Lance’s thoughts on Lance’s Criticism of “Can’t Read Greek…”

Lance Albury just left a comment on my post, “Can’t Read Greek—Unsurprised but Angry.” I must say that I get a Highlander kind of feeling whenever I cross paths with another Lance—which is quite rare—so I’m not surprised that Lance and I hold opposing views. We have different definitions and assumptions about the nature of language, language teaching, and education, more generally. This post highlights those differences.

Not meaning to be insulting, but I believe your position on reading ancient Greek is simply naive.

Lance is not off to a great start. He thinks that I have a lack of experience, or poor judgment, which means any response I give is likely to be dismissed. This is the reality of supporting your practices when someone already believes you have no idea what you’re talking about—one of the greatest obstacles against mainstream acknowledgement of CI.

You’re talking about one of the more difficult languages to read…

Lance has the impression that some languages are more difficult than others. While I would agree that different alphabets can delay access to written input until one is familiar with the writing system, there is nothing inherently difficult from one language to the next. Lance might want to listen to Episode 15 of Tea with BVP.

…there is no magic pill that will substitute for a thorough understanding of the declensions and conjugations accompanying such a highly-inflected language…

Lance is wrong. He has all the intuition, experience, and collective memory of tradition to support this idea, but has limited to no evidence to back up the statement. There IS a magic pill, it’s referred to as Comprehensible Input (CI), and there’s been research to support that it bypasses all the conventional “learn rule/apply rule” ideas of yore. Still, Lance might not be able to accept the science of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) that’s merely 40 years old, because Lance sounds like Teacher X, or one of Teacher X’s student teacher in my “Why Your Language Teacher Failed You” post. Leaving research out of it, however, teachers who discover CI know that students can, and will read the target language with minimal to no understanding of how the language is organized by linguists. Lance should ask native Russian speakers who never had grammar instruction about this one. They can read their highly-inflected language.

…not to mention grammatical rules and concepts…

I wonder what Lance would say to Bill VanPatten, who stated that nothing in a textbook is psychologically real. That is, the terms we use to talk about languages (e.g. declensions, conjugations, inflections) do not reflect the actual processes that go on in our head when we read. Lance is under the assumption that one must apply explicit information in order to read. Alternative myths. That simply does not happen. If it does for him, he’s not reading, but instead processing and translating rapidly, likely recalling and applying textbook rules at lightning speed, or recounting from memory entire passages he’s already once construed into English in order to comprehend—all deceptive processes that aren’t reading.

…and aggressive vocabulary acquisition along with the many nuanced uses of the words.

Lance is under the assumption that grammar and vocabulary are different. When it comes to our implicit use of language—which Lance might not even be talking about—word meanings and other features are not stored differently in our mind, such as by root, person, or tense. That kind of organization is our explicit system, which isn’t necessary for reading. Some more Tea with BVP listening for him would be Episode 58, and an earlier Episode 12.

Learn To Read Greek (LTRG) by Keller and Russell…provides its students with the tools necessary to read unaltered classical Greek texts […] I’ll throw some Plato and Homer at them that will make their heads spin.

Lance gives the impression that *THE* goal of reading Greek is to read ancient texts. It might be, but doesn’t have to be, and most certainly isn’t the goal of every student. If it DOES happen to be the goal of Lance’s students, and he teaches K-12, he’s probably already excluded enough of the student body to be surrounded by only the few like-minded ones. He would fit the teacher role in my post, “Unadapted Ancient Texts: Whose Goal?,” quite nicely.

Show me another curriculum that can teach reading ancient Greek while bypassing the tons of required memorization, the grammatical drilling, the vocabulary acquisition, etc….

Lance is using ideas that are extremely out of fashion, and shown to do little or nothing when it comes to reading. Yet these ideas are widely considered true. He should check out Wong and VanPatten’s The Evidence is IN: Drills are OUT, but only if he’s willing to admit that this applies to Greek, and is prepared to learn that he’s had it all wrong.

…but there is no getting around the intense academic work that ancient Greek demands […] The source material is simply not meant for the academically faint of heart.

And there it is. Lance closes in a classic classist classicist manner. He feels that Greek is only for the elite—a sentiment not unique to just that language—that we are working to abolish.

The two of us Lances share very little aside from a name. It’s almost certain that one of us is less-naive about language teaching and learning than the other. This Lance can say that he’s already done things the other Lance’s way.

Can he say that he’s tried mine?

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3 thoughts on “Lance’s thoughts on Lance’s Criticism of “Can’t Read Greek…”

  1. You can almost understand why someone who has chosen to study ancient Greek would have ideas that are just about as ancient. Unfortunately, there are teachers of modern languages, even teachers of English as a Foreign Language, who have pretty much the same mindset.

  2. To be candid, I didn’t know your experience, but I can see that you’ve studied the matter heavily. I’m not a dismissive person, and I should probably clarify my background so that you don’t have to make assumptions about me. I‘m not a teacher of Greek, but rather a student. I learned Greek on my own, as I did Latin. I have taught several of my children through the Intermediate Latin level, but that is the extent of my teaching. That said, after reading your response I felt like Jimmy from Seinfeld—I admit you had Lance laughing (in a good way).

    It’s important to note that we’re not just talking about any language, but rather ancient Greek. Ancient Greek and Latin are both “dead” languages because nobody speaks them as they were spoken during their time. I probably wouldn’t have made some of my statements had we been talking of Modern Greek.

    It’s not that I’m, as you put it, “under the assumption that one must apply explicit information in order to read;” I don’t believe that to be true, especially when talking about one’s native tongue. I do believe that one must know grammatical terms in order to speak intelligently about the process so that you avoid saying words like “thingy.” I could say some nouns share the same set of endings or I could say they belong to the same declension. I get what you’re saying—children learning their first language don’t learn those technical grammatical terms—but there isn’t anything wrong with using technical terms when it makes sense and if it aids in discussion and understanding.

    You talk of CI being the elusive magic pill, but from what I’ve read it sounds like CI is mainly useful in a classroom setting. I don’t see how that would work for me being an autodidact. I also don’t view ancient Greek in the traditional sense of SLA given that it is no longer spoken as it once was. Russian speakers can “read their highly-inflected language,” but again it is their native tongue (immersed), and non-natives can benefit from immersion—not true for ancient Greek. When I read sentences in Athenaze I was tripped up by every word I hadn’t been introduced to yet. One simply cannot read and understand words when they don’t know what they mean. They may be able to read them phonetically, but not for understanding, and when you throw in crazy Greek word order (especially poetry), and you run into things like elision and crasis (yes, sometimes you have to use grammatical terms), and the several translations an ending may take, it can be a bit of a puzzle. If the reader doesn’t understand that Greek nouns belong to certain groups that share endings and understand what those endings convey, then it is very easy to mistake a possessive noun for a direct object, and vice versa.

    If I gave the impression that the “goal of reading Greek is to read ancient texts,” there’s a good reason: that was my main goal—I studied ancient Greek so I could read the New Testament natively, albeit slightly different in form. But aside from a few ancillary benefits the goal of learning to read ancient Greek by very implication is so one can read ancient Greek.

    I don’t believe ancient Greek is only for the elite—that is not what I said. I said it is not for the academically faint of heart, meaning it takes a serious student, and I do believe it takes a lot of work, more work than other languages I’ve studied (Spanish and Latin). The numerous endings are very easy to forget if you step away for a brief time.

    I still say the proof is in the pudding when it comes to ancient Greek and CI. Show me someone who has learned it that way, and if they can read passages I give them from Plato and Homer I’ll admit I’m wrong. Until then, maybe I have a point?

    Lance is done.

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