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Posts Tagged 'language pedagogy'

Just posted: Hansen and Quinn notes and answers, Unit VI — and a proposition

For those of you anxiously awaiting these installment, I’ve just posted my notes and answers for Unit VI of Hansen and Quinn. My goal is to try to get through Unit X by the end of the summer, so that theoretically somebody taking first year Greek this fall can have a whole semester’s worth of support materials (assuming the book is split in half per semester). We’ll see how my good intentions jibe with the other things I need to get done this summer.

On that note — I am doing this largely for my own benefit. It’s a fantastic grammar and vocabulary review exercise, at least; not only that, an express goal of my graduate program is that its alumni will be able to at least teach introductory Greek and Latin, and already having a set of teaching notes for first year Greek will be an asset. However, it’s a side project, it’s a side project that’s time-consuming because I want to do it right and thoroughly, and it’s a side project that tends to be low priority because of the other things on my plate as somebody trying to complete a PhD program.

That said, I get more hits on my blog on account of these notes than anything else, so I am more than aware that some of you are actually using these things, and would like me to give a higher priority to getting these done.

Let me offer the following deal, then, with the idea being that those who find these notes useful might have a mechanism that would enable me to more align my priorities with theirs.

There’s a PayPal button on the “Tip Jar” page of this blog. Starting Monday, for every $150 that gets tipped to me, I promise to complete a unit’s notes within a week of that $150 milestone being hit. In other words, if $150 gets tipped to me by the end of the day Monday, 20 June, then Unit VII’s notes will be posted by the end of the day Monday, 27 June. If not, I send you back your money. Without hitting the $150 milestone, I continue to work on these at my own pace, and I will still aim for getting Unit X done by the end of the summer, but I am unable to make guarantees.

Does that seem fair? Going by the stats I see, if everybody who ever downloaded these notes gave a dollar, I could get through Unit X in a month, so these numbers aren’t striking me as unreasonable.

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Just posted: Hansen and Quinn notes and answers, Unit 5

Yes, believe it or not, I got it done before the fiery death of the universe. It’s amazing what having the semester over with will do for you. I’ll try to have another couple of units up before the end of the break.

(Yes, this break. Why do you ask?)

As always, if you have comments, corrections, or anything else, let me know. If you would like to motivate me to give this project a higher priority, I am all for it; you can PayPal me at richardtenor [AT] gmail.com.

(Crickets chirping)

Ah. Well, I guess I’m doing it my way and on my own time, then.

When the mother country would rather speak to you in your language than have you speak to them in theirs

I started my last week of class today. It’s Immersion Level V. Different teacher, different classmates. Different ballgame, in fact. Why?

Well, here’s the deal. There are two other people in the class — one is Fedelique, a French woman who has been in Greece for thirty years. Thirty, as in 3-0. Her Greek is already nearly flawless. Why is she taking the class? Because she’s spent much of that time in the country, and she wants to sound more like an Athenian.

The other person in the class is Irini, a young Greek American woman (who, incidentally, just graduated from IU and was also a student of Frank Hess’ during her time there) who, you guessed it, has grown up hearing it all of her life, speaks it nearly flawlessly, and is mostly here killing time before she starts law school at University of Chicago. Dimitra, the teacher, is a native speaker, φυσικά.

Oh yeah, I’m there too.

At the break, Dimitra asked me, “Is this going to be okay for you?” She asked this because all three of them were speaking so quickly in class that I clearly had major comprehension difficulties. Even simple sentences I couldn’t follow because of how words were running together; even when they slowed down, words were compressed together in a way that I couldn’t even break out the individual words properly the way they were talking, let alone parse them correctly.

I explained. I had a good chunk of Ancient Greek before I started Modern Greek; this gave me enough of a grammatical foundation for Modern Greek that Frank thought it appropriate to bump me from first semester to fourth semester; this had the benefit of keeping me from being bored out of my mind for three semesters, and keeping up with the grammar was no problem, but the university classes unfortunately did nothing for my listening ability. In first semester, people spoke slowly and made a lot of mistakes; in the fourth semester, they were speaking really fast but still making the same mistakes. My ear had nothing to latch onto, and when Frank spoke I didn’t have any idea what to listen for, because while he was speaking correctly, he was also speaking quickly. So, I’ve been hearing it spoken for less than a year, and mostly by non-native speakers. Reading comprehension isn’t a problem, grasp of grammatical concepts isn’t a problem, I just need everything repeated five times in order for me to get half of it.

Here, my problem has been that Greek people don’t want to speak Greek to me once they find out I’m an American or hear any hint of an American accent. Remember what I said about the guy at the bakery on Aegina? That was the other dynamic to that encounter. I asked, in Greek, what a particular pastry was; “Cheese pie,” he said in English. “Τυρόπιτα;” I repeated in Greek, to try to emphasize that he should talk to me in Greek, at which point he just nodded and put one in a bag for me. I asked again, in Greek, what something else was, and exactly the same thing happened. I have to be honest and say that I don’t understand at all what happened there; if it really was a way for him to hard-sell me or if it was just that confusing to him that I was trying to speak to him in Greek. At a café yesterday, I told the waiter, in Greek, I was ready to pay, and he replied in English, “You want the check?”

Then there was the guy who played a song for me and said, “It’s in Greek. Listen and see if you can understand.” The first line of the song wasn’t even over when he just started translating, making it impossible for me to hear the Greek words at all.

