Living Language in the Written Text at SBL 2018

Lesson 2 imageAgain this year, Jonathan Robie and I will be presenting about the work we are doing  to bring living language techniques to the teaching of Ancient Greek through the web. We have a somewhat unclear title for our presentation (“Popup Greek”), but the presentation will raise important issues regarding language acquisition and the use of the web for language teaching. Here are some of the things that we will discuss.

A Communicative Approach

The materials we are developing address all four language domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. And we do this in Greek, with very minimal use of the students’ first language. We work to provide comprehensible input so that students can understand in Greek from the very first lesson.

Asking and answering questions in Greek is a key part of this method. We have worked hard to provide illustrations to support understanding so that students can have a clear idea of what is being asked and how to respond appropriately without having to recur to their first language.

Focus on Actual Ancient Greek Texts

The overwhelming majority of students who decide to learn Hellenistic Greek (Koine) do so because they want to be able to read the Christian New Testament in the original language. For this reason, we begin reading the Greek New Testament in the very first lesson. By the end of that lesson, students are able to understand John 1:1-2 directly in Greek. They have acquired all of the relevant vocabulary and language forms.

Each lesson includes comprehension questions that require students to engage with the text. We also provide immediate feedback so that students can gage for themselves if their answers are appropriate.

Each lesson focusses on a particular text, and that text dictates to a large extent the language forms we teach. As a language acquisition professional, I do have an overarching sequence in mind for what language forms it is best to introduce when, but that sequence is flexible enough to allow us to focus on what is really needed for each text.

The Web and Distance Learning

Adapting a communicative approach to distance learning through the internet is a difficult challenge, but it is one we have taken on with commitment. Our presentation this year will demonstrate the addition of audio to the lessons. Our system allows for the easy addition of video as well, but we will not discuss that at SBL this year.

We want our materials to be usable throughout the world, including in locations far from a university setting. That means we must use technology that is easily accessible and is not encumbered by financial restrictions. We are not quite ready for use on a cell phone (which is clearly needed and is a personal goal of mine), but all that is needed to access what we have so far is a cheap computer with a very basic monitor.

Open Source

We are strongly committed to providing open access to the computer code we have written. We want our materials to be accessible to anyone who wants to use them. If you run a web site and want to incorporate our materials into your site, you are completely free to do that, and we have provided those materials in a form that will not require you to learn a lot of arcane technology. If you are running a web site, you probably already understand everything necessary.

Support for Teachers

In addition to the lessons themselves, which will be available online, we are developing handouts, images, etc. to use in a classroom setting. I have the goal of eventually producing a workbook and perhaps even a print version of the lessons themselves. We are in the early stages of development for some of these materials, and others are still at the dreaming stage, but we will have something to say about them at SBL.

What’s in the Program Book

Here is what the SBL program book has to say about our presentation:

Teachers increasingly recognize the importance of teaching biblical Greek using the same kind of modern, effective techniques used to teach modern languages in schools and universities. These techniques focus on carefully designed learning activities that require the student to think in the target language in order to respond appropriately. There are now several university level courses that take this approach to teaching Greek, but we believe that there is a real need for a course that

  1. can be taught by anyone with a solid reading knowledge of Greek (using the teacher’s notes and recordings to prepare),
  2. concentrates on texts drawn from the New Testament, and
  3. is freely available.

For those who do not have access to a teacher, we believe that it is also important to be able to learn online. This course works through New Testament texts using pictures, TPR, and asking and answering questions in Greek. Each lesson has

  1. a content objective focused on the text and
  2. a language objective like those found in a traditional Greek textbook.

Linguistic terms are taught after students have experienced the construct they describe. Before introducing a term like “1st person singular,” we expose students to the word ἐγώ and verb forms that correspond to it. Before introducing terms like nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, we teach how to ask and answer questions using questions with the corresponding forms τίς, τίνος, τίνι, τίνα. Before introducing terms like circumstantial participle, we act out scenarios that illustrate the relationship between two verbs.

In keeping with the philosophy of this course, this presentation will focus on presenting sample teaching activities live rather than talking about them, followed by discussion of the specific content or language objective and why we teach it the way we do.

I look forward to seeing some of you in Denver at the following time and location:

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Capitol Ballroom 3 (Fourth Level) – Hyatt Regency

What do you think? Other readers and I would love to hear from you.

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