[B-Greek] Point of Antithesis in Language Teaching Methodologies

John Schwandt jschwandt at nsa.edu
Wed May 7 16:35:43 EDT 2008

In these discussions I have often discussed antithetical methodologies of
teaching language.  I think Bert's terminology to describe the
institutionalized methodologies of Big Classical Language Education:
Academic 'uniformitarianism' below 'escape velocity'(slow, steady, never
demonstrates that there is an antithesis.

I used to distinguish between methods that strive toward fluency and those
that don't, but I believe the term "fluency" and confuse the issue.  I don't
think I have anything novel to bring to the table but below is my most
recent attempt orient myself to the topic.  I would appreciate any comments.

I think it is most helpful to distinguish between monolingual approaches
(where students must translate to understand) and multilingual approaches
(where students are expected to think in the target language.).

The issue of fluency (assumed use of language without translation) is only a
measure of material or quantity within a multilingual approach and can vary
widely.  Thus "fluency" is unhelpful for the debate between monolingual
approaches and multilingual approaches since it is merely an internal issue
within the multilingual approach.  (It confuses the issue to use the term
equivocally for multilingual approaches.  I am guilty of this unintentional

The point of antithesis between monolingual and multilingual approaches is
whether students are learning how to think in the target languages
(multilingual), or merely use paradigms and mathematical grammatical formula
to translate it into English for it to have meaning (monolingual).

Here is a brief list of what I see are opposing traits of each approach: (I
hope my outline formatting comes through.)

	1)	Students and teachers never think in the target language
(with the exception of "salve")
	2)	They never learn how to learn to think in a foreign
language. (They never learn multilingual methods, the will use the same
methods to learn the target language as they used to learn biology.)
	3)	Students and teachers are dependant on their translation to
understand meaning.
	4)	The speed and enjoyment of understanding the meaning of a
passage is slower and more difficult than a multilingual approach since
there is a necessary conversion/translation step rather than immediate
understanding within the target language.
	5)	It only exists in graduate schools (all languages) and
"dead" languages at any level
		a.	Seen as a short cut to get students to a level where
they can understand the meaning of texts without taking a large number of
language courses.
	6)	There is a plethora of recourses and curricula
		a.	Curricula that emphasize inductive or deductive
teaching translation skills are available.
	7)	Easy to administrate
		a.	Rote memory of vocabulary and forms is something
easy to quantify to justify student progress
		b.	Easy to find teachers and swap them in and out of
the machine
			i.	There is a low bar of experience to lead a
class through a formulaic curriculum
			ii.	The current institution of academia only
produces monolingual teachers
		c.	Transferability of students and classes is easy
since nearly everyone uses the same type of curricula
	8)	Such approaches will never arrive ("achieve escape
velocity") at any level of multilingual fluency (see #1)

	1)	Students and teachers think in the target language to
greater and lesser extents.
		a.	This is true even if the universe of discourse is
quite small (e.g., To "get around" on a Greek island you only need very
basic grammar and about 1000 vocabulary words.  Of course to do more than
"get around" like talk about ones hopes and dreams a person will need to
gain a broader understanding / fluency)
		b.	They end up dreaming in the target language (not
merely about letters and forms.)
	2)	Students and teachers learn how to learn to think in a
foreign language.  (They learn new methodologies for training their mind not
readily apparent [or forgotten] in their home language.)
	3)	Students and teachers do not need to translate passages in
order to understand them.  They can simply read them with understanding in
the target language.  Thus they will necessarily have a better understanding
of the passage, since the translation conversion process necessarily changes
	4)	The speed and enjoyment of understanding the meaning of a
passage is faster and easier than a monolingual approach since students and
teachers avoid a necessary conversion/translation step
	5)	This type of learning is common for most modern language and
ESL courses.
		a.	It is extremely rare to find a "dead" language
taught this way.
		b.	It is seen as an unnecessary burden to expect
students to actively think in the language (which necessarily would involve
compositional skills) when they will only have texts to read (which they
could simply learn how to translate).
	6)	There are only a few classical language curricula that
pursue this approach.  But there are plethora of ideas, activities, lessons,
and methods developed in ESL curricula that can be used for any language.
		a.	Curricula that emphasize inductive or deductive
teaching translation skills are available.
	7)	Not as easy to administrate
		a.	Grading becomes more subjective like literature
courses (big surprise).  Student must be graded by questions about their
understanding of the content of passages rather than lists and formulas. 
		b.	It is difficult to find teachers willing to work in
the language and elevates the role and value of the teacher and the
investment in the teacher.
		c.	Transferability of students and classes is not as
easy since nearly everyone uses the a monolingual curricula, but
multilingual students will certainly succeed in monolingual courses.
	8)	Such approaches will yield the fruit available from
monolingual approaches (ability to translate into one's home language) since
they no the meaning of the text and know how to best represent that in their
first language.  Actually, they will be better translators since they will
not be slaves to formulae.

John Schwandt

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