Confidence in the Grammar

Thomas Dolhanty
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Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 22nd, 2015, 12:57 pm

Recently in, explaining an idiosyncrasy of Greek grammar to a student, I realized that I have gone through a marked development in my own acquisition of Greek grammar rules (norms? guidelines? probabilities?). Or rather, I can see clearly my own process of developing confidence in the grammar.

I began by believing pretty much ALL of the (probably necessary) lies of first year grammar texts. However, as I got into the Greek text itself, though I held out valiantly, I eventually abandoned pretty much ALL of the rules. Vocabulary and the text itself was what I trusted – well and memory too!

Somewhere along the way, however, I realize that I have actually come to trust the basic structure and framework – yes and the “rules” – of Greek grammar, even while accommodating the exceptions. (Please don’t tell me there’s another stage! :-))

I’m certain this whole experience is what every English speaking child must go through when he/she learns how to create a past tense with “ed”, and then gets corrected for “bited” or “becomed” or “drawed”.

I wonder if it is just at this juncture that most adult learners abandon their pursuit of a language like Greek or Hebrew. What children seem to accommodate here quite nicely, I suspect, is most disconcerting to adults, even young adults. Depending on personal character type, is it just here that most dropouts judge the language to be hopelessly difficult, or the grammars to be hopelessly bad, or perhaps themselves to be hopeless Greek/Hebrew students?

Have there been studies done on the effect of this rite of passage in causing Greek and Hebrew students to throw in the towel? I’m sure the phenomenon itself is well documented, but has the effect on development of confidence been considered and addressed? I suspect that the approach of Funk is better than most in anticipating this development, but I would be interested in hearing the experience of seasoned instructors in guiding students through this stage before they give up the fight.

One last question – and it really is not meant to be a leading one – is communicative teaching the missing piece? That is, is the effect greatly magnified because the entire experience has been analytical, and in the 'final analysis' (pun intended) language turns out to be quite unlike geometry?
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 22nd, 2015, 3:30 pm

I strongly suspect that language learning actually takes place when the learner is understood by somebody else. That can happen in a grammar discussion, or in conversational class.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » January 22nd, 2015, 5:56 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
I’m certain this whole experience is what every English speaking child must go through when he/she learns how to create a past tense with “ed”, and then gets corrected for “bited” or “becomed” or “drawed”.
I don't see any connection between how a child learns and what an adult experiences studying an ancient "dead" language reading texts in languages and dialects for which there are no living native speakers.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 23rd, 2015, 12:07 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:I strongly suspect that language learning actually takes place when the learner is understood by somebody else. That can happen in a grammar discussion, or in conversational class.
Yes I think you are right. The two methods seem quite different to me though, with different outcomes. My suspicion is that when I am learning a language only by way of learning grammar (an exaggeration, no doubt), then it becomes a very difficult experience at some point to square the "rules" with the realities. When communicating directly, though, it seems like there is no separation between the "rules" and the language itself. It is what it is. I know that I can utter the words δός μοι τόν κάλαμον, and they will convey a thought. To ‘acquire’ this phrase by direct dialogue, or perhaps even by reading it, seems more like a direct acquisition than the outcome of applying an analysis. If I had to rely on using contract verbs only by applying the rules for contraction, I think I should never use one!

I’m not arguing for one method or the other; I suspect both are necessary if one wishes to master a language. I do find an underlying assumption in many (most?) intro grammar texts, however, that you can simply port these “rules” over to an acquisition of the language, but I personally found that impossible to do. And I suspect it is just here where many give up. There is so much difference between tasting honey and describing the taste. There is so much difference between ‘tasting’ a language and dissecting it. It seems to me that one must transcend rules of grammar, at some point, if tasting is what is wanted - not flaunt, but transcend.
Stirling Bartholomew wrote: I don't see any connection between how a child learns and what an adult experiences studying an ancient "dead" language reading texts in languages and dialects for which there are no living native speakers.
These strike me as strong statements, perhaps just because of my own naiveté. If I can read “connection” as “comparison”, surely there are valid comparisons, even while allowing that children learn a first language quite differently than adults learn a second. They both must go through a learning of ‘rules’, followed by a learning of exceptions to rules (not in such a linear fashion, of course). They both must go through the experience of trying out what seems consistent with their current paradigm, only to find new adjustments are necessary. They both must acquire skill by practice. I see many comparable experiences.

