Two intellectual sources have nourished the Western world ever since ancient times: Judeo-Christian culture and Greek and Latin literature. However, most of this heritage remains inaccessible to the general public.
For example, the treatises of Galen, who left us more than 20,000 pages of medical knowledge in Greek, have been translated in their entirety only into Latin and Arabic. Less than ten percent of Galen’s writings have been translated into the major European languages. Likewise, only a small part of the writings of Alcuin, the architect of the Carolingian Renaissance, is accessible in any language other than Latin.
Further, more than half of the writings from ancient and medieval times can be read today only in Greek, Latin, Hebrew or Arabic. Thus in the twenty-first century we find ourselves unable to understand the roots of our cultural heritage. For this reason we consider languages to be an indispensable gateway to the humanities – the study of what makes us human.
But if languages are the key to our cultural heritage, then it is necessary to teach them effectively and, if possible, in an appealing way. For this reason the Polis method was developed, turning Polis into one of the very few institutions in the world that teach the so-called dead languages (e.g. Koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew, and Latin) as living languages. From the first day, our instructors create monolingual classrooms: they speak only the language they are teaching and require students to do the same. This is both from necessity – students are usually from different language backgrounds – and from a theoretical commitment to maximizing input in the target language.
Jerusalem, the city of the Bible, the cradle of monotheism, and the melting pot of the Semitic and Hellenistic heritages, is a unique place in the world for discovering the roots of our civilization through the study of languages. And the Polis Institute in Jerusalem is so far the only place in the world where a student can study simultaneously ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Biblical Hebrew and Classical Syriac) and modern ones (modern Hebrew, colloquial and literary Arabic), all as living languages. Through various teaching techiques (Total Physical Response, TPR Storytelling, conversational pair and small group work, etc.), Polis courses quickly develop functional spoken vocabulary and grammar through constant communicative exchange between the instructor and the students. After two years (four semesters), students can read and understand – not merely decode – simple ancient texts without needing a dictionary. They have learned to think in the ancient language and understand it on its own terms, without needing a modern language to stand in between them and the text. From this unique starting point, they may proceed gradually to master the extant literature in their language of choice. (Students may also cover the equivalent of one year of study in one of our intensive summer courses.)
To see the Polis Method in action, view the following samples: