppositions about language teaching at the start, while “fluency” can still be interpreted in grammar-translation terms, just like “reading” can mean “translating.” And “communicative” is still “method-neutral,” since it covers a wide variety of approaches, but it does insist that language is fundamentally a vehicle of communication. Failing to understand that is where most ancient language pedagogy goes wrong. To vastly oversimplify, you can’t learn something well if you don’t know what it’s for.

    You mention syllabus types — even within the so-called “communicative” syllabus, there are a variety of options. It may be a while before the communicative ancient language movement is ready for the analytic syllabus!

    I agree about “Conversational Ancient Greek”; it sounds too frivolous.

    Finally — this is only tangentially related to naming the movement — I’d love to see collaboration between classics and biblical studies, between the folks who go to APA and the folks who go to SBL. It seems to me that the latter group is more open to communicative methods, at least on the post-secondary level. So as the “movement” is defined and takes shape, it may be helpful to speak of “ancient” Greek as much as possible, rather than “Koine” or “classical.”

    • Ah, Stephen, you quibble as only a nerdy grad student can! 😉 Don’t forget, my goal on this blog is not to nail down the specifics of SLA theory wrt Greek, but to convince people to start considering it. A lot of your quibbles are great for in-house discussion, among those already convinced of communicative models for ancient language teaching, but they’re not really relevant when it comes to getting people into the house.

      A few responses:
      1. I am aware of the SL/FL distinction, but most people aren’t, don’t care, and are much more familiar with ESL (it also gets confusing when you reject the ESL label but then refer to SLA; why not be more precise and say SLA/FLA, if it’s that important? 🙂 ). Also, students in ESL classes often have no common first language (e.g., some students speak Russian, some Spanish, some Swahili). This means that the L2 (in this case, English) must be used exclusively, esp when the teacher only has English. I like ESL, because it helps me illustrate what a class conducted entirely in Greek would be like, as many people have a hard time imagining it. That said, I’m not sure the ‘foreign’ in EFL really applies any more accurately than ‘second’ to ancient Greek, since it’s not like we’re literally preparing for travel to a foreign country.

      2. On Krashen, I am not tied to all the specifics of his theories, especially vis-a-vis responses to his work within SLA theory; I simply find that he writes clearly and is very effective in moving people away from a grammar-translation model and toward a more natural approach. I suppose I would challenge your claim that his input hypothesis is his “key claim.” I have found his other points (natural order, monitor, acquisition-learning, affective filter) just as important and helpful in understanding the role of the L2 teacher. I would also be interested if you could supply some references from Krashen (esp recent work) where he says CI is sufficient. I find him arguing for its paramount importance, but not that it is all-sufficient. See here, e.g.: (see note 2).

      3. I don’t know how anyone could interpret ‘fluency’ in G-T terms, but I don’t think there’s any label that will not require us to explain and define it to an outsider at least a bit. I also don’t see how ‘communicative’ is method-neutral. Are there communicative methods that are purely grammar-translation? My point is that if we can get people to agree on fluency as the goal, then by all means let them try out their G-T method and see where that gets them. Judged by standards of fluency, it will not get them far. Change the goals and the standards of assessment; then methods will follow (my next post will be on this).

      4. I’m not sure why you say ancient language teachers are not ready for the analytic syllabus. Can you elaborate?

      5. We’re definitely agreed in desiring classics, biblical studies, and related fields to come together on this.

      Thanks for interacting!

      • Stephen says:

        1. Daniel, I hope my use of the term “quibble” made it clear that it was in fact a quibble! It was not intended to be a substantive point, nor do I think that wrangling over terminology is an effective method of persuasion. I was thinking of this discussion as “in-house,” I suppose, since deciding what to name a movement is usually done by the movement’s adherents.

        Regarding SLA/FLA, I was just following convention, as you know. ESL/EFL refers to two different kinds of language _teaching_ contexts, while SLA encompasses all language learning after puberty, instructed or not.

