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Explain, Translate, Perform: A Podcasting Approach to Greek and Latin Orality

Christopher Francese

Any discussion of orality in the Greek and Latin classroom should begin and end with a discussion of learning goals. Orality and recitation is a (now neglected) strategy, not a goal in itself. In the intermediate-level Latin or Greek classroom, goals for most teachers probably include getting students to read, understand, translate, interpret, and appreciate ancient texts, poetry or prose. Orality can be a significant tool for working toward each of these goals, but how? This paper argues that a good podcasting assignment can be an effective method of both teaching prosody and of using oral recitation in the furtherance of the larger goals.

The final product is a 6–7 minute audio recording: the recitation of a poem or excerpt in the original language, prefaced by a discussion of the passage and a translation of it made by the student. This is then posted on the internet, in a blog format and/or on iTunes. To create such a recording successfully the student must be able to read, understand, translate, interpret, and appreciate the text, as well as explain its interest and significance to others, and also to perform it in a more or less convincing fashion. The oral performance of the piece is framed as part of a larger understanding and explanation of it, aimed not at the instructor but at a general audience. The work is thus a kind of summative assignment that ties together most of the major goals of an intermediate literature course, but in an oral, performative format.

Eliciting a good final result requires careful preparation over several weeks. First, the student must choose a poem or passage and draft a translation. This should be literal at first, but be polished over subsequent drafts so as to effectively represent the thought and tone of the original. Next, research and write the script of the analysis, with source citations. This requires two drafts, the first to get the thoughts down, the second to make the style appropriate for communication via audio to a broad audience. Next, work on prosody, scanning, and effective delivery, ideally in a one-on-one meeting with the instructor. Finally, create the three-part recording using free software called Audacity, and turn it in as an mp3. The result can be posted on a WordPress blog, along with the text itself and images if desired.

The public posting of the result is critical. This gives a sense of urgency to the polishing of the performance, and brings home the point that ancient literature is performance art. It also reorients the writing process in a salutary way. The student no longer writes simply to please the instructor, but to communicate what is important or interesting about the material to their family and friends, or to the outside world. As a way of teaching prosody and scansion, this method is project-based and practical. An accurate knowledge of prosody is essential for completing the task, not an optional extra to be done after translating. As an exercise in research and interpretation the assignment demands the ruthless cutting of the inessential, the careful phrasing of central points, and clarity above all. As a creative task, it allows for great freedom in the manner and tone in which the material is presented, and positively prevents the traditionally impersonal academic style, which will not work in an oral format. Students must inject some of their own personality, or the result will fall flat.

The presentation will include a sample assignment prompt, as well as short excerpts of student work as time permits. 

Session/Panel Title

Talking Back to Teacher: Orality and Prosody in the Secondary and University Classroom

Session/Paper Number

46.3

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