Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

The forum for those who still struggle with morphology, syntax, and idiom, or who wish to discuss basic questions about the meaning of Greek texts, syntax, or words.
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Paul-Nitz
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Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Paul-Nitz » April 28th, 2015, 8:22 am

If you are beginning to learn Koine, choose an approach.

1. Learn to decode Greek. This is a valid option for a small percentage of learners. I'd highly recommend this approach for exceptionally good visual learners with a high ability for analysis and an easy ability at bridging from abstract to concrete. This type of learner is rare among the general populous (some say 4%). I would wager that nearly all living Greek scholars have these exceptional abilities and have learned Greek through the decoding approach. The almost universally used method within this approach is the "Grammar-Translation" method.
Resources for this approach are myriad. Typical university or seminary classes, a couple online courses (John Schwandt), and a thousand variations on Mounce's book. One of the best books in this vein is free: http://drshirley.org/greek/.

2. Learn Koine as a language. I would recommend this approach for normal learners.
Resources are few. Biblical Language Center seminars, Polis Institute classes, some online video conferencing courses (e.g. Sebastian Carnazzo), "Living Koine" Book 1, some scattered videos and audio files online, fellow learners online, and, most importantly, your own autodidact methods to take the language as genuine communication. After getting a foundation, many of the decoding resources (but not methods) can be useful. Others will be superfluous (e.g. dailydoseofgreek.com).

For the decoding route, pronunciation makes about as much difference as your choice of pronunciation for Java. But pronunciation is a key component of any language learning. Choose well.
  • Erasmian is an option, but it is awkward and contrived.

    I wouldn't consider Modern Greek an option. It cannot carry Koine since it has melded so many vowels in to iota. The typical example is that ἠμῖν and ὑμιν, if pronounced in Modern Greek, is indistinguishable... ιμιν ιμιν.

    I find Restored Attic attempts at pronouncing tone odd. I highly doubt that any 2nd language speaker (e.g. all Biblical writers) preserved an ancient tone system in their pronunciation. Besides, tone in Greek does not change meaning the way it does in other languages. The effort in learning tone doesn't seem to have any real pay-off.

    Restored Koine is the best option. It is based on solid research of historical pronunciation. It flows like a real language. There is some ambiguity in Restored Koine pronunciations (E.g. ὁ & ὦ, συ & σοι) but it is very manageable.
To go the language learning route and learn Restored Koine, start with Living Koine Book 1, MP4 version. http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Jonathan Robie » April 28th, 2015, 10:31 am

If you want to learn German or Spanish "as a language", you can easily find software like duolingo, Rosetta Stone, etc, listen to radio programs, watch television, go live in the country. Resources abound, and there are many native speakers. In addition to immersion, I've always found it very helpful to have (1) a simple grammar like "Essential French" or "Essential Dutch", and (2) a phrasebook - and you get those kinds of resources if you take a class in a modern language.

I think we need to get better at leveraging the corpus to get lots of real, appropriate examples for language learning. And we need to get better at leveraging the computer. Over time, I hope we grow the number of people who can teach the way that you, Buth, Louis, Daniel Streett, etc. advocate. But I'd also like to see us get to where the same kinds of resources I use for modern languages are available for Greek.

In the meantime, most learners don't have access to the kind of instruction you advocate, and the resources I would like to see don't exist. Most people who succeed do so by reading regularly, every day, and trying to understand how the texts they read say what they do. Even better if they listen to the texts read out loud. I don't think that has to be a grammar-translation method, and I do think that reading and listening are also valid forms of language experience. Writing simplified sentences, and variations on simplified sentences, is also helpful.

There's more than one way to learn. And more than two. That's true for modern languages, where many more approaches are available. And it's also true for ancient languages.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » April 28th, 2015, 2:28 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:If you want to learn German or Spanish "as a language", you can easily find software like duolingo, Rosetta Stone, etc, listen to radio programs, watch television, go live in the country. Resources abound, and there are many native speakers. In addition to immersion, I've always found it very helpful to have (1) a simple grammar like "Essential French" or "Essential Dutch", and (2) a phrasebook - and you get those kinds of resources if you take a class in a modern language.

I think we need to get better at leveraging the corpus to get lots of real, appropriate examples for language learning. And we need to get better at leveraging the computer. Over time, I hope we grow the number of people who can teach the way that you, Buth, Louis, Daniel Streett, etc. advocate. But I'd also like to see us get to where the same kinds of resources I use for modern languages are available for Greek.