Is a language like Biblical Greek really “dead”? I suppose so in the sense that it is “fixed”, but certainly not in the sense that it has no practitioners. “living native speakers” is a plain enough term if one thinks of a nation and an evolving language, but still there has been a community of Koine Greek ‘practitioners’ at least since Erasmus. If one can communicate in that language, even to a degree, then “dead” seems too strong a term. If one can grasp the meaning of a text, and weigh that meaning - turn it over and 'savour' it - all within the framework of the language itself, is that language really dead? Even more, if one could use the language itself to convey the 'freight' of an expression of the language, then I don't think it is dead.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 23rd, 2015, 2:28 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I know that I can utter the words δός μοι τόν κάλαμον, and they will convey a thought.
If you mean thought as picturing an action, yes perhaps. Thought as in a translation, depends on the learning style and how much confidence the learner has in their own ability to learn or your to teach. Thought as in narrative on the situation like these 4 sentences, (ᾔτησε με / ἐπέταξεν μοι) (ἀποδοῦναι τόν κάλαμον αὐτοῦ / παραδοῦναι τόν κάλαμον μου), then at least in the early stages, that won't be the case.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote: If I had to rely on using contract verbs only by applying the rules for contraction, I think I should never use one!
Use and analysis are quite different.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I’m not arguing for one method or the other; I suspect both are necessary if one wishes to master a language. I do find an underlying assumption in many (most?) intro grammar texts, however, that you can simply port these “rules” over to an acquisition of the language, but I personally found that impossible to do. And I suspect it is just here where many give up. There is so much difference between tasting honey and describing the taste. There is so much difference between ‘tasting’ a language and dissecting it. It seems to me that one must transcend rules of grammar, at some point, if tasting is what is wanted - not flaunt, but transcend.
They used to cook delicious food and enjoy eating it, now they just read illustrated cookbooks. To make new cookbooks, they simply cut up the old cookbooks and pasted them together in a different order. In the absence of food to take photos of, some people combined parts of older photos to make new ones, while others took photos of photos.

Unfortunately, most cookbooks assumed that the people buying / using them had skill and experience in cooking. People still needed to eat and wanted the access to the foods that they had heard that other had had, so the market for microwave meals went off the scale, and people were happy eating a bland, over-processed and pre-arranged product, with photographs of real food on the outside of the box to remind them what they actually wanted.

My point is that if the teacher knows the language, the language textbook becomes the tool that it was designed to be. You don't need to be native-speaker to teach a language, competent is enough. If you can get students to a certain level, the text / language itself will become their teacher (and continue to be yours).
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:Is a language like Biblical Greek really “dead”? I suppose so in the sense that it is “fixed”, but certainly not in the sense that it has no practitioners. “living native speakers” is a plain enough term if one thinks of a nation and an evolving language, but still there has been a community of Koine Greek ‘practitioners’ at least since Erasmus. If one can communicate in that language, even to a degree, then “dead” seems too strong a term. If one can grasp the meaning of a text, and weigh that meaning - turn it over and 'savour' it - all within the framework of the language itself, is that language really dead? Even more, if one could use the language itself to convey the 'freight' of an expression of the language, then I don't think it is dead.
Do any children hear this language spoken within the first 30 days of life? Yes. A few - PKs and enthusiasts children. They, then, have the potential to be native speakers (by definition) even if their parents were second language users. Do they go on to acquire fluency in the language? I don't know of any, but would welcome the news. Do people communicate in the language? Yes. Is it idiomatic? To an extent, yes. Has anyone gone through years of life experiences in this language? There seem to be some. Has anyone gone through a programme of education taught in this language similar to that in their other languages or similar to the rhetorical education of classical antiquity? Some people to some small degree yes. Can we say that the Koine Sprachbund extends to our seminaries or our private dens and studies? To some degree perhaps. Its seems probable that the majority of Koine speakers were second language learners (by definition, those who heard Greek for the first time after their first 30 days of life), and they were able to make a show of it in the literature we have.

