A number of years ago, having been a student in many foreign language classrooms, I opted to audit a course on Classical Greek. What struck me was the massive difference in teaching styles between those teaching in Modern Languages (1) and those in the Classics Department. At the time, as a student auditing the class, I didn't really analyze the methodology much; I just went along with the teaching style of the professor and used my metalinguistic awareness which I had developed through the study of other languages, and my familiarity with Modern Greek, to understand both the grammar and syntax portions of the class.
Recently, I was given an opportunity to observe the same course, the course that I took a number of years ago, and examine the classroom from a different lens--that of an applied linguist. Going into this pilot study I was interested in analyzing the teaching methodology, wondering if the teaching methodology for the class had changed from when I was a student. Having learned a great deal about the various linguistic factors that go into learning another language, I was interested in understanding whether professionals in the field of classical language teaching applied any of this research in second language acquisition in their own practice. If I found the approaches to be about the same as when I was a student of Classical Greek, I would then be interested in applying my knowledge of applied linguistics to propose a reboot of the curriculum. A secondary goal was to discover who the students were and what motivated them to learn a classical language; last time around I didn't really pay much attention to my fellow students, as I was then focused on my own education.
1. Learner Analysis
During the fall semester of 2010 I observed a typical set of learners in Classical Greek at an urban university in the Boston area over a period of one semester (2). Through my semester-long observation, as well as a beginning-of-the-semester class survey (3), I discovered that the learners in this classroom were amazingly diverse in terms of their educational background. My initial assumption was that courses in Classical Greek and Latin would attract mostly students whose major is Classical Languages and Literature, while still attracting a minority of students interested in the language--much like I was as an undergraduate student. I expected that students in most majors, other than Classics, would opt to take a modern language, like French or German, since those are presumably the languages that would be most useful to them in a work or research environment. I was, however, surprised to find that only a handful of students were actual Classics majors. Most students in the class came from both the arts and the humanities (social work, philosophy, history) and the sciences (biology, psychology). History could be lumped into the "Classics" category if these students aim to study the history of the ancient world and need to be able to decipher original sources. (4)
In terms of other academic backgrounds, about half of the students in this course were juniors, about a quarter were sophomores and about a quarter were freshmen. My initial predictions, however, had been that most students in the course would be freshmen or sophomores majoring in the Classics. I thought that since this was a Greek 101 course, and the knowledge gained in this course would aid these students in future Classics courses when interacting with original, authentic materials, then they would more likely take this course earlier in their studies. This initial prediction was proven wrong.
Another prediction was based on linguistic factors. I predicted that many students would have had some exposure to a second language, and would have had some sort of exposure to Latin, given than my initial prediction was that these students would be predominantly Classics majors. I also thought that there would probably be a few Greek-Americans looking for an "easy A" by taking Classical Greek. …