Stephen Carlson wrote:I certainly agree with the advice to just read more Greek. I would also note that as your familiarity with Greek increases, you'll get more out of reading the reference works because you'll also be able to relate what they discuss to what you've read.
I wish there were an easy way to explain this to people who haven't "gotten there" yet. Jonathan Robie and I were actually discussing this at lunch yesterday. Different people learn more successfully in different ways. In my later years -- i.e. ten years after retiring from teaching -- I've come ever more profoundly to believe that the "grammar-translation" pedagogy for ancient Greek will bring very few people to an ability to think and read with some fluency -- and yet, it does seem to work for some, and I know of one or two very successful teachers who use the method (I'm aware that some will dispute this altogether).
What I am now convinced of is that understanding written or spoken Greek does not depend on understanding the grammar of a Greek text or utterance or being able to explain how or why it is intelligible. I don't believe it's possible to speak or write intelligibly about how or why a Greek text or utterance means what it does unless those discussing it already understand quite clearly what the text or utterance means. Grammar may help to explain why the phrasing of a text or utterance is wrong, but that grammar must depend upon a recognition of "correct usage." I think that such recognition is probably intuitive even if it is acquired; the question is, "How does one acquire it?" Playwrights and actors and novelists are praised for having an "ear" to speech patterns characteristic of some particular social milieu; I think it is the same faculty that enables the successful student of any language to discern what's right or wrong in an utterance heard or a text read.
If that is true, then it has a bearing on the curious fact that grammars are more useful to those who already know a language than they are to beginning students. Stephen said something in another thread this morning that is à propos
here: that rules which don't help one in composing "correct" Greek aren't very helpful. So what does help? Listening to people talk to each other in the language and speaking to them; living in the midst of native speakers and reading texts written by good writers in a language is ultimately worth more than reading all the textbooks and grammatical treatises ever written. The upshot of all this is: if you can't go and spend a week or a month or a year or two in an ancient Greek-speaking community, then keep on reading all kinds of texts composed by native-speakers/writers of ancient Greek.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ἄτοπον, ἔφη, λέγεις εἰκόνα καὶ δεσμώτας ἀτόπους.
ὁμοίους ἡμῖν, ἦν δʼ ἐγώ. Plato, Rep. 7 (515a)