The Grammar-Translation Method

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Stephen Carlson
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The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 18th, 2014, 6:22 am

There's a pretty interesting discussion on the Grammar-Translation Method (both pro and con) here: http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-foru ... =2&t=62680
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Paul-Nitz
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Paul-Nitz » December 18th, 2014, 2:41 pm


Yes, very interesting discussion. I have a question for B-Greekers arising from the Textkit discussion.

I'm guessing that most of us on B-Greek studied Greek at a theological school. But there are plenty of you who studied or taught (or teach) classics. Is there maybe less of an emphasis on "decoding" a text in the Classics departments? Did we in theological schools perhaps have more speeches about "mining the text" and "golden nuggets."
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Paul D. Nitz - Lilongwe Malawi

cwconrad
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by cwconrad » December 18th, 2014, 5:17 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:
Yes, very interesting discussion. I have a question for B-Greekers arising from the Textkit discussion.

I'm guessing that most of us on B-Greek studied Greek at a theological school. But there are plenty of you who studied or taught (or teach) classics. Is there maybe less of an emphasis on "decoding" a text in the Classics departments? Did we in theological schools perhaps have more speeches about "mining the text" and "golden nuggets."
Touché!!! My only experience in a theological school was teaching a four-week crash course in a St. Louis area seminary in January of the year I retired (2001). To be sure, I started out with NT Koine as a Freshman in college in 1952, but I didn't really deal seriously with NT Koine again until many years and that was in a secular university, the only setting for just about all of my teaching. Practically all the teaching I ever did was via the grammar/translation method, but I did gravitate toward the kind of textbooks that emphasized reading as a lead-in to discussion of grammatical structures: Carl Ruck, Ancient Greek, which emphasized reading and learning to read and which, especially in the second edition, depended on exercises formulated altogether in Greek and not so much on translation; Oxford U.P. Athenaze, and especially the JACT Reading Greek published by Cambridge U.P. -- that was my preferred textbook for the last ten years of my teaching. I'm not sure that I ever really got quite away from the Grammar/Translation method, but the pedagogical hopelessness of the "decoding" process was evident early on in my teaching. It was just so obvious that parsing and knowledge of the grammatical rules didn't have that much to do with how well students understood the texts they were reading. Over the years it became ever more evident that ability to analyze the text was posterior to and dependent upon prior reading and understanding of the text. I'm inclined to think that the best students I ever had were those who learned how to read Greek quite apart from any mastering of grammatical principles. As for "mining the text" and "golden nuggets" I guess I have to say that I was sort of shocked to see that sort of thing in Mounce, the curious sort of instruction aimed at exegesis rather than on reading with understanding, or on apologetic demonstration rather than on exploration of alternative ways of understanding texts.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stephen Carlson
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 18th, 2014, 5:32 pm

I may be different. I learned Greek via the grammar-translation method in Classics. I then taught Greek in a divinity school, but no "golden nuggets" from me.

My view is that there is no royal road to learning Greek. You have to spend time in the texts. A lot of time. Time outside of class. Whatever motivates you to do so is a good thing. Whatever doesn't is a bad thing.

What the grammar-translation method has traditionally done is given very self-motivated students some tools to plow through the texts on their own, with a good lexicon, grammar, and perhaps translation. It doesn't motivate students; it just allows already motivated students to progress on their own.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Jonathan Robie » December 18th, 2014, 7:20 pm

I agree with Stephen that there's more than one way to learn Greek. Currently, most people aren't that sucessful without a teacher. And even with a teacher, the success rate just isn't what we expect for modern languages. I suspect that most people who do succeed spend a lot of time actively interacting with the language and learning to think in it - that's the way it works for most languages.

People manage to learn French or German without a teacher using duolingo, Rosetta Stone, movies, reading, etc. They have access to all kinds of materials that just don't exist for Greek. I think we could make language learning more efficient and more accessible by developing materials that:
  • Are available to people who do not have access to a teacher
  • Systematically teach the structure signals, syntax, morphology, etc. in Greek, without spending a lot of time in English or meta-language
  • Use real sentences
  • Use activities that require the student to actively process the language
I also think that there are people who spend so much time reading, working through examples systematically, and even writing in Greek that they really have acquired a great deal of experience thinking in Greek, but have not been involved in classes where people speak in Greek. I rather suspect that Carl Conrad and Stephen Carlson are quite proficient in Greek. There are others.

