When an English speaker doesn’t understand something, he would say “It’s all Greek to me.” But have you ever wondered about the origin of that phrase? Why Greek? Why not, say, Urdu or Aramaic?
I have looked it up in a dictionary and found out that, it comes from the latin phrase Graecum est, non legitur or Graecum est, non potest legi (It is Greek; it cannot be read). Medieval Latin scribes in monasteries would write that phrase if they had trouble translatin
The phrase probably entered modern English usage when William Shakespeare used it in his 1599 play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Here it is in Act 1 Scene 2:
Cassius: Did Cicero say any thing?
Casca: Ay, he spoke Greek.
Cassius: To what effect?
Casca: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. I could tell you more news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar’s images, are put to silence. Fare you well. There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.
In this context, an educated and wealthy aristocrat in the Roman Republic should be able to read and speak Greek. Casca, who speaks fluent Greek, is probably just playing dumb because he doesn’t want to repeat a remark that is unflattering to Caesar.
Obviously, when a Greek doesn’t understand something, he doesn’t say “It’s all Greek to Me.” Rather, he says, Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα, or “This strikes me as Chinese.”
Chinese is rated as one of the most difficult languages to learn.The Kangxi dictionary contains 47,035 characters!!!
Well, this language exchange was Annie’s idea ,with which I agreed at once ! Annie and me thought that, we could both try to….help solve this misunderstanding!! Or just, try to help our students get more familiar with another alphabet or characters which might have seemed weird to them till then…therefore, promote multilingualism and multiculturalism!
To start with, Annie came up with the idea of using flashcards, for our language exchange project! I asked my students to produce the flash cards for me. I gave each one an item to draw. I also asked them to make a second flashcard with the one letter of the Greek Alphabet and a third one with the word of the item they had drawn on their first card, in greek !They were all later mounted on card to make the set. There were 3 different piles: one with the alphabet , 24 letters, one with the words only and a third one with the words in picture cards, both in Greek and English.
We also, decided to send our partners in Taiwan ,one of the books teachers use to teach Greek language to the first graders in all Greek schools..she was asked to show it to her students and tell them it was our first graders greek language book!
My partner teacher in Taiwan, Annie Tsai did something similar: She asked her students to make flashcards of some basic/interesting Chinese characters and they ‘ve recorded a few simple greeting language video clips. They also created beautiful and very artistic picture flashcards , and a sepearate pile of word flashcards for each one of the picture flashcards!The words on them, were written both in mandarin and english!
The activities we did in my class using the mandarin flashcards, were the following:
I placed a selection of word flash cards on the floor in a circle.
Students had five minutes to memorise the cards.
In groups, they had two minutes to write as many of the names they could remember as possible , on the board.Too hard to do for most of my students…but, working in teams, made it easier!
Matching Game ( old time classic)
I spreaded all the cards ( both picture and word cards ) on the floor . Students took turns flipping two cards and calling out the cards that they flipped ( in english) . If it was a pair then they kept it and got a point. If they didn’t call out the card then they couldn’t keep it.
Point or race to the flash cards
I stack picture flash cards around the class.
I showed their word flashcard match and students pointed or raced to the right picture card.
Again, we played this game, in teams.
I placed a selection of picture cards and word on the floor at the far end of the class. Students stood behind a line at the other end. I shouted, ‘Bring me a shirt- one of the flashcards words, which was both written in English and in Mandarin!’ The first student who handed in both the word and the picture shirt flashcards, won the cards.
I gave all students a word card. Then, I hid the picture cards around the classroom, on things, under things, and in things. I had the students look around the room for one or two minutes to find the word card that matched their picture card! I awarded stickers to all students who finally managed to do so. I made sure, the fastest students got bigger stickers…
That was the last activity we did, on day two. I asked the students to take one pair of flashcards ( word card and its matching picture card ) at home.
They had to try to learn the mandarin spelling of that word and recall it, the very next day we had a lesson. In turns, students had to come to the board and try to write that word in mandarin without looking at their flashcards!
That was a team game , too! They got so excited that they asked me to play it , again and again…! Teams , were awared points and both winners and…not winners, special stickers!
Now, I’d like you to have a look at some of the photos from Annie’s class which show similar activities she did with her students, using our own flashcards! These photos say it all…I’ll ask Annie to comment on them later….