In the meantime, most learners don't have access to the kind of instruction you advocate, and the resources I would like to see don't exist. Most people who succeed do so by reading regularly, every day, and trying to understand how the texts they read say what they do. Even better if they listen to the texts read out loud. I don't think that has to be a grammar-translation method, and I do think that reading and listening are also valid forms of language experience. Writing simplified sentences, and variations on simplified sentences, is also helpful.

There's more than one way to learn. And more than two. That's true for modern languages, where many more approaches are available. And it's also true for ancient languages.
This is going to be a long post – sorry – and I want to begin with a personal observation and a couple of ‘truisms’.

The personal observation is that I am indebted to Dr. Buth and his colleagues and am grateful for their pioneering work which will certainly change the learning/teaching of Biblical languages far into the future. I only wish I had discovered it earlier on my own learning journey. I am also, as I have said elsewhere, an admirer of the work Paul Nitz is doing in implementing a real language approach for Koine Greek AND making it available for all to observe. No one should miss the opportunity to do so.

Now the truisms:
1. Pioneers and pioneering movements tend to divide their area of interest into black and white for obvious reasons. “οὐδεὶς πιὼν παλαιὸν θέλει νέον λέγει γάρ ὁ παλαιὸς χρηστός ἐστιν.” The world is not really black and white, though, and the human brain seems almost unbounded in its ability to adapt.

2. The way that you changed the world from a marketing perspective in 1950 was to develop elaborate strategies, invest mountains of money, price your product very carefully, foster brand loyalty, open regional offices, tightly control distribution, and brand, brand, brand.

The way to change the world in the age of the global village is to get the product out the door. Give it away! Pay people to take it! Whatever you have to do – get it out there! Many a young Bill Gates has learned that, aside from any philanthropic or moral considerations, δίδοτε, καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν is a pretty sound business principal in the 21st century.

Jonathan is right, and I think he said it rather well, and he has said it before. Stephen Hughes also made the same point elsewhere, as have I. Access and opportunity are what it is about. For a long time the complaint of the pioneers was that the language community was not listening. Now I wonder if they are listening. Or perhaps there needs to be a new group who will market the ideas. We see it! We get it! WHERE IS IT? Where is it, that is, for a price that is reasonable (i.e. most of us can handle) and in a form that we can easily implement. I have effective products for learning modern Greek and Spanish, and I have them for a very modest price. There are also many other resources which I can access easily online - often for free, as Jonathan has pointed out.

I think also that there has been a tendency, in the larger language community, to claim there is only one possible way to do the thing. (Every generation seems to rediscover the one path!) Practitioners know better. There is a whole range of successful approaches to language acquistion which work very well, notwithstanding the backwardness of the Biblical languages community. The underlying principals may be the same but the scope of effective methods is quite broad.
Paul Nitz wrote: 1. Learn to decode Greek. This is a valid option for a small percentage of learners. …

2. Learn Koine as a language. I would recommend this approach for normal learners. …
I think you’ve set up a straw man here, Paul. To divide everthing into these two groups obscures all that happens in between the two extremes. I believe it is a false dichotomy. Much good happens in between the extremes, as has already been said.
Paul Nitz wrote: For the decoding route, pronunciation makes about as much difference as your choice of pronunciation for Java. But pronunciation is a key component of any language learning. Choose well.
This is silly, and there is a long line of successful Biblical language students who would say so.
Paul Nitz wrote: Erasmian is an option, but it is awkward and contrived.

I wouldn't consider Modern Greek an option. It cannot carry Koine since it has melded so many vowels in to iota. The typical example is that ἠμῖν and ὑμιν, if pronounced in Modern Greek, is indistinguishable... ιμιν ιμιν.

I find Restored Attic attempts at pronouncing tone odd. I highly doubt that any 2nd language speaker (e.g. all Biblical writers) preserved an ancient tone system in their pronunciation. Besides, tone in Greek does not change meaning the way it does in other languages. The effort in learning tone doesn't seem to have any real pay-off.

Restored Koine is the best option. It is based on solid research of historical pronunciation. It flows like a real language. There is some ambiguity in Restored Koine pronunciations (E.g. ὁ & ὦ, συ & σοι) but it is very manageable.
Generally, I agree with you here, but I think you are overstating some things and understating others. Restored IS the best option for Koine Greek. All things being equal it would be my choice, and it will be when the resources are available. Meantime, I need – at a reasonable price - a New Testament narrated professionally, which I and my students can listen to. The lack of such a resource is the single biggest reason why I chose modern when I switched from Erasmian.

I agree that the heavy ‘iotaization’ of modern creates some difficulties. However, for me and many others it certainly IS a viable option. My understanding is that many people are using it successfully. Again, all things being equal, and when the resources are available, I still would/will choose restored.