        2. I didn’t mean to imply that you were tied to Krashen. When I said “key claim,” I had in mind the fact that comprehensible input has had a lasting impact on SLA research (e.g., Swain’s work on comprehensible output, Long’s work on the Output Hypothesis). The other aspects of Monitor Theory haven’t, since they were rejected early on as incoherent (see Gregg, 1984, “Krashen’s Monitor and Occam’s Razor”).

        3. Sure, any label will require some explanation. I think we may have a different understanding of “communicative.” A “communicative approach” to language teaching can vary widely; it can include task-based language teaching, TPRS, etc. It does not include grammar-translation or audiolingualism, for example.

        4. It was an attempt at humor based on the fact that the analytic syllabus hasn’t even caught on widely in modern language contexts.

        5. Great.

      • Thanks for clarifying, Stephen. I know we’re on the same page; I’m just trying to find how best to communicate all this to someone who’s stuck in the 19th century when it comes to language teaching. For doing that, a lot of the nuancing and terminological quibbling can be a distraction. What ancient Greek teachers need to hear is that *everyone* who studies SLA agrees now that G-T is dead and that languages are best acquired orally-aurally. Once they make the leap into desiring true reading fluency, oral-aural proficiency, etc., they can find out what kind of syllabus, drills, activities, etc. work or don’t work to accomplish that.

        Anyway, I always learn something from your quibbling, so please keep quibbling away! 🙂 And, thanks for the Gregg reference. I’m interested to read it.

  3. Aaron says:

    Why limit it to Greek when the same principles apply to all of the biblical languages? How about Biblical Language Fluency Movement?

  4. Whatever y’all choose, please don’t call it “Coin-ay” Greek ; )

    (I’m a little confused about the comingling of the terms “Ancient Greek” – which I think of as Homer et al – and New Testament Greek – which I understand is quite different – I’m not a Greek scholar – so just asking for enlightenment on the terms here)

    • Labels vary in their referents. When I say ‘ancient,’ I mean Homer up to the Byzantine era, with a focus on Attic and Hellenistic. I’m not attached by any means to ‘ancient,’ but I would love to see patristics scholars, NT/LXX scholars, and classicists come together in pursuit of fluency.

  5. Paul Nitz says:

    You are absolutely right that this approach to teaching Greek needs a name.
    I like all your offerings and probably wouldn’t object to any of them. But I like one the best. Here are my fears about the rest…

    – Living Language “So, you’re trying to resurrect Ancient Greek?” Um, kind of.
    – AGSL – “What if Ancient Greek is my third language. What then, buddy? Huh?”
    – Natural Approach “Groovy, man!”
    – Conversational & Fluency “Oh, you speak and listen a lot.” No, not just that.

    My great epiphany after reading Asher was that the most effective way to learn language is not defined by using your ears and mouth, as opposed to eyes and hands. Effective learning takes place when we take the language as true, real, genuine communication (whether heard, spoken, read, or written). And thus, my favourite: “Communicative Ancient Greek.”

    But it feels like it needs something. It’s not verbal enough.

    . Communicative _____ (of/to/for) Ancient Greek?

    We can’t use “method” or “approach” because some SLA expert will take it as a technical label, “Oh, you mean Nunan’s CL method? That’s soooo passe, darling.”

    How about?

    — Communicative Learning of Ancient Greek —

    • Paul, you just reminded me of one of my issues with the “living language” label. I’m going to edit the post to include that. I guess the “groovy” objection to the natural approach doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s “far out” and “swell!”

      So, you disagree with me that we should name the movement for its goals and not for its method?

      • Paul Nitz says:

        I’d bypass both goal and method.

        I don’t know if our GOAL distinguishes us. Our goal is fluency, yes. Isn’t that pretty much the same as saying “real comprehension?” Comprehension is the goal of all learning via the grammar-translation approach, isn’t it? I think that approach is very inefficient. It tends to cut out the 95% of students. I suspect that it is also prone to make a person focus too narrowly. But its goal is comprehension.

        Methods are too specific and changeable. Rouse’s Direct Method, TPR, TPRS, Where Are Your Keys (WAYK), Task Based Language Learning, and a few that are not yet labeled would all be just fine with us, wouldn’t they? I can have many methods that mesh with an approach. The approach is what matters.

