Modern Methods for Teaching Classical Languages

This follows on from another discussion - but I reckon it deserves its own thread.

In the UK at least, Classical languages have been in steep decline since the 1960s. They received a body blow when Oxford and Cambridge removed O Level in Latin or Greek as a matriculation requirement. The fact that the subjects were often very badly taught in schools didn’t help.

More recently, though, teachers of these subjects are starting to embrace modern methods. We have David Carter (here at LingQ) whose website is:

We also have the wonderful Polis Institute in Jerusalem:

They offer immersion classes in ancient languages while spending 1 or 2 years living in Jerusalem (something which would be, for me, the nearest thing to Heaven on this earth!!) They also publish courses in Koine Greek and in Latin which are based on their teaching methods.

We have Assimil - for folks who can access French, German or Italian as the teaching language. For example:

Assimil - Latein Sprachkurs and

We used to have this from Teach Yourself:

This was a cracking little course based on a storyline in a medieval monastery with young lovers and vile skullduggery! It also came with accompanying audio. But I have heard that the newer version of this has (like nearly everything from Teach Yourself) been dumbed-down with reduced content. Ho hum.

And of course we have LingQ - although it must be said that the library content for Latin and (Ancient) Greek is struggling compared to most other languages.

These methods deserve to be known about, in my humble opinion.

Content should be no problem for those who want to study Latin or Ancient Greek on LINGQ: nearly all the ancient texts are available on sites like Perseus, Itinera electronica, Hodoi elektronikai and can be imported into LINGQ.

How about the audios?

There are no audios on those sites. It could be a nice task for experts to provide the audio.

Yes, audio (lack of) is the big problem.

But for Latin we now have the great ThePrinceSterling who has recorded the entire Gallic War on Youtube and to me it sounds like Julius Caesar himself is speaking.

Here he is with the opening which once upon a time every schoolboy knew…

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres…


Oh my, he does read well. That’s a real gem, thank you!

I started to read Bellum Gallicum some days ago, thank you so much for that.

There’s lots of good editions of Caesar’s Civil War produced in the USA “Golden Age” of 1880 to 1930. This one by Francis Kelsey, revised by Giles Lauren in 2012, has got some good review on Amazon.

Caesar’s Commentaries. The Complete Gallic Wars. Revised.: Revised Edition(Latin) Paperback – April 13, 2012
by Julius Gaius Caesar (Author),‎ Giles Laurén (Editor) (original by Francis Kelsey, 1917)

5.0 out of 5 starsThe Best Caesar Ever
ByVincent DiCarloon April 9, 2012
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is the best thing of its kind I have ever seen, a work of pedagogical genius. I liked it so much I tracked down the editor to volunteer to help with the next edition.

I am a 57 year old man who has been learning Latin slowly and mostly without a teacher for about four years. Having worked through every exercise in Henle’s first year Latin book, and gotten a fair way into his second year book, which uses a simplified version of Caesar, I found that I frequently ran into snags like constructions and forms I had forgotten or could not figure out. If I had had a teacher to ask, such puzzles would not have been a big deal but, lacking one, I spent many frustrating hours trying to untie grammatical knots, chase down gaps in my knowledge, and correct my misconceptions. This was true even though I had Henle’s answer book with his translation in front of me. The translation, which attempted to produce idiomatic English, didn’t always make it clear how the Latin worked, and I often didn’t know where in the text or the grammar book to look to find my answer. Sometimes I just had to give up. With this Caesar, that doesn’t happen any more.

This Caesar uses an unabridged Latin text that is pure unadulterated Caesar, but the footnotes are amazing. Every even mildly unusual or slightly difficult form and structure is explained, with references to a complete included Latin grammar and a companion containing biographical, geographical, and historical background. The glossary is complete–so far, I have found every single word I have tried to look up. The maps, illustrations, chronology, and descriptions are very helpful. It seems as if this book is determined to leave no question unanswered, and I have lots of questions. All of this is contained in a single volume whose price is a small fraction of that of an ordinary textbook. This Caesar richly repays whatever effort the student puts into it.

While this Caesar is indispensable for the self-taught, two of my children, who used it in a university Latin class, also praise it highly.

Bravo Giles Lauren!
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This book is incredible and invaluable for anyone interested in Latin. It comprises the complete text of the Gallic Wars, broken down into many sections with a heading (in English) to give you a roadmap, followed (after each broken down section) by abundant vocabulary. It’s a superbly organized work.
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I do think that you need to use some “modern language methodology” to teach classical languages. That used to be the methodology long time ago.
As for methods. Polis (the book) is fun but it’s only one part of a projected two or three-volume work that never actually materialized plus it’s out of stock and typically insanely insane (I was lucky enough to find an Italian version for a reasonable price).
Recently I found “Aléxandros, to ellhnikón paidíon”. It’s a modern book based on the classical “A Greek boy at home” by W.H.D. Rouse. You can also find the original book (link below) but it’s long, a bit too demanding for beginners and have no explanation about vocabulary or grammar or audio. “Aléxandros” is a modern version, which keeps the original idea but adds grammar notes and explanations of new vocabulary in Greek and through drawings. This version is Spanish but it’s 90% written in ancient Greek (there’s only a “guide use” in the beginning in Spanish and Latin, but you can skip it).
It is not expensive, it’s not overly long, includes vocabulary list and comes with audio, both in CD and as dowloadable files through the internet. The dowloadable files are available in both reconstructed (Erasmian) and modern pronunciation.