Time spent on task, reading or writing Greek, doing exercises, etc. in the Greek language will get you there.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » December 18th, 2014, 10:07 pm

I was in a small town far from a centre where Koine Greek was taught, when I took up the task. I had nothing but TIME and I knew of no other route than the G/T one. I started with Mounce, and after getting through that, I added many other resources - Bibleworks, audio files, Wallace, Robertson, BDAG, BDF, etc - as I began to read my way through the NA27.

Before long I wrote a “Language Reader” using Adobe Flash script and acquired audio files which I ‘parsed’ by verse – and sometime by ‘phrase’. These I played frequently – and still do - as I sought to reproduce the pronunciation of readers like Spiros Zodhiates (initially it was John Schwandt’s Erasmian before I switched to modern). I have spent 100’s of hours parsing these mp3 files, which itself has been of great benefit. I have spent 100’s more listening to them on my 'Language Reader'.

I’m not “there” yet, and there are significant ‘holes’ in my grammar which I am now working on. But I am getting there, and can read substantial portions of the NT quite easily. "There" for me is to be able to read the Greek NT and LXX readily and intelligently - and then to help others do so. I expect that this will require reading Koine in a larger context before I'm done. "There" for me is NOT becoming a master, as some here clearly are.

I don’t recommend any of this! No doubt if I had had access to different resources and wise advice I would have done some things differently. But the reality is that there are lots of people who have found or will find themselves in similar situations. Those who are MOTIVATED will get there, whether on the G/T path or on some better highway. History, I think, has proven that.

I really like Stephen’s point about motivation.
My view is that there is no royal road to learning Greek. You have to spend time in the texts. A lot of time. Time outside of class. Whatever motivates you to do so is a good thing. Whatever doesn't is a bad thing.
If you are motivated – really motivated – G/T tools will support the effort, and you will get there. Perhaps you will climb some unnecessary hills, and occasionally take the long way around, but those easy-to-obtain-and-utilize G/T resources will get you there.

B-Greek, also, is a signficant resource, and the hum of the hive can be a huge encouragement when you set out alone! Wish I had access to such a resource back then. I can relate to the “Happy to be here!” in Introductions.

I am now helping some others to get "there", and they inspire me to be better at it, as good students always do. First my own experience, then Daniel Streett's BLOG, and now B-Greek have been of much benefit in helping me to guide students along a more intelligent mix of methods than I started out with:
  • - as much reading aloud as possible in class from the very beginning,
    - an intense but minimalist approach to learning basic grammar and vocabulary to provide a 'starter kit',
    - and then READ, while back-filling the missing grammar as the text demands and the questions arise,
    - Read alone, read aloud, read together, READ, READ, READ.
So much more effective and satisfying to have your questions answered, than to memorize answers for questions you have not asked!
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Stephen Hughes » December 19th, 2014, 12:21 am

Paul-Nitz wrote:Is there maybe less of an emphasis on "decoding" a text in the Classics departments? Did we in theological schools perhaps have more speeches about "mining the text" and "golden nuggets."
As with any department in the humanities, there is a degree to which the "golden nuggets" of human creativity and genius are discussed - things that have a timelessness about them, or things which seem to speak directly to the present condition of our age. The New Testament contains both of those types of things too.

I decided to add my thoughts about learning Old and Modern English by the grammar-translation method to the Textkit discussion rather than here.
Jonathan Robie wrote:I also think that there are people who spend so much time reading, working through examples systematically, and even writing in Greek that they really have acquired a great deal of experience thinking in Greek, but have not been involved in classes where people speak in Greek.
Thinking in a foreign language is not just the single static associations that come with the absence of the "noise" of our own language, it can become the full cacophony of associations, parallel thoughts, inferences and memories that fill our heads such as when we speak languages as our own.
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Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

RandallButh
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by RandallButh » December 19th, 2014, 1:04 pm

the assumption is that with lots of Grammar-Translation
and you will get there
I think that is the student's myth. It may be useful if it can motivate students. However, as Paula Saffire said in an article from 2006, the professors have a "dirty little secret."