        Now, what defines our approach? What’s the contrast; what doesn’t fit our approach? Are we talking about Greek, are we dissecting and analyzing forms/patterns, are we struggling to grasp this? That probably doesn’t fit our approach. Are we speaking and being heard? Are we sending messages? Are we responding in real live ways to utterances or scribbles? Then it probably does fit our approach.

        I think “communicative” is a word that could work as a label for that approach.

  6. Γρηγόριος says:

    I don’t know about naming a movement, but you have neglected “the Direct Method,” which was the term used in the late-19th/early-20th century, when Rouse et al. tried to make this change in teaching both Greek and Latin in the schools.

    • True, I left that out. It’s not too descriptive for the average person on the street, but it does capture an important aspect: the attempt to bypass L1 and create a monolingual classroom environment. This is incorporated in most of the other labels (natural, communicative, etc.) I mentioned.

    • ναι, ως μαλιστα. ημας δε δει ονομασαι το Grammar-Translation το Indirect Method!

      • Paul Nitz says:

        χαιρε Φωσφορε. ευχαριστω σοι δια λογους σου.

        ὁ Φωσφόρος το φῶτα φερει ημῖν περί τοῦ ἐρωτήματος ημῶν. στήτε διαλέγειν. ὁ Φωσφόρος ἀπεκριθη. ὀνομασομεν την διδασκαλιαν ημῶν “ἀντί-GT-ια.”

      • καλως ειπες, ω βελτιστε Παυλε/Σαυλε. μισω γαρ το ΓΤ.

        βουλομαι δη σε ερρωσθαι!

  7. mvpcworshipblog says:

    I like it.

  8. Seumas says:

    I’m late to this party, but I would go with some form of Communicative.

    It covers a kind of double-base: ie a recognition that to some extent our goal is what we would call an active facility in using Greek as a means of communication – conversational fluency, but the dual claim that this is in fact the best way of understanding the communication of ancient written Greek texts, which is the teaching context of both Biblical and Classical studies.

  9. Corey says:

    Initially as a joke, my spouse asked to learn to SPEAK Ancient Greek, a hobby of mine. But he did not want to learn from a book. He wanted to learn from me directly. I thought, why not?

    So during our long walks each Saturday, I started with the basics: pitch accent, long vowels, long diphthongs, aspirates, voiceless alveolar trills, sigma’s that don’t hiss, etc.. (I speak only the pre-classical Attic/Ionian, so as to make the most of Homer’s poetry.)

    Next came basic things: colors, numbers, the alphabet, simple directives, etc. Then more “conversational” things, like “pass me the salt”, “slow down, you’re walking too fast”, “shall we pay the bill and leave?”, “danger up ahead”, etc..

    What he has learned is not pristine Ancient Greek. (And I myself am far from fluent.) Instead, we keep things simple. No paradigm memorization. And just a few flash cards to help him with memorization.

    Then something odd happened. We had stopped at a William-Sonoma, where I was inspecting something I liked. Right there in front of the store clerk, my spouse said: “σκυβαλίζω”. So out we walked, empty-handed. And I said (mostly to myself): “ταῦτα ἐγένετο”. (These things do happen.)

    Keep up the good work, Daniel. Ancient Greek is not just a prerequisite for theological students, where the fluency bar is set to “transliteration” at the highest mark.

  10. Daniel:
    I really enjoyed your comments on the goal of our teaching. I am not sure which name will be the most effective in the long run, but I do think that whatever method one chooses, the goal needs to be clearly understood, and our ability to change attitudes about that goal is an important step if we are concerned for the long-term future of our discipline.
    Given sociological and technological changes that are sweeping around the world, the goal of fluency has a lot of promise. It is exciting and fits well with changing attitudes toward the value (or lack of value) of studying ancient texts. This applies to classics as well as biblical studies. Classics programs are shrinking. Fewer and fewer seminaries are requiring competence in Biblical Greek. Updating the goal of studying Ancient Greek can breath needed life into programs that desperately need it!

    By the way… I’ve written a post over at introducing the Ancient Greek Best Practices Google Group. You can find it here:

  11. Pingback: Review of Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Video Lectures | Words on the Word

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