SURVEY ON AB INITIO LANGUAGE TEACHING

The 1994 issue of the Bulletin reported on an inter-University conference held in Oxford in September 1994 to discuss common problems in the teaching of basic Latin and Greek at Universities. A number of key themes emerged, one in particular to do with the aims and content of ab initio courses; and an outcome was the formation of a representative working group to consider this issue, which is likely to concern all UCD's more and more over the years ahead. It was clear from early discussions that each University has its own distinctive problems, but there was also a strong sense that thinking and experience could valuably be shared. The first step forward would therefore be to assemble information on current practice.

A questionnaire survey was consequently conducted in July 1995, with an accompanying set of notes based, like the questionnaire itself, on a discussion paper used by the working group to focus its own thinking. The notes, which were intended as a stimulus to general discussion as well as an ancilla to the questionnaire, are reproduced in full here. After some debate, it was decided to append as an optional annex to the questionnaire a checklist of grammatical forms covered for each language, with a view to providing teachers with an at-a-glance guide to the range of grammar typically covered in beginners' courses in the UK.

The questionnaire was sent to all University Classical Departments in the UK, with responses also sought for comparison from teachers of courses in New Testament Greek and of non-examined courses at adult education institutes. Almost everyone replied - though not all institutions offered, or posted separate responses for, beginners' courses in both ancient languages. 20 returns were received for Latin, of which 16 completed the annex on grammar; the figures for Greek were 27 and 25 (though one arrived too late to make the full collation).

It is hoped that the information assembled will be of interest to all Departments and will encourage continuing discussion. To that end, it is presented here with the minimum of interpretative (and nil judgmental) comment. The working group will be considering the responses in the hope of producing further observations or suggestions, and the CUCD conference panel at the 1996 Classical Association AGM in Nottingham will have beginners' language teaching as its theme. In the meantime, a second group has been progressing with arrangements for a national course of training for classical-language teachers, and details are expected to be confirmed around the time this Bulletin appears.

It was agreed that results of the survey would be collated anonymously, since the aim of the exercise was to inform teachers of such courses of the general range of national practice - rather than to draw any institution-by-institution comparison (which would have looked perilously close to a "league table" of classical language teaching, and would in any case be highly misleading without far more rigorous checking of like-for-like comparison than would have been possible within the compass of such a relatively brisk questionnaire). In some cases this has unavoidably entailed the suppression of quite innocent, public-domain information - such as particular Departments' published course descriptions - that might otherwise have been of interest to colleagues seeking models and comparisons for their own future practice. It has also, more seriously, set limits to the extractability from the survey of certain kinds of patterns of correlation - between, for example, choice of coursebook and grammar coverage, or differences between the English and Scottish University systems. A few general patterns of this kind are informally noted in the comments on the results.

The group was composed of: Barbara Bell (JACT), Christopher Collard (Swansea/Chairman), Ken Dowden (Birmingham), Chris Emlyn-Jones (OU), David Ferraro (Henley College), Barbara Goward (City Lit), Lorna Hardwick (OU), Nick Lowe (London), Damien Nelis (Durham), David Raeburn (Oxford/Convenor), Keith Rutter (Edinburgh), and Kathryn Thompkins (Manchester); collation was by NJL. Profound thanks are due to all who responded; the care, thought, and time put into the replies was itself a testimony to the dedication of classical language teachers nationwide, and to the seriousness with which they take these issues of method and practice.

Notes accompanying questionnaire

Results of the survey


CUCD Bulletin 24 (1995)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1995

Bulletin ContentsCUCD HomeRoyal Holloway Classics Dept
[owl]