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.
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!