One of our new members introduced himself and asked in return “How about you all.” I went over to take a look at my introduction on B-Greek and found it outdated. Instead of writing up something new, I did a little revision on my “Language Learning Autobiography.” I had to write this up a couple weeks ago for a course on foreign language teaching I’m now taking. It’s a bit much for a little intro thread like this, but if there is a Greek teacher out there who is thinking of using communicative methods, they might be more interested in my journey and some of the resources listed. PD Nitz
Language Learning Autobiography
The early years of my exposure to foreign language study was entirely traditional. Studies throughout high school, college, and seminary included 5 years of Latin, 3 of German, 4 of Ancient Greek, and 3 of Hebrew. In 1993, I graduated from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin and was asked to serve as a missionary in Malawi. I spent some months learning Chichewa and served rural congregations for the next nine years. In 2003, I took up my current post teaching at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. One of my courses is teaching Biblical Greek. I began teaching Greek via the traditional Grammar Translation method, just as I had been taught. But I saw that my African students took the lessons just as I had: pure drudgery.
My first attempt at a solution was to find a better textbook, but each and every textbook used the same basic Grammar Translation approach. I had used a modified Audio-Linguistic method (the LAMP method, Brewster) successfully in learning Chichewa. I included a few Audio-Linguistic type drills in my teaching, but with little effect. Resigned to the dismal learning in my Greek course, I worked on improving my teaching of other courses, focusing on a study of andragogy, especially Jane Vella’s Dialogue Education™ approach born out of the work of Paulo Freire. But the principles of andragogy I was absorbing increased my dissatisfaction with the Greek course. My Greek classes made my students feel unsafe, increased political disparity between student and teacher, and completely failed to engage my students as owners of their own learning. I returned to my search for a better way to teach Greek.
My eureka came in 2012 with the reading of Asher’s seminal book on Total Physical Response (1). I had found a completely different approach (2). Soon after reading Asher, I attended a seminar held by the Biblical Languages Center (3). Its focus was on teaching Greek through techniques of Total Physical Response (TPR) and Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). The seminar left a deep impression on me, inspiring me to write in the post-course evaluation, “The most intense, laughter inducing, engaging, and exhausting learning experience I have ever enjoyed.”
A month later, in June 2012, I began teach Greek in a radically different way. The results have been encouraging. The fear factor in learning Greek has entirely disappeared. My role has shifted entirely to facilitator. Now there is engagement and laughter in our learning. My students are actually comprehending Greek, rather than learning about Greek.
Along the way, I’ve read much on TPR and TPRS from Blaine Ray, Carol Gaab, and Susan Gross (4). I learned more about specifically applying these techniques to the teaching of a dead language from the list serve, Latin Best Practices (5). Evan Gardener helped me greatly with his language learning game “Where Are Your Keys” (6). I also participated in two more seminars on Greek teaching, one through the Biblical Language Center and another through the Polis Institute (7).
An additional strategy to develop as a teacher has been connecting with others who use communicative methods in learning or teaching dead languages. I partnered with an online acquaintance to create the forum Ancient Greek Best Practices (8). I also posted many sample videos of my lessons to the public (9), and made use online blogging and networking tools (10).
Through these efforts, I have developed a theory about language acquisition that guides me. In brief, I believe the first exposure to a new piece of language must be a genuine communicative event. The learners need to “feel” it, comprehend it, and respond to it in some physical or emotional way. With that established, all other questions of pedagogy are secondary: sole use of L2, aural/oral over text, explicit grammar, etc.
Creating a genuine communicative event is difficult in a sterile classroom environment, but I have found that it can be done. Gestures and sign language promote comprehension. TPR clearly creates genuine communication through its required physical reaction. The fiction of TPR Storytelling is made genuine through our implicit human agreement to suspend reality and accept stories as true for the moment. In the WAYK game, the use of manipulatives creates a real event.
I have begun a master’s course focused on language acquisition, offered through Michigan State University (11). I hope to increase my understanding of language teaching methods and learn how to better shape the scope and sequence of my Greek courses. I also aim to learn more about the possibility of teaching Greek entirely online and a related topic, best practices for autodidacts in their efforts to learn a new language.
Paul D. Nitz, BA, M.Div., ORDM
September 9, 2016
(1) Asher, J. J. (2003). Learning Another Language Through Actions (6. ed., 2. print). Los Gatos, Calif: Sky Oaks Productions.
(2) PD Nitz blog about his “Eureka” on Biblical Language Center website: https://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/ ... ach-greek/
(3) Biblical Language Center’s website: http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/
(4) Blaine Ray’s seminal book on TPRS: (2015). Fluency Through TPR Storytelling (7. edition).
(7) Polis Institute – Methodological Seminar: http://en.pusc.it/centri/dipartimento-d ... etodologia
(8) Ancient Greek Best Practices forum: https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en& ... -practices
(9) YouTube classroom videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL ... e=view_all
(10) LinkedIn Blogs: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/p ... rk=prof-sm
Google+ Profile: https://plus.google.com/+PaulNitz
(11) MSU-Foreign Language Teaching website: http://maflt.cal.msu.edu/