[B-Greek] Try something (was Is this a good way to give students 'translation' lessons?

Mitch Larramore mitchlarramore at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 8 13:36:41 EDT 2009

Comments inserted below...

--- On Mon, 6/8/09, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:

> mitch egrapse
> > ... Yes, I think people can learn Spanish and
> subsequently "think" in Spanish as long as they are
> submerged in the culture or being taught by someone having
> been baptized in the culture. ...
> > What I should have said is that people can not think
> in a "dead" language, regardless of what modern nuances we
> assign to the ancient words that appear on a piece of paper.
> When submerged in a culture, you can taste, see, hear,
> experience, touch, smell, cry, love, hurt, be afraid, angry,
> etc. all the words and phrases particular to that culture,
> but you can't immerse yourself in Koine Greek, if you ask
> me. Reading volumes of works, no matter for how long, always
> keeps you at arm's distance from the culture and their
> words/phrases/etc. >
> This needs two questions in order to be put in
> perspective.
> Is it possible to learn a language, any language, in a
> classroom? and
> Is it possible to learn a language from a teacher who is a
> 'second-language user'?

ML: These questions can be asked but several more need to be included. I already said Spanish could be learned, however, I should add... not just in a classroom. Let's use English as an example. If I were to teach a foreigner of the American Culture what the word "Thanksgiving" means, he could learn a lot about the word, but he would not be able to smell the turkey, or understand the football game on TV, or still see our children dressed up for a Thanksgiving play, etc. He could have an analytical understanding, but not a cultural. All he would have to do is to come to my house on Thanksgiving and he would INTUITIVELY know what Thanksgiving is. You can NOT learn that in a classroom. Nor can he learn what millions and millions of other culture-specific events FEEL like, or understand all their secondary or tertiary nuances. And no, a teacher can not transfer those intuitive experiences to students. That's what a "culture" means. You can learn ABOUT the
 American culture but not experience it, which is where language takes place.

> If the answer to these two questions is 'Yes', then it
> needs to be
> pointed out that inside of a classroom there is no
> difference between
> a 'dead' language and a 'living' language. All languages
> are equally
> dead inside a classroom. What works for one language inside
> a
> classroom can work for another.
> If the answer is 'no', then you need to let Middlebury,
> Dartmouth, the
> Monterrey Institute, Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise,
> and a host
> of other institutions around the world, know that they may
> return to
> 'grammar-translation' and leave this 'living language'
> stuff for
> outside of the classroom. And/or they should fire any
> non-mother-tongue teacher. This "logic of pessimism" can
> even lead
> students away from learning a language at all. After all,
> they will
> only be 'second-language users', non-mother-tongue, no
> matter what
> language they attempt to learn as an adult.

ML: This seems to miss the point entirely of my previous post, but I'll humor you for a moment. Response: see my paragraph above.

> But I have met people who have become functionally fluent
> without ever
> visiting or living in a community where the target language
> was used.

ML: Okay, they are able to speak the language; this is not my point. They are not culturally fluent by any means. A person can become functionally fluent in a made-up, nonsensical language. 

> And Francois Gouin, the infamous Latin teacher that I've
> mentioned on
> list over the years has already argued the essential unity
> of all
> languages and the essential learnability of all languages
> in a
> controlled environment (classroom) provided that enough of
> a language
> is known or accessible. For ancient Greek we have enough
> attested
> language. (For Ugaritic and even First Temple Biblical
> Hebrew we don't
> have a full deck of cards and some kinds of supplementation
> must be
> worked out in order to reach a functionally useful fluency.
> We
> recommend modern Hebrew for filling out Hebrew fluency
> since its
> morphology transfers 100% to biblical, something not true
> for modern
> Greek, unfortunately.)
> Of course, I would argue that the answer to both questions
> in 'Yes'.
> When I say ANASTHQI, PERIPATEI, ALLOY, STHQI to a student I
> am not
> translating in English, or processing Greek grammar, and
> the student,
> probably from  within minutes of starting to learn Greek
> is thinking
> in Greek for these little pieces of communication. The
> teacher
> instantly sees that the student understands if the student
> They will
> learn how to parse the words later.

ML: See my above comment about my statement that a person can learn a nonsensical language, or any language, but not the rich cultural life behind it. 

In short, a culture can not be learned in a classroom beyond a very basic level (and this is with living languages). What I am arguing is nobody today has experienced a Koine culture. You can estimate what it was like, but this is a far cry from experiencing a culture. You are looking at an ancient culture from the outside. To have a cultural understanding, one would need to experience millions and tens of millions of situations within the living culture. For example, you might be able to demonstrate that a particular word/phrase should be used in this or than situation, but the experience of that situation, in the ancient culture, is how one gains cultural intuition and experience. And, you can know the words/phrase of how a Koine Greek person might respond with, but you are still an "outsider" to their culture. 

BTW, I know we are not telling each other anything we haven't heard before. And I am not trying to be pessimistic. 

> >I spent a couple of years in Greece. >


EN TAXEI H ENTAXEI? Modern Greek guys told me ENTAXEI.
(X = Xi)

Finally, let me reiterate that I think you are teaching Greek the right way; my issue is that I think you are making claims that are exaggerated. I think you and I have a difference of opinion regarding living and dead languages, and what a student can expect to attain. If you go to Greece today, you are not getting any portion of the classical Greek culture, just relics of times gone by. The modern Greek culture is as far removed from Classical Greek times as any other modern culture. The use the same alphabet, but that's about all they have in common.

I hate to give the impression that people should not take your course. That is NOT what I want to communicate. I would highly recommend taking your course and methodology.

One more finally... The ability to diagram a sentence and identify which Genitive is being used is very important in understanding a dead language. Wallace's approach is right ---- listing all the various Genitives. The Koine Greek reader of the first century would be able to sift through the options at the speed of thought and intuitively grasp the possible nuances of this construct. English readers take a bit longer and really arrive at the specific nuanced meaning in an analytical way, rather than an intuitive way, or in an experiential way. The English reader can never fully experience or taste the ancient Greek's celebration meals. At best, we can only look through their window and experience a  relatively small percent of this cultural norm. This is true for the native modern Greek also.

Reading Con Campbell illustrates this.

Mitch Larramore
Sugar Land, Texas


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