It will change, it is changing.
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ed krentz
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by ed krentz » December 19th, 2014, 1:21 pm

I have a rather unusual sequence in learning Greek. After 2 years of Latin and one of German I began Classical Greek in my jr. year of HS. Took three semesters to finish the introductory text book. Then read Xenophon's Anabasis, Homer's Odyssey, and Plato's Apology. Alonge with that we memorized the principal parts of irregular verbs, with a quiz once a week.

In Seminary after that I translated all of Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and John's Gospel. Then I wnt to graduate school, majoring in classics. Read Greek tragedies and comedies, Aristotle, Pindar, Homer (Iliad in one semester, Odyssey the next), Strabo, Epicetus, Horace, Vergil, Cicero, St. Augustine, etc. It was certainly not the grammar translation method; that had been the way in which I was taught in HS. I also had comparative Greek and Latin Grammar, Introduction to structural lingruistics, Greek prose compsition (try translating Lincoln's Gettysburg Address into classical Greek some time ) and courses in Greek archaeologry from George Mylonas.

At4 the same time I was teaching NT in the seminary from which I had graduated. There I participated in a seminar in Cursory Reading of the Greek NT, in which we read the entire Greek Testament in one semester, along with philological assignments each week.

As a result I have litttle trouble i reading the NT at sight. (I confess I have to look up hapax legomena now and the).

In all of that they key was rapid reading of extensive Greek texts, with constant paging of LSJ and Blass-Debrunner (in German) and Moulton-Howard-Turner. C. F. D. Moule's work on the Greek of the NT was one grammar one could use for bed-time reading. I also liked Radermacher's German grammar in the Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, still a useful text. In a course of Greek Prose writers with Thomas Gould (who later taught at Yale), one could simply rad the Greek text out loud showing that you knew what it meant and did not have to translate anything at all.

I also learned a good bit about teaching from y teachers: Saul Levin, Philip DeLacy ( at Washington U),. Gertrude Smith and Richar4d Treat Bruereat the Universsity of Chicago. In all of this I never had a course in how to teach Latin, German, or Greek.

It served me well, that education.
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Edgar Krentz
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Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: The Grammar-Translation Method

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » December 19th, 2014, 4:28 pm

In all of that they key was rapid reading of extensive Greek texts, with constant paging of LSJ and Blass-Debrunner (in German) and Moulton-Howard-Turner. C. F. D. Moule's work on the Greek of the NT was one grammar one could use for bed-time reading. I also liked Radermacher's German grammar in the Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, still a useful text. In a course of Greek Prose writers with Thomas Gould (who later taught at Yale), one could simply rad the Greek text out loud showing that you knew what it meant and did not have to translate anything at all.
I find this very interesting, and it immediately reminds me of C.S. Lewis' experience:
I arrived at Gastons (so the Knock’s house was called) on a Saturday, and he announced that we would begin Homer on Monday. I explained that I had never read a word in any dialect but the Attic, assuming that when he knew this we would approach Homer through some preliminary lessons on the Epic language… At nine o’clock we sat down to work in the little upstairs study which soon became so familiar to me. It contained a sofa, a table and chair a bookcase, a gas stone, and a framed photograph of Mr Gladstone. We opened our books at Iliad, Book I. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines… He then translated, with a few, a very few, explanations about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed over Crucius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as I could of what he had done, left the room. At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further… He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I was very soon able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. – C S Lewis, Surprised by Joy (1955:163)
I've done some of this kind of reading. I'm going to try it on a more committed schedule for a while.
I think that is the student's myth.
.

Perhaps - and to be sure, I don't think you'll "get there" by some narrowly-defined "grammar translation" method alone. I still think, though, that it is a viable place to start. As some have reported, it was really a mix of approaches that brought them success, typically with much attention to the text at the earliest possible time. But I wonder if the real student myth is that you can get there without too much effort, or you can get there without real motivation and purpose, or you can get there in a short time? When you consider Daniel Streett's comments on the time and effort required to learn German, or any other modern language (based on FSI, etc.), I think many Biblical language students tend to be a bit starry-eyed.
It will change, it is changing.
I believe that, and I see it, and I'm indebted to all who are bringing new light to the task. I just don't think the change will entirely negate what's gone before - at least not for most who set out to learn ancient Greek.
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