ElAnt v3n4 - REVIEWS - Introduction to Attic Greek: An Electronic Workbook

Volume 3, Number 4
April 1996

Introduction to Attic Greek: an Electronic Workbook

Created by Donald J. Mastronarde, 
with technical assistance from Jeff Lausch and Ken Lau. 
University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles and 
London: 1995. 

Paul Tuffin,
Department of Classics, 
University of Adelaide,
SA 5005,
e-mail: ptuffin@arts.adelaide.edu.au


First, some cards on the table:

When I saw the offer appear for a chance to review this package for the MGSA-L, I leapt at it not because I am an old hand at teaching Ancient Greek to beginners but because the opposite is true. I have taught Modern Greek to beginners and Ancient Greek to second, third and Honours year students but never (before this year when a colleague s study leave has thrust the course upon me!) to beginners. Nor did I leap at this opportunity because I have great experience with software packages for learning languages; again, the opposite is true: my language teaching has been centred on various approaches and made use of various media but not software packages. So, I m coming at this fairly cold ... but on the other hand this, I hope, gives me at least some qualities in common with students beginning to learn Ancient Greek and it certainly means that my experience of using software packages to support my teaching of Ancient Greek is similar (if not identical) with that of many of my colleagues. I hope all of this makes this a helpful review.

Summary Review

Second a summary review for those in a hurry: this package provides, in an easy-to-use and attractive format, excellent back-up information and practice for the Mastronarde textbook Introduction to Attic Greek. So, if you are already using this book to teach beginners, I would recommend without hesitation that you complement your teaching with this package which must have the potential both to encourage student learning and to reduce time spent on practice in class.

If you are not using the book, you will certainly need a copy to make use of this package since, of the seven modules, four ('Verb Forms', 'Noun Forms', Principle Parts' and 'Vocabulary') base their processes of selection of forms to be practiced/tested directly on the Units in the textbook. The other three modules do not have this link with the book but they are concerned with pronunciation and accentuation - aspects of the language that not all teachers of beginners' ancient Greek wish to emphasise beyond a working knowledge, especially when it comes to accents. With the book in hand, however, the processes of selection are not difficult to follow. The content of the modules in terms both of grammar and vocabulary is basic and so will be common to a large degree to many beginners' courses. Since the exercises and drills are interestingly constructed and there is direct interaction between the learner and the programme, it seems likely that the package will be both attractive to students (a change at the least from rote learning alone and constant self-testing) and useful for teachers in that it will supplement and possibly replace some practice and drilling in class.

The Package

The package consists of a sheet with warranty, system requirements, installation instructions and other advice, a registration card and four high-density Macintosh disks.


The instructions are clear and easy to follow even for the inexperienced (though they do need to be followed: I had forgotten that I had my monitor set to 'Black and white' as opposed to 'Grey scale' and hence when I opened a module it was mostly illegible!).

The files come in a compressed form and need to be expanded. This is done using 'Expand Now' software (included in the package). In the two cases where there are two compressed files to be expanded into a single module (specifically: Accentuation.now and Accentuation.now #2; Pronunciation.now and Pronunciation.now.#2), during the process of expanding the files a dialogue box appears stating that the file Accentuation already exists and seeking a new name for the file to be expanded (Accentuation.now #2). This can be dealt with by clicking on 'Save' and then agreeing to have the file 'replaced' by clicking on 'OK' -- nothing is lost.

Apart from the compressed files that expand into the modules, a document of general advice ('Docs and Instructions') and the inevitable 'ReadMe' document, there are also separate documents providing specific advice on making vocabulary and principal parts lists, as well as samples of such lists.

The Modules

There are seven modules of varying size and complexity. Their titles (which mostly give a clear indication of content and purpose) are 'Pronunciation Guide', 'Pronunciation Practice', 'Accentuation' (tutorial and practice exercises), 'Verb forms' (drills in identifying verb forms), 'Noun forms' (actually drills in all other inflected non- verb forms), 'Vocabulary', and 'Principal Parts'.

The modules really are very easy to use - the option of help balloons for all items and 'Instruction palettes' (more detailed directions and help) for more complex modules mean that the suggestion in the documentation that 'Almost every feature of each module can be learned simply by opening the module and experimenting with it' is a reasonable one. In any event included within the document 'Docs and instructions' are module- by- module instructions for use.

Click-on buttons allow rapid movement between the various parts of the modules, and the initial 'menu' for each module allows transfer directly to another module (given sufficient memory). 'Keyboard shortcuts' (described in the 'Instruction palettes') allow students to reduce the number of mouse operations and save time.

There are a number of opportunities for students to 'customise' parts of the module to suit there own requirements (e.g. in the 'Vocabulary' module: 'There is a feature for putting particular words into separate custom lists; users may also create text-files with lists of additional vocabulary items, whether from another book or from reading done beyond the elementary course.')

The drills go beyond simple fill-in/supply the right form approaches; some marks of an imaginative approach to drilling are the Principal Parts Match game the time-delayed flash-cards included as an option in the 'Vocabulary' module.

