John Oaklands has posted an extremely interesting piece (of his own) on
memorization of vocabulary in another language. With classes just
beginning, I haven't time to respond--but I couldn't resist commenting on
one remark he makes.
"One of my preferred methods is visualization. This is well illustrated in a
French course from New York, French in Action, which has virtually no
English to it at all. Everything is done in French. I have been interested
in noting how words, thoughts and ideas have been portrayed without a word
of English." --John Oaklands
"French in Action" has become THE program for French instruction, even
through tele-courses (on TV, hooked into a local college's staff). It's
not from New York, though; it's from Wellesley College, and its creator and
producer (who spent two solid years of his life doing it) is Barry Lydgate,
a close friend of mine. (I actually appear in it, in an early episode,
speaking ancient Greek!)
John is right: it is entirely in French after the first couple of lessons.
The focus is not on vocabulary, but whole sentences, and groups of
sentences, done in the context of real-life situations. English is not
used in any of the courses taught by our French department. When I visited
a class a few years ago to discuss my interpretation of Camus' "L'Etranger"
the discussion had to be in French (alas for me! my French conversation is
much better when talking wine, or visiting wine-makers in France). The
problem with a "dead" language (since Hellenistic Greek is no longer spoken
hereabouts or anywhere, it is "dead"!) is that the normal and right way to
teach it, by speaking it, is almost excluded by the lack of native speakers
of the language. I believe it was the University of Michigan which some
years ago taught classical Greek as a spoken language (I bought the
"textbook" for it, but of course one would have to be there to see how it
was really done).
Learning individual words in isolation is not a very good way to become
comfortable with a language; words in context, phrases, sentences even better
will begin to make the language a living thing. For graduate seminars, I
used to require students to look up every single citation given for a word
in a lexical entry --fairly easy to do with Bauer (though they had to get
used to Apostolic Fathers and similar contemporary texts which Bauer cites)
but sometimes a big enterprise in LSJ. When one examines each of these
sentences, one begins to get a feel for the vocabulary. With a serious
study, one uses a complete concordance, and then gets a feel for how
different writers differ in their usage of a word.
I just couldn't resist! Sorry.