[B-Greek] Pedagogy ad nauseam redux
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Tue Sep 25 07:44:01 EDT 2007
There’s a new BMCR review of an interesting new approach to teaching
ancient Greek (to English-speaking students). Actually it’s not all
that new so much as it is “a road less traveled.” As the reviewer
notes, some primers are designed with a view to reading Homer; one
of the more interesting approaches I’ve seen focuses Herodotus and
Ionic dialect forms for one semester before shifting over to standard
Classical Attic. The work now appearing on the horizon reminds me of
one of the most interesting of all, Francis H. Fobes’ _Philosophical
Greek: An Introduction_ — a long out-of-print primer based on texts
from Presocratics through Aristotle (Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/
2xqaae). But this one uses Plato.
Frank Beetham, Learning Greek with Plato: A Beginner's Course in
Classical Greek. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007. Pp.
xiv, 503. ISBN 987-1-904675-56-3. GBP 19.99 (pb).
Reviewed by Rudolph Masciantonio, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Apparently the instruction in Greek grammar is reasonably well-
formulated (there’s so much that could go wrong in teaching grammar
that a moderate degree of success in presentation and scope turns out
to be a praiseworthy achievement. The problem comes in when one
considers the practice of newly-learned items. I confess that I
haven’t seen the book itself, the following excerpts from the BMCR
review are frightening, the more so as they involve several of my
most dreaded bugaboos regarding ancient Greek pedagogy:
“translationism” (with a fetish for exacting literalism), discrete
English-to-Greek sentences, usually based upon improbable ideas and
unidiomatic formulations rather than upon graded longer excerpts from
ancient sources, and the conception of a Greek text as a cipher to
be decoded. I cite from the review:
“Weaknesses occur in the exercises provided.
“B obviously sees Greek as something to be translated into English
rather than read and understood without the interlarding of English.
Though he sometimes uses the word “read” he obviously means
“Almost all of the exercises in the book consist of the heading
“What is the English for” (with no punctuation) followed by about
10 (the number varies) disconnected Greek sentences or expressions.
This approach to drill and practice, with virtually no intrinsic
interest in the sentences or expressions to be translated, has long
afflicted classical language education and continues to do so and
requires a very devoted (some would say devout!) student who won’t
care that what (s)he is reading is uninteresting or almost devoid of
meaning. The classical language is presented as a code or puzzle to
be rendered into English and not as a lingua or glossa to be
understood on its own terms. B seems to recognize the need to provide
some intrinsic interest to these exercises and as the book progresses
provides some of the practice sentences drawn from Greek
philosophical literature, thus giving the student direct contact with
the thought of the ancients. If B were to revise this book, more such
quotations replacing the disconnected made-up sentences now provided
would help. Also, perhaps some connected reading passages could be
used rather than isolated sentences. Would not a student appreciate
variety in the exercises, e.g., Greek to Greek manipulative type
exercises? In fairness, occasionally B varies the exercise a little,
e.g., on p. 172 there is an exercise headed “What is the difference
between:” followed by pairs of Greek expressions but these
variations are few and far between and basically are translation
exercises. On p. 80 the student is asked to write five verbs, which
are in the imperfect, in the present tense. On p. 166 the student is
asked to identify 12 verbs as either imperfect or aorist.
“So the reader of this review will not think I am overdrawing my
case, here is a brief sample of the ubiquitous “What is the English
for” type of exercise (from page 127):
1. εἰ τοῦτο ἠρώτησας, σοὶ οὐκ ἂν
ἀπεκρινάμην. EI TOUTO HRWTHSAS, SOI OUK AN APEKRINAMHN
2. σοὶ τοῦτο ἐρωτήσαντι οὐκ ἂν
ἀπεκρινάμην. SOI TOUTO ERWTHSANTI OUK AN EPKRINAMHN
3. εἰ τοῦτό σε ἠρώτησα, τί ἂν
ἐμοὶ ἀπεκρίνω; EI TOUTO SE HRWTHSA, TI AN EMOI APEKRINW?
“And from page 443 the translations of these sentences:
1. If you had asked this, I should not have replied to you.
2. To you having asked me this, I should not have replied.
3. If I had asked you this, what would you have replied to me?
“If the student likes this type of exercise, (s)he will love B. I
could be wrong, but I think many students will not like it,
especially since there is so much of it.”
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)
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