About learning Ancient Greek

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That answers one question…

I have received the following query from Juan Coderch

Then, I feel curiosity about what you have done: how did you study Greek/Latin? As a university degree, or just for personal enjoyment And what books did you use, what methodologies, etc.? 

When I was a student studying Physics I took up Greek in my spare time.  I think the reasons for this were:

i)  curiosity as to what the Greek letters in maths really wanted to do;

ii)  the ‘real’ students of Russian (my first love, which I’d also studied independently while in the sixth form) could go to Russia, while I couldn’t–the same didn’t apply to Ancient Greece;

iii)  I’d got bored with doing the same kind of thing (maths, physics) all the time;

iv)  I was intrigued by the word ‘boustrophedon’, which I’d come across somewhere.

So I applied myself to the Reading Greek series, which had just come out.  After that, I spent something like 3 months sitting up at night reading the Greek text of the Iliad. And after that I stopped being a student and for a time I lived in Newcastle and honed my skills in living without apparent means of support and also went to some evening classes given by Janet Watson at the university.

Some years later my interest was rekindled when I came across a book about Heinrich Schliemann and I was struck by the idea that you could be both a practical person–in fact, a swindler on a titanic scale–and interested in Greek.  I went to some of the reading groups that City Lit used to have in the evenings, and certainly benefited from the helpful and supportive approach of Barbara Goward.  I also went to some Greek summer schools over the years and more recently I’ve been to some courses at Madingley Hall.

I’ve given some comments about teaching Ancient Greek here.  I think that I would add the following points from the learner side:

i)  the only real reason for doing it is because you can’t not do it–others will end in disappointment;

ii)  it shares the refractory nature of (for instance) physics–it never becomes easy, but with effort you can make progress and you’re all right;

iii)  it’s helpful to know something about modern linguistics and in particular phonetics;

iv)  it certainly helps if you can read/recite it so it sounds like an actual language used for communication;

iv)  I think it makes it less frightening if you start off by thinking of it as a European literature with some slightly complicated grammar–not some form of message from another star;

v)  at some stage you have to have it in your head rather than on the page, even if this can be frightening in a class;

vi)  as ever in language learning–do something every day!

About methodologies:  I have some sympathy with Lenin, who apparently said about learning foreign languages that you should first of all learn all the grammar and all the vocabulary, then worry about fripperies like idiom.  As I say elsewhere, there are good systematic reasons why Greek grammar (and words) are the way they are, and again it becomes less frightening if you know something about them.  If I was starting off knowing what I know now, I might well go for something more formal than Reading Greek, but it was fine at the time.

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