Share your learning experience...and how it rates

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Louis L Sorenson
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Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by Louis L Sorenson » May 20th, 2011, 7:51 am

I'm sure a number of people would love to hear how others first learned ancient Greek, and what they think of it in retrospect. The point here is not to trash teachers or books (you can be frank about the books), but to try to highlight the kinds of exercises, activities, were more helpful than others, what to avoid, and to be able to 'analyze' the way you were taught and place it into the correct pedagogical approach (if it fits).

Some of this content can and should perhaps be included in your profile or introduction, But this is the place to talk about it with others.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 20th, 2011, 9:22 am

I explained the method I used long ago on the now-ancient Little Greek site.
Read Greek every day

I'm personally convinced that the best way to learn to read Greek is to read Greek every day, and spend time learning the Grammar as you find time.

Here is my basic approach to daily reading. I don't do all these things every day, but all of these things are helpful enough that I do them regularly, and I will do them all for a text that I'm working through thoroughly:
  • Read the text carefully, understanding as much as you can. At the beginning, you may not be able to do more than pronounce the words. That's OK - for now, this is as much as you can do. Always read enough text to get some context. 10 verses or so works well for me. Don't read more than you can read with good understanding of all the details. The goal is to master a small passage, not to read lots of text.
  • Look up the words that you don't understand using a lexicon. Look up the grammar that you don't understand using Zerwick or for basic parsing, using the parse codes from the CCAT database, a good Bible software program, or Han. Get a better understanding of the meaning of grammatical forms that are used by reading the relevent sections of Smyth's Grammar. But before you look up anything, make a guess, then correct yourself and expand on what you know by looking it up.
  • Read the text out loud, slowly and prayerfully, at least once. I like to do this after I have looked up things I'm uncertain of, and before I try to make sense of the passage as a whole. Somehow, reading out loud helps me understand the text better than more analytical approaches, and it also helps turn the Greek into real language.
  • Now read try to understand the passage as a whole, connecting the thoughts. After doing this, I find it helpful to translate into English, but first try to connect the thoughts while thinking in Greek. Always read a phrase out loud in Greek before attempting to translate it. The real meaning of a Greek phrase is not its English translation.
  • Compare your translation to a handful of English translations. In general, most translations are really quite good. If you find translations that differ significantly, this can really help point out the meaning of the original Greek, which often may be legitimately translated in different ways. Don't correct your translation until you understand what features of the Greek led them to translate differently than you did.
  • Use Zerwick's Grammatical Analysis, Robertson's Word Pictures, commentaries, etc. to see how they read the passage.
  • Make a list of questions that you couldn't answer. Remember, a good question is just as valuable as a good answer! If you are confused about something, post a question to the B-Greek Mailing List, or search the B-Greek Archives to see if others have already discussed your question.
  • Now that you've done all this head work, go back and read the passage out loud again, prayerfully.
I still think this is good advice. What motivates me is reading the texts, so an approach based on lots of reading works well for me.

But you do need to learn the grammar somehow, and I'm still weak on some things like the principal parts of irregular verbs. I think this definitely needs to be supplemented by some systematic work on grammar. (At the time I wrote this, I was working on Little Greek 101, a tutorial that used flashcards and tables and lots of samples from real texts to try to fill in this gap. I got too busy and haven't been working on that.)
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

cwconrad
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by cwconrad » May 20th, 2011, 1:00 pm

llsorenson wrote:I'm sure a number of people would love to hear how others first learned ancient Greek, and what they think of it in retrospect. The point here is not to trash teachers or books (you can be frank about the books), but to try to highlight the kinds of exercises, activities, were more helpful than others, what to avoid, and to be able to 'analyze' the way you were taught and place it into the correct pedagogical approach (if it fits).
Some of this content can and should perhaps be included in your profile or introduction, But this is the place to talk about it with others.
I have, in fact, written in my profile about my experience in learning Greek in college and grad school, and also about my experience of teaching Greek. I would add a caveat here, however, to any discussion of "the correct pedagogical approach": Although I certainly prefer to use some textbooks rather than others and recommend some procedures and methodologies for learning rather than others, I'm skeptical as to whether any single textbook, method, or procedures is necessarily the "right fit" for any and all who set about to learn Greek. The classes and the individuals whom I have taught over some 40+ years have differed enough from each other to an extent that I hesitate to lay down broad generalizations. What I offer instead is some observations.