The other frustrating part is that there are times when I get hung up on a particular part of something somebody says, and I’m trying to parse it in my head, and the other person just assumes I didn’t understand any part of it and repeats the whole thing in English. Or, perhaps the person repeats in Greek, explaining the meaning of every Greek word in English as they go.

“Yeah, that’s very common,” Dimitra said, nodding. It’s difficult because I could really slow down the flow of the class for the other two, but grammatically it’s the most appropriate section for me to be in. She’s not sure what to tell me except that when I don’t understand something, I need to insist on having it explained, and that she’ll give me as much advance warning on readings and whatnot as she can so that I have time to prepare. The bottom line is that I’m only there for the first week, so it won’t be too disruptive. It’ll be a good closing windsprint for me, I suppose, then I’ll be gone and they can do what they need to do.

I mean, fine, I get that if you’re not a language pedagogue, and your English is better than my Greek, it’s probably just going to be faster to speak in English. However, that can come across sometimes as “You’re really wasting your time, to say nothing of mine, by trying.”

The part that I wonder about is this. Since I was thirteen or so, my musical tastes have, in one form or another, included material to which I cannot listen for content. Cocteau Twins was the first dip of the toe into this kind of thing; that plus the years and years I listened to opera (to say nothing of sacred music) before I was ever able to study the languages meant that I had to ignore the meanings of words and simply listen to sounds. This means I have spent God only knows how many hours over the last twenty years or so with that part of my brain deliberately disengaged when I listen to a large chunk of my music collection. Might this be an issue? I really don’t know — I want to say I didn’t exactly have this problem with German, French, or Italian, but I also never tried to do quite as much with those three.

Maybe the bottom line is just this — a lot’s been crammed into my head in the last year and it needs time to settle and take root. I am, to be sure, hearing better now than I was six weeks ago, it’s just not as dramatic of an improvement as I would have liked. As well, in the last class and in this class, I’ve started to get used to new words being explained to me in Greek, and Anna, the teacher from levels III and IV, said that she thought I was probably ready to start using a Greek-Greek dictionary. That’ll help with vocabulary, sure — but I’m not sure what it will do for my listening comprehension.

Guess it’ll be interesting to see how the week goes.

NEWLY POSTED: answers and notes for Hansen and Quinn, Unit IV

If you’re just here for the Greek, then, as promised, I’ve posted my guide to Unit IV of Hansen and Quinn on the Greek Resources page. I’ve also posted some corrections to a couple of other units, and I’m not entirely certain they aren’t corrections of corrections. I’ve switched platforms, word processing software, and keyboards once or twice since I embarked on this project, and I think every time I have done so it is has given rise to accenting errors on my part. Apologies.

On the other hand, I’ve managed to post a new unit within roughly six weeks of the last one. I will do what I can to Unit 5 posted within that same timeframe.

As always, if you have questions, comments, requests, complaints, insults, “your mom” jokes in Greek, whatever, e-mail them to me, leave as a comment, send smoke signals (no promises I’ll get them or understand them if you do send smoke signals, however), and I’ll see what I can do.

In progress: Hansen and Quinn notes and answers, Unit 4

If you’ve been waiting with baited breath since I posted the Unit 3 materials, I hope to have Unit 4 posted this week. As always, reality reserves the right to intervene, but I will do what I can.

Notes & answers for Hansen & Quinn Unit III posted

Find them here. If you’ve been waiting a long time, sorry. Hopefully it won’t be eleven months before I post Unit IV.

Can I have a declinable participle, please?

One of the major constituents of the initial massive overhead required in learning ancient Greek is the participle. Participles are extremely important in ancient Greek; where possible, it seems, it’s preferable to a finite verb. Because they decline and agree in gender, number, and case with what they modify, participles seem complicated compared to English; on the other hand, this reduces the ambiguity that can exist in English with participles, a la “I saw the dog running down the street.” Is it “I” or “the dog” which is running down the street in that sentence? In ancient Greek, however, there would be no confusion — the participle would either be in the nominative case, meaning it would agree with the subject “I”, or it would be in the accusative case, meaning it would agree with the direct object of the main verb “saw”, “the dog”. In English, having lost most of our inflection, we depend on word order and proximity, as well as context, to tell us grammatical function, so the only real way to distinguish whether it’s I or the dog running down the street is to change the sentence to “Running down the street, I saw the dog,” which unfortunately seems a little stilted and artificial. “I saw the dog while running down the street” is a little better, but it seems to imply the imperfect periphrastic “while I was running down the street,” which starts to edge away from a pure use of a participle.

Modern Greek’s participles, it turns out, do not decline. This means there isn’t as much to learn at the outset, but it also means that the ambiguity you have in English exists in Modern Greek:

Είδα τον Πέτρο πηγαίνοντας στο σπίτι μου -> I saw Peter going to my house. (Not clear if it’s the subject, “I”, or the object, “Peter”, going to my house.)

As opposed to ancient Greek, where you can do this:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Here, the participle βαίνοντα is in the accusative case, making it clear that it’s Peter going to my house. Also, because of the inflection, you can manipulate the word order in all kinds of ways and have it make sense regardless:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον τὸν βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Literally, “I saw Peter, the one going into my house.”

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου Πέτρον. Literally, “I saw the going-into-my-house Peter.”

But then you can also do this:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον βαίνων εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Here, the participle βαίνων is in the nominative case, making it clear that it agrees with the unexpressed subject “I” (unexpressed since the -ον/-α ending of the verb already makes it clear that we’re in the first person).

All of this is to say — here’s to inflected languages. Pay now or pay later.


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