I think you are challenging a definition here. Perhaps looking at specific issues would be more profitable.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » January 23rd, 2015, 1:38 pm

]
Thomas Dolhanty wrote: These strike me as strong statements, perhaps just because of my own naiveté. If I can read “connection” as “comparison”, surely there are valid comparisons, even while allowing that children learn a first language quite differently than adults learn a second. They both must go through a learning of ‘rules’, followed by a learning of exceptions to rules (not in such a linear fashion, of course). They both must go through the experience of trying out what seems consistent with their current paradigm, only to find new adjustments are necessary. They both must acquire skill by practice. I see many comparable experiences.

Is a language like Biblical Greek really “dead”? I suppose so in the sense that it is “fixed”, but certainly not in the sense that it has no practitioners. “living native speakers” is a plain enough term if one thinks of a nation and an evolving language, but still there has been a community of Koine Greek ‘practitioners’ at least since Erasmus. If one can communicate in that language, even to a degree, then “dead” seems too strong a term. If one can grasp the meaning of a text, and weigh that meaning - turn it over and 'savour' it - all within the framework of the language itself, is that language really dead? Even more, if one could use the language itself to convey the 'freight' of an expression of the language, then I don't think it is dead.
I have been told by reading specialists and childhood development people that children before a certain age are equipped for language acquisition and this is lost by the time they reach a certain age. I don't know if that theory is still in vogue. Childhood language acquisition is a one time deal so it is a huge advantage for child to live in a multilingual culture. Second language acquisition isn't comparable to childhood language acquisition.

There were a few attempts among structuralists in the mid 20th century to teach ancient Greek and Latin[1] using pattern recognition and repetition. It didn't catch on. That is somewhat akin to learning a second language but still lacks the critical element of total immersion in a living language culture.

There is third scenario where the second language people develop their own dialect. I recently learned from a Finnish man who speaks English that he can converse with other English second language people in Europe but has a big problem talking with native speakers.




[1] Waldo E Sweet 1957
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 23rd, 2015, 6:29 pm

Stirling Bartholomew wrote: I have been told by reading specialists and childhood development people that children before a certain age are equipped for language acquisition and this is lost by the time they reach a certain age. I don't know if that theory is still in vogue. Childhood language acquisition is a one time deal so it is a huge advantage for child to live in a multilingual culture. Second language acquisition isn't comparable to childhood language acquisition.
I was five years old when a lady in our neighourhood asked me where my mother was. I responded, “She’s gone into the infantry to get the new baby.” It seemed like a perfectly logical word to me, and I was quite proud to have 'derived' it. I can remember the incident, and many other ‘wrestlings’ with the language all the way up through high school grammar classes.
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
I have no more than a laymen’s understanding of child development, but I simply don’t believe that there are no similarities between those learning experiences, and the experience of learning Hebrew and Greek half a century later. I accept that there are substantial differences, to be sure, and infancy is quite another matter. Of course we are not defining “child” here, as to age. Is a fourteen year old learning English grammar in high school a child in this sense? Probably not. A 10 year old in a 5th grade grammar class?
There were a few attempts among structuralists in the mid 20th century to teach ancient Greek and Latin[1] using pattern recognition and repetition. It didn't catch on. That is somewhat akin to learning a second language but still lacks the critical element of total immersion in a living language culture.
This is interesting, and it reminds me of the dynamic use of Latin and Greek as the language of academia in earlier days – particularly Latin. It also brings to mind the “living Latin” movement of our time. Latin was the language of communication between intellectuals for centuries, and has been in use in some context or other for millennia. One can’t quite say it’s “dead” - never mind the technical definition. Its not dead like ancient Sumerian is dead.
There is third scenario where the second language people develop their own dialect. I recently learned from a Finnish man who speaks English that he can converse with other English second language people in Europe but has a big problem talking with native speakers.
In Canada we have Newfoundland, "Whose inhabitants", quipped one Canadian wit, "speak neither of the two official languages". This is a caricature, of course, and modern communications have had a major influence on the unique dialect of that great people on the 'rock'. Having grown up on the east coast of Canada, though, I can aver that communicating with a typical Newfoundlander from an isolated outport before the days of the global village could be a most taxing experience! There are many amusing anecdotes of people learning English as a second language on the "rock", and learning other languages there as well.