(1) Very good students can learn from very bad teachers and very bad textbooks. I think that relatively few students learn Greek well outside of a classroom and without a teacher, but I have known some spectacular exceptions. What matters most, ultimately, is the intelligence, industry, and ardent desire to understand in the learner: it is the learner who brings to the process the elements that are most decisive for successful learning.

(2) Whether in a classroom setting or when engaged in independent study, an inestimable resource is a person who can either answer the questions that any earnest inquirer inevitably must raise or who can direct the inquirer to sources and resources for researching the question. The better teacher who finds that he/she doesn't know the answer to a student's question will waste minimal time before seeking out an answer and bringing it back to the class or directly to the student who raised it. I can attest that an immeasurable portion of what I have learned about ancient Greek has come from following up on questions raised by students in and outside of my classes. A classroom of people at work on learning ancient Greek is not at all a matter of an authoritative teacher and students absorbing lore; rather it is a community of people sharing in a mutally beneficial process of learning.

(3) I really can't say much about independent study of ancient Greek; I really do think that everyone undertaking the study of ancient Greek needs to have a resource person or community to help him/her seek answers to questions. I have long felt that one of the great services that B-Greek can perform is to function as a resource community for beginners to seek answers to questions. I think the peril of independent study is flagging interest rather than lack of intelligence. Success does indeed depend on unflagging interest and ardent desire to understand. My frustration at times with B-Greek discussion of pedagogy is that the discussion seems to get stuck, like the old-fashioned broken record, on the first elements and often goes no further. It's as if people want to stay in the beginners' wading pool and never move out to deeper water. Or it's as if speaking and writing Greek is so much fun that we just can't imagine the possibility of trying to speak and write good Greek.

(4) I've indicated elsewhere that I think "a working knowledge of ancient Greek" involves (a) instant recognition of the inflected forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, (b) recognition of and understanding of the standard
syntactic structures and usages, and (c) a solid grasp of the alternative tense-stems of the major irregular verbs. Perhaps thre should be added (d) a familiarity with frequently-used idiomatic expressions . These are the things that one should learn in the course of a good two-semester college course in ancient Greek or in working industriously through one of the standard primers of ancient Greek. I am leery of the notion that one can somehow avoid the systematic exposure to these matters that a regular college course or the industrious sustained working through a primer and ever acquire real proficiency or ability to read ancient Greek without some kind of crutches.

(5) I am a proponent of voluminous reading of Greek texts as essential to acquiring greater proficiency in the language, and I think that one ought to read Greek texts outside the literary genres and eras of Biblical Koine. I think that this is essential to learning to think in the manner of Greek speakers and writers. But I don't think reading is enough; I think one needs to learn to use ancient Greek as a vehicle of communication, preferably both as a speaker and listener in conversation (that is far, far better) but at the least as a writer and reader of texts. If it's at all possible, one would do well to seize the opportunity for listening to others reading and speaking Greek and to speak Greek in conversation. Composition exercises are also important, beginning with sentences that involve practice standard syntactic patterns, advancing to paragraphs, dialogues, essays, etc. There was a time when composition in Greek was a standard element in undergraduate and graduate level study of Greek; now, unfortunately, it is all too rare.

(6) I have had enough years of experience teaching Greek with what I have called the "grammar/translation" methodology that employs rote learning of morphological paradigms, rules of grammar, lists of principal parts, and vocabulary lists to have become convinced that relatively few students gain proficiency as a consequence of this kind of learning alone. I have had students who could parse the inflected words, recognize the forms of irregular verbs, and recite the rules of syntax -- and yet have great difficulty at understanding connected Greek discourse. I am convinced that, however useful at some stage this rote learning may conceivably turn out to be, it really doesn't have much to do with and does not produce comprehension of a Greek sentence or paragraph. Moreover, I don't think that a complex Greek sentence or paragraph can be analyzed grammatically into such identifiable elements acquired by rote learning unless one already has a fundamental grasp of the meaning of the text in question: I think that understanding a text's meanng precedes any breakdown of the text into elements that can be identified and discussed individually and in relation to each other.

