Steve's adventures (and misadventures) in Greek

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Steven R Stuve
Posts: 3
Joined: February 27th, 2018, 8:39 am

Steve's adventures (and misadventures) in Greek

Post by Steven R Stuve » February 27th, 2018, 9:48 am

I'm a hobbyist when it comes to Greek. I first started learning Greek (primary NT interests) back in about 1983 or so. I audited a course that was using Paine's Beginning Greek. I rather diligently took the traditional approach of memorizing paradigms and painfully translated a few sentences each day word by word. Fast forward to about 2010. I had kept at learning Greek on and off for decades. I don't know how many times I'd memorized (and re-memorized) various paradigm tables. I had slowly been making a bit of progress, but not enough for my satisfaction.

I decided to get serious about Greek. I had a good day job so spent some money on a small reference library (including things like LSJ). Around 2012 or 2013, I decided I had time so I started spending a few hours every evening working on Greek. I was making my own flashcards, drilling myself on things, diligently parsing and translating in John, carefully looking up words in LSJ and BDAG, and doing all the things I thought a good budding Greek student should do. After about 4 months of this, I realistically considered my progress. I frankly was not much better at reading Greek than I was back in the late 1980s. The reality was that at the rate I was going, I needed to either give up on Greek or pick what few texts I was going to slowly work through in my lifetime. I had been looking on the internet and was seeing many of the standard Greek sites. The plethora of paradigms and support materials based on traditional methods just confirmed to me that the approach I had been using seemed to be what everyone else learning Greek was using. I was about ready to give up and call it quits.

I then had my language learning world turned upside down. I accidentally ran across the old how-to-learn-any-language forum and found a world of successful language learners. There were people on there that were treating language learning like it something easy and natural to do. I spent perhaps 4 months absorbing post after post and thread after thread. I also found web sites and blogs by successful language learners that freely shared much of their experience and advice. What I found was a world of people well outside the realm of traditional education and academic systems that were acquiring solid language skills. My professional analysis of what I was finding was that this was a living laboratory of case studies trying a variety of methods of learning. I also found some among them that were familiar with the latest studies in learning and brain functions. The net result was that this was a world of people on the cutting edge of trying new things without being confined to the curriculum, schedules, and fixed standards of the traditional education and academic world. I started using my education background and analytics skills to start distilling everything I was reading into an actionable plan for improving my Greek skills and trying to learn another language (Spanish) from scratch. Within a few years (starting in my early 50s, hardly a prime time for becoming a new language learner), my Greek skills rapidly advanced and in about 3 to 4 months my Spanish skills were far more advanced than I had achieved with 2 years of university German back in the 80s.

I've now on my 3rd time reading through the Septuagint (using the old Brenton parallel text version so I have English in the margins for quick reference). I've been through the gospels and Acts several times. I find that I can comfortably read narratives with occasional glances at the English text for less common vocabulary and the occasional less common structure. Texts with more vocabulary intensive genres (e.g. Job or Psalms) and more nuanced sentence structures (e.g. various epistles) still require more effort on my part and looking some things up. The biggest thing is that I have successfully internalized many common parts of Greek. I rarely have to think about substantive cases anymore. I find that I simply can read most verb forms now without having to mentally parse them. I also find that I'm simply recognizing many of the more common irregular verbs. I also find that I now know many Greek words that I cannot remember having learned.

I'm also now starting to expand my reading to texts outside the LXX and GNT. I use the deuterocanonical books to "test" myself (since I am much less familiar with their contents) as well as early patristic writings. I do this perhaps every 3 to 6 months to measure my progress. I'm finding each time that more and more simply makes sense as I look at it. I've also started going through Xenophon's Anabasis. I'm now trying to identify some classic ancient Greek books that simply sound like fun that I want to read for pleasure and not just to improve my Greek reading skills.

I'm semi-retired and have started writing a beginning Greek course based on my adventures (misadventures?) in learning to *read* Greek. I've also been applying my hard sciences and analytics skills toward reorganizing how grammar is presented. I found that I ended up having to relearn much of what I thought I knew about cases and verb aspects from the traditional presentations I had memorized. The course I'm writing is heavily based on the philosophy and methods of the Assimil language courses. These are a series that are highly recommended by a few polyglots (people with solid skills in several languages). I tried the Assimil Spanish course and found it to be very effective. Within a few years of having started Spanish, I had finished reading the NVI version of the Bible and can enjoy watching a few sci-fi cartoons and various movies with Spanish subtitles and audio on Netflix.

I found this forum and decided to see what I could learn about the current state of Greek learning and teaching. I also wanted to find a sanity check to see if my skills and the methods I've been using are actually something respectable for an amateur to achieve, or if I'm just dabbling where everyone else was at years ago.
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Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1309
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Steve's adventures (and misadventures) in Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » February 27th, 2018, 12:50 pm

Greetings, Steve, and welcome to B-Greek. It's certainly an interesting journey you've had. In my case, all my early training in both Latin and Greek were in the grammar-translation method, and over the years I've had to retrain myself to really read the language(s) in the sense which you are talking about.

The most fun author ever in the history of the known universe (and several unknown ones as well) is Lucian of Samasota. Comedic dialogue, proto-science fiction, satire, irreverence, Lucian has it all, and his Greek is at a good level for those transitioning from the NT and the LXX. You could start with True History, but almost any of his works are worth it (okay, I'm slightly biased, having done my M.A. thesis on his De Morte Perigrini, but most people agree with me). There is also a lot of support for Lucian, including readers editions, such as:

https://www.amazon.com/Lucian-True-Stor ... ue+history

The authors allow a free PDF download of their text as well.

Another author good for Koine Greek students moving on to the wider world of Greek literature is Epictetus. Again, a google search should bring up various texts and support as well.

In terms of teaching, you should get to know Randall Buth's work (he is a long time contributor to this forum) and Michael Halcomb of the Conversational Koine Institute. Both use fresh approaches to learning the language which you will definitely find valuable, as I certainly have.

https://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com

http://www.conversationalkoine.com
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Steven R Stuve
Posts: 3
Joined: February 27th, 2018, 8:39 am

Re: Steve's adventures (and misadventures) in Greek

Post by Steven R Stuve » February 27th, 2018, 8:33 pm

I appreciate the input.

I tried reading Epictetus a few years ago and was not at a level where it wasn't going to be a lot of work. As part of my exploration of possible things to read lately, I checked out the first part of his Discourses. I'd been thinking about reading Enchiridion awhile ago. I didn't know anything about Lucian. I'll have to check his works out. I've found Project Perseus helpful for accessing texts online.

I recall finding Randall Buth's site a number of years ago. I think that approach has a lot of merit. I was not aware of CKI.
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Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1309
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Steve's adventures (and misadventures) in Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » February 28th, 2018, 12:52 pm

Also, let me encourage you to finish reading through the entire NT, especially if you are on your 3rd time through the LXX. Yes, Perseus is good (as long as you don't need the latest critical editions) but annotated reader editions for students launching into the intermediate-advanced stage can be be very helpful, particularly for self-learners.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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