In my world there is a very significant company of lay people who want to know Biblical Greek, and a smaller group for Biblical Hebrew. They do not want to spend years or months or even days considering the more esoteric aspects of ancient Greek, any more than they care to labour for days or weeks or months over the English of Chaucer or even over the finer points of modern English. But they are serious, capable and willing to make the investment to learn Biblical Greek. They also want to have a genuine engagement with the language, not just a gleaning of glosses.

For this group, the traditional model of “dead” language instruction won’t work. The language must be able to ‘breathe’ and have resonance and ‘taste’. I see the model of academic Latin as an encouragement, because over the centuries it certainly has been a durable language of expression and communication, capable of sutlety and able to bear the “weight” of current concepts. I also see the work of Randall Buth, Paul Nitz, and others as very encouraging, because it holds a promise of something different than the deathly dry feel of dusty libraries. Something is wanted beyond the way it has been done in the past – both as to method, and as to model. For the people I'm speaking about, there must be an approach which allows learners a far larger and more dynamic experience of the language itself before they are overcome by the 'rules of grammar'. Those rules are learned 'unnaturally' and seem hopelessly inadequate - even misleading - as the novice approaches the text itself.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 24th, 2015, 1:50 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:If you can get students to a certain level, the text / language itself will become their teacher (and continue to be yours).
Yes, but there's the rub, isn't it? It is just here - 'getting students to a certain level' - where there has been such a dismal failure in Biblical language instruction. No doubt the reasons for the failure are complex and manifold, but phrases like 'pedagogical disaster' are not floating around for nothing. The statistics on those who have taken a year of Greek or Hebrew, and then drop out, only to forget all that they've learned within a few months are rather depressing. If you cannot get students to the level where they have had a significant and meaningful engagement with the text over an extended period of time, then they won't likely survive.

From my own experience I can see one serious impediment which is no doubt obvious to many here, and well understood. The underlying assumption of so many of the grammars and so many intro courses seems to be that you should plow through grammar in a sort of serial fashion until you have enough basic grammar and vocabulary to start reading the text. But when you finally do start reading the text, if you survive that long, you find again and again that your grammar is not 'robust' enough to describe what you are encountering and the rules fail you everywhere. What is more, the grammar itself is an impediment, because, as others here have said more eloquently than I could, that's not how you learn a language. You find yourself trying to decode the text with a faulty set of guidelines (so it seems), instead of relating to the text itself. The model is wrong. The method is wrong. Many of the most popular texts are wrong.

I suspect that if the armies of students who have dropped out after the first year had spent that entire year just reading 1John, and being taught grammar and vocabulary from the text they were engaging, they would they would have fared much better in the long run. Many would at least be able to pick up a GNT a couple of months later, and read portions of the text. (Someone oughta write a text that does that!) I know grammar must be taught and learned if you hope to gain any mastery of the language - but the describe-the-language : experience-the-language mix needs to be re-balanced.
You don't need to be native-speaker to teach a language, competent is enough.
Thank goodness, otherwise I would not qualify. It sure does help though, and competency in communication must surely be the goal for serious instructors. The ideal, I think most would agree, is for the teacher to be able to 'handle' the language. That is, if the teacher can communicate even simple sentences and everyday narrative competently, and can begin to teach that from the beginning, the outcome will be better than simply demonstrating one's proficiency in Koine Greek grammar. I personally know of one long time intro Greek instructor who begins each year by informing the bright-eyed hopefuls that he himself cannot communicate in Koine Greek. He has a reputation, though, of being a most exacting individual with respect to the rules of grammar. From where I sit now, that would be the point where I would ask for a refund of my tuition fees. It's no accident that when large organizations engage ESL teachers, they want native speakers. For English they want native speakers of English.
My point is that if the teacher knows the language, the language textbook becomes the tool that it was designed to be.
Of course that's true, but all textbooks are not created equal, nor all teachers for that matter. An outstanding teacher can teach from any textbook, or no textbook, but I suspect the majority will tend to teach the way they were taught, unless they have been seriously challenged. Also, it is the nature of the beast that many will undertake this task on their own without a teacher, for better or for worse. No doubt, if recent history is any indication, Amazon will continue to ship out truckloads of certain popular intro Greek textbooks to students who do not question the method and to teachers whose success rate in getting students through "to a certain level" is not so good.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 24th, 2015, 4:03 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:If you can get students to a certain level, the text / language itself will become their teacher (and continue to be yours).
Yes, but there's the rub, isn't it? It is just here - 'getting students to a certain level' - where there has been such a dismal failure in Biblical language instruction. No doubt the reasons for the failure are complex and manifold, but phrases like 'pedagogical disaster' are not floating around for nothing. The statistics on those who have taken a year of Greek or Hebrew, and then drop out, only to forget all that they've learned within a few months are rather depressing. If you cannot get students to the level where they have had a significant and meaningful engagement with the text over an extended period of time, then they won't likely survive.