There is more, I think, that needs to be added to these observations, but that will do for starters.
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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)

Mark Lightman
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by Mark Lightman » May 24th, 2011, 8:01 am

But I don't think reading is enough; I think one needs to learn to use ancient Greek as a vehicle of communication, preferably both as a speaker and listener in conversation (that is far, far better) but at the least as a writer and reader of texts. If it's at all possible, one would do well to seize the opportunity for listening to others reading and speaking Greek and to speak Greek in conversation.
συμφημι. ζητω γραφειν Ελληνιστι καθ' ημεραν. νυν εισιν πολλοι τοποι εν τῳ Διαδίκτυῳ εν ῳ δυναται τις γραφειν τοις φιλοις. λαλω δε τοις φιλοις εν τῳ Σκυπε. αλλα λαλειν στομα προς στοπα μειζον εστιν.

ελπιζω οτι το καινον Β-Γρεεκ εσται καινος τοπος εν ῳ γραψομεν αλληλοις πολλακις.

τα γραμματα φαινετα καλως ωδε. δυναμαι ποιειν ταυτα μειζονα.

ποιειν ταυτα μειζονα

και μειζονα

οἱ δὲ τόνοι φαίνεται μάλιστα καλῶς.
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robiephpbbuser
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by robiephpbbuser » May 24th, 2011, 9:16 am

cwconrad wrote:But I don't think reading is enough; I think one needs to learn to use ancient Greek as a vehicle of communication, preferably both as a speaker and listener in conversation (that is far, far better) but at the least as a writer and reader of texts. If it's at all possible, one would do well to seize the opportunity for listening to others reading and speaking Greek and to speak Greek in conversation. Composition exercises are also important, beginning with sentences that involve practice standard syntactic patterns, advancing to paragraphs, dialogues, essays, etc. There was a time when composition in Greek was a standard element in undergraduate and graduate level study of Greek; now, unfortunately, it is all too rare.
These are things that are really hard for the self-taught Little Greeks like me to do.

How helpful would modern Greek conversation be? There are plenty of opportunities to speak modern Greek in our area.

I believe Louis has a classical Greek chat room. But how do you get started, if you've never written Greek sentences and only read them?

Could we figure out a way to use this forum to offer some of this? For instance, could we offer Greek composition lessons here?
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cwconrad
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by cwconrad » May 24th, 2011, 10:17 am

Well, I've said it myself earlier in this thread that I think it is much, much harder to acquire competence in Greek without using it as a vehicle of active as well as passive participant in a communicative process. Greek composition has long been a staple of Classical Greek instruction in schools of the British and Western European tradition, and conversation has also been a pedagogical tool in many schools. This has not been so much the case, I think, with seminary teaching of Biblical Greek, although the seminaries didn't use to be the place where divinity candidates began their study of Greek.

Personally, I don't think that the B-Greek Forum is a proper place to engage in Greek-language dialogues. There are other venues, I think, for that -- Louis's ΣΧΟΛΗ is one of them and I think that Mark has mentioned another. If there is to be one, it should, I think, be housed within the Beginners Forum. Ideally, if it is to be promoted as an activity on the B-Greek Forum, I think that it would be helpful to have a competent user/speaker/writer of Greek who could help students (of any age) improve their writing so that they write more correctly. My point is that, although this activity can certainly be a lot of fun, it should be more than fun: it should aim at ongoing improvement of one's understanding and using Greek as a vehicle of communication.
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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 Hill
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by Stephen Hill » May 31st, 2011, 10:02 pm

As I mentioned in my "Introduction" post, I started taking Greek as a freshman in college. The instructor used the venerable Chase and Phillips for first-year Greek. I knew from reading B-Greek that I wanted to start with Attic, not Koine, so I was glad that Chase and Phillips was an Attic primer. On the other hand, I was disappointed with the brevity of the explanations, as well as with the grammar-translation methodology. We memorized forms, memorized vocabulary, and produced literal renderings of Greek sentences. For second-year Greek, we read through A Greek Reader for Schools. Though it was helpful, my classmates and I found ourselves spending most of our study time simply learning vocabulary. It wasn't the most efficient way to learn a language, since it attempted to teach only reading -- not listening or writing, and certainly not speaking.