The text in the modules is clear and easily understood and the modules themselves are divided into such fundamental areas that, as already suggested, there would no problem in using them as recommended back- up materials for _any_ course of instruction in Ancient (Attic) Greek, given always that one has access to a copy of Mastronarde's book to handle the processes of selection in four of the modules.

Pronunciation Guide

The simple logic of the package overall made an impression on me, and an example of this quality is present in this module: here one reads the explanation of the sounds but one can check one s understanding by simply clicking on the Greek letter(s) and hearing the sound.

Pronunciation Practice

The click-on aural pronunciation guide/check is continued through this module which provides sound for all words in the first eight Units of the book. The words are basic and would be common to many beginners texts.


The text of the 'Tutorial' in this module obviously follows that of the textbook but Mastronarde has taken the opportunity to increase the number of examples extensively and has also included more diagrams and tables to aid understanding.

The 'Practice Exercises' are well-supported with information on rules obtaining to each item and interestingly interactive - accents are selected and placed above syllables and a 'correct' or 'negative' sound results. An 'error' signal is accompanied by a message detailing what the error was, e.g. 'Wrong accent and wrong position'.

There is no dictionary/vocabulary link in this tutorial, nor a morphology link. This means that a beginner who is curious about meaning or form has no 'internal' means of finding out either. Given that the beginner as yet has no idea of the morphology this may not be a problem; some revelation of meaning though might be satisfying to the more curious student. For more advanced students returning to tune up their knowledge of accents (as Mastronarde recommends they do), such links would be of more obvious benefit.

Verb Forms

In contrast with the above, the support links (provided via click-on buttons) in this module cover the principal parts of the verb presented for identification, the relevant paradigm and the meaning of the verb.

The point has already been made that this module is based on content of the Units in the textbook: the exercises are identification (or parsing) exercises and one has to choose from which Units forms and vocabulary are to be included. This point is worth stressing since the selection of the range of Units to be included in building an exercise necessarily affects what is (within those limitations) going to be identified as a correct or incorrect answer. Having selected a range of Units myself -- without reference to the textbook -- I became frustrated that my correct answer was not being recognised as such until the penny dropped and I checked back in the textbook and found that my random selection of Units in fact included only participles!

Noun Forms

As noted above this module in fact covers all inflected non-verb forms: nouns, adjective and pronouns. It is similarly designed to the foregoing module: the exercises are identification exercises (with selection of forms directly linked to Units in the textbook); the support links here are to 'Dictionary Form', 'Full Dictionary Information and Meaning', and 'Paradigm'.

It was while I was familiarising myself with this module that I decided to recommend in this review that users always open and read the 'Instruction Palette' before commencing a practice exercise or drill. In this case I wasted a few moments wondering why my selection of a feminine genitive ending for a feminine form of an adjective was not acceptable in the column headed 'Genitive'. I reached the conclusion that it must be because in the case of adjectives the correct form for the 'Genitive' column it was the genitive of the masculine form that was required and indeed this was the advice given in the 'Instruction Palette'.


In this module a word is presented on the screen and one has to think of its meaning. There are a number of choices available: which Unit is the vocabulary to be taken from or will one use one's own list? Is the test to be from Greek to English or vice-versa? Will one click for the answer or set a number of seconds after which the answer is to be flashed automatically on the screen? Or will one not self-test but use the module to study vocabulary and thus have the word and its meaning presented at once on the screen?

Probably most useful for the majority of students would be to have their own lists reflecting their own needs. Here, however, matters get more difficult simply because all the information must be put into such lists both in the form (i.e. fonts) and format that the module's programming requires. In other words one has to have GreekKeys in order to put the Greek into a list and one has to follow exactly an unfamiliar and rather complicated (albeit clearly described) process in order to be sure that the items included will appear correctly when the saved list is used in this module. So whether it is a matter of the teacher preparing special lists or of students preparing their own, I suspect that the time and effort required may tend to dampen enthusiasm.

Principal Parts

This module is similarly constructed to the 'Vocabulary' module in terms of reliance on the textbook for selection of parts to be practiced, support for the learner and the possibility of creating one's own lists. There are choices here of how many and which principal parts to practice; a further option is the principal parts matching game mentioned earlier.

Final Remarks

As I have already said (above under Summary review), if you are using Mastronarde's book, I think you and your students will gain much from this electronic workbook.

If you are not using it (and are not about to change), you will need to balance positive aspects against negative. On the positive side there is the potential attractiveness of an interesting electronic package to students for whom much of the teaching is talk and chalk and much of the learning rote. At the very least there should be an advantage in students' spending more time out of class consolidating what has been presented in class. On the negative there is the fact that (a) ties to the textbook inevitably reduce immediacy of access to what are likely to be the four most important modules - those on verbs, principal parts, nouns forms (etc.) and vocabulary and (b) creating one's own lists of principal parts and/or vocabulary is not likely to be an easy or quick solution to this reduction of immediacy.

My own assessment is that positive should outweigh negative and I have already ensured that our department purchase a site license (we already have a copy of the textbook) - I feel sure it will be worth it.

Paul Tuffin,
e-mail: ptuffin@arts.adelaide.edu.au

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 3 Issue 4 - April 1996
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606

by Kaavya Giridhar