...

I suspect that if the armies of students who have dropped out after the first year had spent that entire year just reading 1John, and being taught grammar and vocabulary from the text they were engaging, they would they would have fared much better in the long run. Many would at least be able to pick up a GNT a couple of months later, and read portions of the text. (Someone oughta write a text that does that!) I know grammar must be taught and learned if you hope to gain any mastery of the language - but the describe-the-language : experience-the-language mix needs to be re-balanced.
The bigger issue is priorities and time-frames in theological education. Consider this proposal:
[url=http://www.academia.edu/1366065/That_Woman_Jezebel_-_Moore_College_after_25_years]That Woman Jezebel - Moore College after 25 years[/url] by William Lawton in 1981 wrote:In 1944 Archbishop Mowll spoke of his vision for the College: "I visualise ... a course of training extending over ten years, say from 17 to 27. After matriculation at the age of 17, three years in Arts at the University, followed by a year in a Settlement or Social Service Centre -which I hope may be provided near the University by the Church as soon as possible - a period spent in preliminary training at "But-Har-Gar" or elsewhere, three years at Moore College, and then three years after ordination". But money was short and the anticipated changes had to be postponed.
Greek (and Hebrew) could be taken as language courses in their own right as majors in those three years before actual theological education started.

The common situation of having Greek serve as an adjutant to the higher ranking Biblical Studies more or less inhibits Greek from being all it can be. That being said, there are more members on B-Greek who have some (or a lot of) Classical Greek. The total content on this forum which is specifically related to the study of Classical text is only 2.7% of all posts

As an aside: My own view is that literary Koine contemporary authours should form the basis of the initial stages of language / teaching, then moving on to some reading of good Koine texts, then reading the New Testament and exemplary Classical authours who reflect the literary heritage of Greek which the Koine inherited from its Attic parent.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 24th, 2015, 7:23 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:
The bigger issue is priorities and time-frames in theological education. Consider this proposal:
[url=http://www.academia.edu/1366065/That_Woman_Jezebel_-_Moore_College_after_25_years]That Woman Jezebel - Moore College after 25 years[/url] by William Lawton in 1981 wrote:In 1944 Archbishop Mowll spoke of his vision for the College: "I visualise ... a course of training extending over ten years, say from 17 to 27. After matriculation at the age of 17, three years in Arts at the University, followed by a year in a Settlement or Social Service Centre -which I hope may be provided near the University by the Church as soon as possible - a period spent in preliminary training at "But-Har-Gar" or elsewhere, three years at Moore College, and then three years after ordination". But money was short and the anticipated changes had to be postponed.
Greek (and Hebrew) could be taken as language courses in their own right as majors in those three years before actual theological education started.
Yes, the steady reduction of priority and time allotted, and perhaps part of the debacle right now is that introductory is still being taught as if there were three years to learn Greek. There has not been a concomitant adjustment of method and model to go with the reduction in time. I don't think that's the only problem, but perhaps it explains to some degree the current scene.
As an aside: My own view is that literary Koine contemporary authours should form the basis of the initial stages of language / teaching, then moving on to some reading of good Koine texts, then reading the New Testament and exemplary Classical authours who reflect the literary heritage of Greek which the Koine inherited from its Attic parent.
Interesting! Reading from the beginning, if I understand you. So much more appealing, and so much more reason to put your shoulder to the grammar wheel when it is to understand the text, instead of months of grinding before you ever get to the text.
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