Original “Greek Boy at Home”
Web page about Alexandros (include audio): LINGVA GRAECA
And you can also order it through Amazon:íaz-Ávila/dp/8493579874/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1515543514&sr=8-2&keywords=alexandros
Video files with the audio on youtube (modern pronunciation version):

A couple of notes; Both “A Greek Boy at Home” and “Alexandros” are based on the Attic dialect, in contrast to “Polis” which uses “Koine”. However, I strongly suggest not to draw a massive line betweeen these two varieties. They’re completely mutullay intelligible and the differences are small enough that you can easily move from one to the other.

I translate part of the presentation of “Alexandros” from the web page:
"When I began teaching ancient Greek, my students asked me: How dow you say “how old are you” or the colors. And I asked myself “How is it possible that I know how to say that in modern Greek that I’ve just begun to study and not in the ancient language that I’d studied for 5 years at the University? I began researching the topic, found “A Greek Boy at Home” and decided to create a modern, useful version…”

I like this video on the topic of modern Latin pedagogy: How to Read and Speak Latin fluently - YouTube

“…I do think that you need to use some “modern language methodology” to teach classical languages. That used to be the methodology long time ago…”

Yeah, I’ve heard that in medieval times, for example, they taught Latin by using it as a medium of education. So if the son of someone rich was sent to be educated by monks, they would have all of the classes in Latin. Similar thing with Greek during the Hellenistic period from Alexander the Great onwards. It was only in the 18th or 19th century (well, in Britain anyway) that folks started the dusty grammar book approach :slight_smile:

Sometimes really über-important people in the past would have their own tutor. It is said that King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I could talk to their tutors in Latin from an early age even…

(As for Queen Elizabeth II - the one on the throne today - it is said that she was taught French as a child by a similar method!)

“…As for methods. Polis (the book) is fun but it’s only one part of a projected two or three-volume work that never actually materialized plus it’s out of stock and typically insanely insane (I was lucky enough to find an Italian version for a reasonable price)…”

From what I understand, the other books are in the pipeline. The price for Polis Koine pt I on Amazon has become totally insane - but I got a copy right after it was published. At that time it was pretty cheap. (Its a supply and demand thing, I guess.)

That’s why I’m tempted to order “Forum” the new Polis Latin course now - even though I have no immediate plans to use it. (Saying that, I already have some decent resources such as the German edition of Assimil Latin, and others. But, as I say, for me personally, the motivation for Latin isn’t as high as for Greek and Hebrew.)

Yeah, for Latin especially, these methods are becoming increasingly popular.

Keith Toda - Comprehensible Input Demonstration - YouTube (Demonstration and discussion)

First-Semester Latin Teaching Demonstration - YouTube (An actual class in action on a US campus. But there’s still too much English for Christophe Rico’s tastes, I think!)

You don’t have to go that far. Latin was taught as a language to be used until not very long ago and courses and exercises on “Greek Composition” used to be a staple of Greek tuition. Do search for some books with that title, you’ll find lovely vintage works (and maybe some modern ones) that have the added advantage of giving some perspetive on what the art of the written expression is all about. I remember reading about how ancient writers used to use far less metaphores (especially cliché ones) than in modern writing. This is one of the vices of modern written expression, according to, e.g., George Orwell

Btw, I also own the old Assimil Latin book (in French). I suppose you mean the one that uses texts set in the modern times? That talks about catching trains or skiing? I love that book!

And this book also looks nice:

Yeah, they reissued (I think?) the 1960s era Assimil book with new recordings done by Italian speakers, well actually with two sets of recordings: one with Classical pronunciation, one with Ecclesiastical pronunciation.

“…You don’t have to go that far…”

That’s true, these “modern” methods weren’t necessarily unknown in the more recent past. I have some German books first published by Hartleben Verlag in the 1890s which use something very similar to the Vera Birkenbühl method - i.e. extensive comprehensible input right from lesson one using interlinear word-for-word translations.

(Actually Birkenbühl may very well have been “inspired” by these earlier books, I think!)

Ich habe in meiner Sammlung nur die Ausgaben für Polnisch und Althebräisch, aber es gab eine ganze Reihe von diesen Büchern für mehrere Vielsprachen: Englisch, Französisch, Spanisch, Italienisch, Rumänisch, Niederländisch, Russisch, Serbokroatisch, Neugriechisch, Türkisch, Arabisch - und vielleicht noch mehr! (Allerdings gab es - soweit ich weiß - keine Ausgaben für Altgriechisch oder Latein.)

According to this dude, ancient languages (he’s talking in particular about Ancient Greek) are best approached in reverse chronological order via the modern daughter languages: thus he suggests one should first learn Modern Greek, and it would then be much easier to move towards fluent reading of Ancient Greek. He also suggests it would be relatively easy to approach Anglo-Saxon texts after first learning to read the Middle English of Chaucer.

It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not entirely convinced it wouldn’t be quicker to go straight for the old variety - if that is what one is really interested in.

(He’s probably 100% right about there being many more autodidactic resources with audio for Modern Greek, however.)

I’d already watched his video. I feel just like you. He has a point but I don’t think it’s necessary to learn modern Greek before the ancient language. I think the problem is mostly the way ancient Greek is usually taught. If you learn it in a more “lively” way, you could as well go the other way around. I do agree with him, anyway [Edit: that most people that can read ancient Greek fluently are also fluent in modern Greek]
I myself am in a much different position. I first learned the bases of ancient Greek, later I learned the grammar of the modern language (through Assimil mostly plus a short visit to the country). Now, I am acquainted with both varieties (including some sub-varieties of the ancient language, such as Homeric, Ionian, Attic and Koine) and am experimenting with studying them at the same time. The goal is to acquire enough vocabulary to understand them fluently. If you do fulfill those requirements, I do think that the combination is very useful plus you don’t have to worry about interference because you only “activate” the modern language.