From January to April, I read through the JACT Reading Greek course (second edition) and am currently almost finished with Plato's Republic I (which I'm reading in Geoffrey Steadman's excellent edition). Now my Greek is better than it's ever been, though of course I have a very long way to go. I still haven't incorporated much in the way of productive skills into my Greek study, but I'm taking Christophe Rico's intensive Greek course in Rome this July. That should jump-start my communicative ability, and after that, I hope to keep it up through participating in ΣΧΟΛΗ.

On the whole, though I didn't find the grammar-translation method to be not the most efficient way of learning Greek, I'm glad I experienced it, because it made me start thinking about language pedagogy. I started comparing the communicative methodology I'd seen in Spanish and French classrooms with the very different approach my Greek instructor used, and I started asking the questions that I saw B-Greek members ask: what's the best way to learn a language? Should we teach ancient languages and modern languages differently? What's the value of productive skills for a "dead" language that we only want to read? When I took Spanish and French, it wasn't long before I was thinking in the language -- when I took Greek, that never happened, even after four semesters.

For what it's worth, I think I would proceed in the following manner if I could start learning Greek all over again (not that I'd want to start over!):
1. Take two years to complete the JACT Reading Greek course, including the grammar exercises.
2. While studying the JACT course, develop listening skills AND productive skills (speaking and writing) through appropriate exercises (perhaps using Rico's Polis book, the JACT CD, Sidgwick's First Greek Writer, etc.). This would be best done in a classroom of 10-15 students with an instructor who could facilitate listening lessons and conversation work (between pairs of students and in open class).
3. After finishing the JACT course, read voluminously (as Dr. Conrad has said). Drill vocabulary BEFORE approaching a page of text for the first time. And of course, never stop developing speaking, listening, and writing skills in addition to reading.
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ἡμεῖς οὐχ Ἕλληνες• ἀνέλληνες δὲ φιλοῦμεν
τὴν οὐ καρφομένην Ἑλλάδος ἀνθοσύνην. – Headlam

refe
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Re: Share your learning experience...and how it rates

Post by refe » June 2nd, 2011, 12:11 pm

Independent learning all the way!

Actually, I wouldn't recommend the independent learning route to anyone who has the option to go to school. I have been learning Greek on my own as a consequence of getting married and having babies before completing my BA ;) I can't afford to go to school right now (nor do I have the time!) so I am left with no other choice than to learn the languages on my own.

Nevertheless, in reading Carl's description of a 'working knowledge of Biblical Greek' I certainly feel that I qualify. In fact, I probably got there faster than if I had been involved in a class, because I was able to get up early and do about a chapter a day of Mounce for a while until I had completed it. And then, instead of waiting for a new semester or for summer to end I was able to go straight into the Graded Reader and the intermediate textbooks, etc.

Recently I was curious how my skills might stack up against classroom educated students, so I audited an intermediate Greek/exegesis class at a local university. What I found were very few students who were actually passionate about what they were learning. Few spent any real time on their translations, and all seemed to simply be paying their dues before they could move on to systematic theology. I get that - I'm learning the languages to understand the Bible more completely as well - but I was nevertheless surprised at how few of my classmates were really taking the time and energy to learn Greek well. I came out of it glad that I never had a chance for that kind of attitude to rub off on me!

I don't mean to rant or toot my own horn, I just wanted to balance the discussion a bit when it comes to independent learning as someone who as been there (and is there!) There are resources out there that make it possible - though probably not ideal - to learn Greek outside of a classroom. B-Greek is one of those for sure. If someone wants to learn Greek they will learn Greek!
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