Polis Courses in Ancient Languages
Christophe Rico, Polis: Speaking Ancient Greek as a Living Language Level One, Student's Volume Paperback 348 pages Polis Institute Press (2015) 9789657698006 £29.00
Blanchard Daniel (et al.) Forum: Lectiones Latinitatis Vivae / Speaking Latin as a Living Language (Latin) Paperback: 370 pages Polis
The Polis Institute in Jerusalem offers courses in ancient languages and civilisations. Founded in 2011 it promotes the study of Hellenistic and Roman antiquity, Jewish and Christian heritage, and Arabic and Near Eastern cultures. Its language teaching covers Ancient Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin and Coptic; its teaching uses immersive methods familiar from second language acquisition including the techniques of total physical response and total immersion in the target language. To Classics teachers the main interest will be these volumes which teach Greek and Latin. These are textbooks for classroom use and it would be necessary to completely take on the methodology and the philosophy of the Polis Institute (or of other Living Latin organisations) to be used effectively. Given the number of groups practising the direct method of language learning for ancient languages, this may well be of interest to them. For the Greek volume, it should be made clear that the Ancient Greek of the book’s title is Koine Greek, not Attic. This is understandable in the context of the Polis Institute in Jerusalem with its emphasis on the culture of the eastern Mediterranean in the later period, and as Rico points out in his introduction Attic Greek is only one of many dialects of Greek and Koine is the language in which the majority of surviving Greek texts are written. However, an historical pronunciation of Greek is recommended for the course, rather than the modern one. The course is fully worked with a large variety of activities which are all expressed in Greek (dialogues, exercises, grammatical tables), all carefully presented and illustrated. The instructor is central to all this and the personality of the teacher is clearly important in the presentation of the course. A large investment of time and energy will be necessary to take the students through all this and up to the required level. There is also a Teacher’s Volume (9789657698013) with keys to the exercises, helpful to instructors and to those studying independently without a teacher.
The Latin course is similarly presented: living Latin, total immersion, emphasis on the spoken language, total physical response. The material in the dialogues and exercises is not “authentic” in that it has no ancient content, but is the language of everyday modern life. The final dialogue, for example, is about collecting your luggage at the airport. This approach to learning Latin leads to a spoken fluency and an ability to read straightforward texts easily. The motivation of the learner must be taken into account here, and what is their ultimate aim. The emphasis is on oral fluency and communication, and any kind of historical or cultural input would have to be dealt with in a separate course. For those whose primary interest is linguistic and communicative, this is an approach which will certainly bring those results.
More information on the whole programme of Polis with all their language and other cultural courses is available at www.polisjerusalem.org .