Learning Greek the Hard Way
Southern Illinois University
This paper presents a half dozen light-hearted devices for countering student wariness and weariness when studying Ancient Greek in their first year. Each device addresses a core frustration among students and hence a serious pedagogical issue for teachers.
1. The alphabet keeps many potential students away, but short of transcribing all of Greek literature into Latin characters, that problem remains. Solution: make the Greek alphabet user-friendly (a dash of Sesame Street, a dollop of boustrophedon calligraphy, and a Big Chief Tablet with crayons).
2. Accents, diacritical marks, and subscript letters are an annoyance at best and a curse at worst. Solution: give them life; make them pets (Bam Bam, Squeak Squeak).
3. The Greek verb is overwhelmingly cumbersome and unnecessarily complex. It appears, however, to be the heart of the language and its literature. Solution: manufacture things to do and make with your principal parts.
4. Real Greek literature is really hard to read. The sentences aren't written in proper English word order, and all those cases slow the reader down. Solution: start with proper English word order and fewer cases, and gradually corrupt the students until they can recognize a Greek sentence, even in Greek.
5. Ancient Greek is such serious business—the wars, the hemlock, the family feuds—and the Greeks are all dead. Solution: bring 'em back to life: touch briefly on the flatulence of the Frogs, the somebody-done-me-wrong songs of monody, the tenderness of Greek literary affection.
6. The beauty of Greek art and architecture seems to have nothing in common with the pain of a mi-verb synopsis. Solution: color the language with metaphorical and literal illustrations relevant to the theme of the day.
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