Should we study and teach Classical Sanskrit through examples from Classical literature only? Should we rather focus on Spoken Sanskrit? Are contemporary texts admissible?
I was surprised to read that Jan Houben seems to know the answer. In fact, in the Indology.info mailing list he praises Nalini Balbir’s new teaching method of Sanskrit (Le Sanskrit) in the following way:
It can be predicted that Balbir’s Le Sanskrit and its English version that is under preparation will indeed be a turning point because the natural demand of students will be, every year again, to learn the complete thing even if the preference of older generations of teachers will remain for some time with the outdated, very incomplete and inadequate grammars and teaching manuals […] to which they have become so emotionally attached. The older generations of teachers, hoping in vain that what they learned and taught was indeed “all” ever needed to learn of Sanskrit, might for a few more years succeed to mold new generations of students into the shackles of their old grammars and inadequate methods, but sooner or later the demand of students and interested public will become too strong to be neglected. Just as the fun of learning maths is in doing it, the fun of learning Sanskrit is in using it – also – for expression and communication. (my emphasis)
I have not read Nalini Balbir’s manual yet and, thus, her book is not under discussion here. Personally, I like Ashok Aklujkar‘s method and I would say that it already satisfies most (if not all) the requirements indicated by Houben, since it includes audio-samples of Sanskrit, contemporary texts written by Aklujkar as well as Classical texts, and drills for producing Sanskrit sentences.
Anyway, this is not my point here.
What I would like to discuss is rather the assumption that “the fun of learning Sanskrit is in using it”. When I started teaching Sanskrit, I had already been in an advanced Sanskrit Conversation class (with Sadananda Das) and therefore I introduced an hour per week of spoken Sanskrit. My experience with that: Some students loved it, others did not. You know why?
BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. Some come to Sanskrit because they studied historical linguistics, others because they are interested in Yoga. Some are aural types and remember very well what they have heard, others are visual type and rather remember what they have seen, and so on.
There is not a single, ideal type of student. Nor there is a single, ideal type of teaching method. Antiquarian-interested students have also the right to learn Sanskrit, haven’t they? Nalini Balbir’s teaching method might be excellent, but why should everyone just comply to its approach?
Can’t one just praise it without assuming that no other method is worthy of surviving?
(Should you say that it is the genre of praise which demands exaggeration, I beg to disagree. To deal with texts by rational human beings we need to assume that they mean what they say.)
Can’t one have fun in reconstructing the thought of Sanskrit philosophers?
Isn’t Sanskrit a huge forest in which different people can find different fruits?