Stephen Hughes wrote:
Actually composition in "Greek" is not very difficult, but getting the Greek to have even the slightest hint of being idiomatic while expressing complex meanings is a task that I am still finding daunting. I've said before, that my working hypothesis for the next eight of these ten years is that I will appreciate the GNT better if I can myself write at the standard of the work I am reading. All the way through my education in childhood and adolescence I had been writing at a level not too dissimilar to the level that I was reading - until meeting Chaucer and other early modern works. There are so many choices in composition, and that process of choice is tending to contextualise the language that I am reading within that lingusitic choice that the authour could be assumed to have gone through in writing. The difference between the spoken and written forms of expression in my own English seems to be that writing is more deliberative - involving more choice.
This post was of particular interest to me, because it is largely where I am at the moment (more on that below). If I understand what you are saying above, you are correct. When I took Greek prose composition in grad school, the instructor noted that he could often tell what Greek authors the students had been reading the most, because our compositions tended to mimic the style and lexical usages of those authors. He told me mine always reminded him of the NT...
The way to get around this is to read widely so that one has as great a command of the language as possible. You want to get to a point where you are no longer simply imitating authors, but actually generating composition from your broader knowledge of the language.
Stephen Hughes wrote:This is a little idealistic. Not everybody teaching is good at the language they teach.
That's not really the point. Currently, I teach Latin in a world languages department, which is quite common these days in American schools. Of my colleagues, the French teacher is Israeli, and fluent both in Hebrew and French. There are three Spanish teachers -- one is American, but was educated in Madrid, the other is a Latina from Peru. The third is as American as apple pie and not nearly as accomplished in her use of the language as the other two. Yet her students still reach the upper levels reasonably well prepared to move on in the language. This is in part the case because we have minimum standards in terms of what we look for in our teachers, as well as set goals and standards that need to be accomplished in the classroom.
Stephen Hughes wrote:I understand the point being made that methodologically speaking there is a problem in the way Greek is being taught (as an (optional) adjunct to courses in exegesis), but I would like to add the dimension of comparative teacher competencies, that may somewhat blur the starkness of the disparity being presented.
The absolute minimum for a high school language teacher in NSW would be a 3 year sequence in a foreign language, followed by a 1 year teacher training diploma. To teach a second language would only require a 1 year study of the second or subsequent language. Ergo, there exists a broad spectrum of competencies among foreign language teachers.
What level of competency in the target language can a student who learns from slightly competent teacher using a book and AV material? Perhaps enough to pass whatever exams are required and a little more besides.
The variables in this are pretty wide, I should think. First of all, Randall and I are not talking about this sort of range of competency. We are talking about a system in which there is very little real competency at all. In the kind of educational environment in which most modern language instruction takes place, of course there will be different levels of competency among teachers, both in terms of their knowledge of the language and in terms of their teaching skills. There will also be great variety among the students, in terms of motivation, in terms of learning ability, in terms of goals. Spanish is probably the most taught second language in American schools. Very few of the students who take Spanish will go on to study at the university level and and do anything professional with the language. What we want to provide for them, however, is the foundation and opportunity to do so if they should wish to continue learning the language, either formally or informally. We make them as competent as possible with the strictures and variables just mentioned.
Stephen Hughes wrote:With a decline in teacher competencies the teacher's ability to express themself is probably the first thing to go from the classroom / learning experience. Without the ability to check student output, one or both of two things tends to happen. The first is that tasks become more closed - having a more formulaic structure - and have a single correct answer which is easy for the teacher to indentify. The other thing is that instruction must necessarily take place in the students first language (or perhaps in a bastardised / badly made up version of the target language).
Using Spanish again as my example, there are programs and curricula which can offset this. Our Spanish teachers use a program which is interactive, largely online, and which helps the students greatly. A competent teacher can sail with this at flank speed and accomplish great things. A more limited teacher may at least move the students forward sufficiently that that a more competent teachers later have something to work with.
Stephen Hughes wrote:There is nothing shocking about what we find in the way Greek is taught. If a teacher doesn't know the language, they teach grammar. If they can't create examples extemporaneously they need to stick rigidly to examples in textbooks and treat the written form of the language - especially in works of literature - as something unchangeable.
The grammar-translation method of teaching is decried often here, but I thing that if the teacher is competent in the language, then grammar and a degree of translation is a useful way to teach. Non-competent teachers are like non-competent drivers, who drive up other people's insurance premiums. Grammatical explanations, some translation exercises within the context of language instruction is a normal part of foreign and second language teaching.
My sediments exactly, said the geologist. If you are familiar with the Latin Best Practices group, you will know that the true believers eschew practically every form grammatical instruction that they can, to the point where they believe that teaching grammar is practically the unforgivable sin. But most modern language teachers (and every curriculum I have ever seen) teach grammar right along with TPRS and CI...
Stephen Hughes wrote:Another point is dictionaries. Besides the fact that producing dictionaries in the rest of the language learning world that contain only the words in one literary work are virtually unheard of, most foreign language learners do not pore over dictionaries like students of Greek do. Vocabulary is generally presented in word-webs, synonym/antonym pairs or groups, and with simple definitions in the target language. There isn't the sort of quest for the most perfect English word to be able to understand the target language, that one finds in Biblical Greek. Basically, if one does not know the efficacy of a word, one needs to rely on its dictionary meaning.
That's where you start -- simple definitions on which you build as your competency in the language increases. NT Greek dictionaries serve a particular purpose for a particular community, whereas dictionaries and lexicons and in other fields usually don't address a particular area, but try to hit it as broadly as possible knowing that specialists will learn the peculiarities of their language of their own specialty. So as with the discipline of exegesis, NT lexicons are peculiar to the field. I think, however, that an argument can be made for them considering the synchronic nature of the texts and the development of the language from earlier periods to the point where the study begins. There are sufficient differences overall that justify such a lexicon (as also for the Classical periods and the Patristic/Byzantine).
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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