When we thinking of “reading,” usually we imagine it is something we do both privately and silently. Historically, this was not how “reading” usually took place. To read silently was actually very unusual. Instead, texts were generally performed orally in social contexts. They were memorized with a teacher, read aloud again and again, until the reader was so utterly familiar with the text that the “reading” part of reading functioned more as sight cues, to keep the reader on track.
We might even claim that “reading,” as we conceive it, didn’t exist. Instead, texts were recited or performed. In fact, in ancient Greece and Rome, texts had to be read aloud to be understood. They weren’t punctuated, and there wasn’t spaces in between the words. There are many records showing us that reading existed this way, within an oral tradition:
- For example, in 2nd century Rome, a famous author and grammarian (Aulus Gellius) was asked to read an unfamiliar text; he protested, saying that he would emphasize its words incorrectly, thus mangling its meaning
- In Augustine’s Confessions, he goes out of his way to note a strange fact about the 4th century monk Ambrose: “When he read his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still”
- And, it’s recorded Alexander the Great read a letter from his mother in silence in the fourth century BC, to the bewilderment of his soldiers
Think, too, of all the early literature that clearly has its roots in orality, like the epic poems of Beowulf, King Gesar, the Ramayana, or the Odyssey. In the classical sense, grammar was not studied as a means to learn a language; it was studied as a way to use it. It had a purpose and a function. And it was oral: grammar was merely a stepping stone to the arts of rhetoric and dialectic. In a classical Latin education, these were considered the Trivium.
They were used to train public servants, philosophers, lawyers, and military officers, among others, in the art of communication. It’s very clear that, traditionally, the focus was not textual, but oral. Language production was key, and especially speech in social contexts and public forums. The practice-based, oral lineage of ancient Greco-Roman education was lost, however, with the rise of the European vernaculars as the medium of instruction.
The study of Latin continued, but vestigially (for no particular purpose), and this is how Grammar-Translation was born. It was later, when those who had been formally educated begin studying foreign languages, that they naturally brought this pedagogy with them. Being divorced from its roots in a living, oral context, however, grammar becomes ill-suited for the task of actually learning a language; it has been shown by study after study, time and again, that the explicit, formal study of grammar imparts no language skills to its students.
Which is why Esukhia has based its methodology in the research-based principles of modern linguistics and second language acquisition. By studying 1:1 with a native speaker, students receive exposure to native-speaking input; and plenty of opportunity for production, a.k.a. language practice. If you want to learn Tibetan, use it to communicate!