I do also think, however, that you somewhat understate the same issue with regard to restored Koine. There is a good deal of uniquity lost by dropping all of the rough breathing sounds – which is true, of course, for both modern and restored. (When I look at what is lost, I really have to wonder whether there wasn’t at least some of the rough breathing still in use during the Koine era.) There are also other sounds obscured by such changes in restored and modern as “υ” and “β” to a “v” sound, and having the same sound for “ο” and “ω”, which you already mentioned.
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Paul-Nitz
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Paul-Nitz » April 28th, 2015, 4:45 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote: Paul Nitz wrote:
1. Learn to decode Greek. This is a valid option for a small percentage of learners. …

2. Learn Koine as a language. I would recommend this approach for normal learners. …

I think you’ve set up a straw man here, Paul. To divide everthing into these two groups obscures all that happens in between the two extremes. I believe it is a false dichotomy. Much good happens in between the extremes, as has already been said.
I stated things absolutely, as advice for beginners. I'm sincerely trying to understand how this is a "straw man," but the figure doesn't make sense to me in this context. "False dichotomy" I understand better.

I personally would not advise a beginner to choose "both/and" whether they were learning Koine or a living language. Consider that the two approaches are quite fundamentally different ways of learning and thinking. If a learner chooses a communicative route, he or she needs to get into a language learning mode. In early stages, dabbling in decoding interferes and pulls a person into a different way of approaching the learning and understanding the language.. I do think it is a real choice.

Thomas Dolhanty wrote: Paul Nitz wrote:
For the decoding route, pronunciation makes about as much difference as your choice of pronunciation for Java. But pronunciation is a key component of any language learning. Choose well.

This is silly, and there is a long line of successful Biblical language students who would say so.
I surrender. A pronunciation choice does matter if you will take a decoding route..., a little bit. By contrast, it matters a great deal how you pronounce the language if you will be communicating in it. Thus the failed attempt at a hyperbole.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » April 28th, 2015, 6:09 pm

Paul Nitz wrote:I stated things absolutely, as advice for beginners. I'm sincerely trying to understand how this is a "straw man," but the figure doesn't make sense to me in this context. "False dichotomy" I understand better.

I personally would not advise a beginner to choose "both/and" whether they were learning Koine or a living language. Consider that the two approaches are quite fundamentally different ways of learning and thinking. If a learner chooses a communicative route, he or she needs to get into a language learning mode. In early stages, dabbling in decoding interferes and pulls a person into a different way of approaching the learning and understanding the language.. I do think it is a real choice.
I guess my “straw man” metaphor had to do with your perception that you can only do communicative alone or deductive alone, but not both, and then eliminating the latter. Perhaps it’s a wrong metaphor altogether, because as I understand you, that is indeed your conviction. For me, the matter does not seem so simple.

I think that there often was some measure of ‘communicative’ happening for many following the standard approach to learning Greek down through the years. Those who listened to text narrated, and sought to use the language in some degree or other to express themselves have achieved fluency to some degree. I think of Zwingli and his colleagues who actually seemed to have learned to speak in Biblical Greek while certainly not abandoning their formal study of the language. There also was the Greek used for expression between intellectuals in an earlier age. But even for just the ordinary bloke, I suspect there have been many over the ages who have learned to express themselves to some degree in Greek, while carrying on with the normal method of learning basic morphology, syntax, vocab, etc.

Perhaps the biggest difference in modern times, as many have noted, is the sheer lack of time given to the venture. As Daniel Streett has pointed out, it takes a lot of time to become truly functional in any language.

I have a group of students who have completed the basic grammar of Koine Greek, where we have placed much emphasis on reading the text, so that they already read their Greek NT quite well, and they read aloud very well for those who are just completing first year. (‘Reading’, I know, is a relative term.) Next year we plan to spend much time on reading Biblical text, review basic grammar, and spend a very considerable amount of time doing communicative – likely leaning hard on TPRS. Perhaps I am totally deluded, but I think they can do that, gain considerable fluency in the language, and not suffer too much for having done a year of basic grammar. In fact, I suppose that I am not convinced that you can’t combine the methods, and I think I see that even in TPRS, where many use translation as the medium to establish meaning, and where writing often plays an important role fairly early on and thus - whatever you call it – grammar.

In observing the range of successful modern language programs, including TPRS, it seems viable to me to be able to combine the approaches. However, as old Ahab said, “Boast when you’re taking your armour off, not when you’re putting it on.” You clearly have achieved some impressive successes with the communicative approach, and are motivating us all, while I am still trying to get the armour on! :D I think that active communication and study methods have always been combined successfully by some, and the modern Biblical language dilemma is an aberration. But, as I said, I have yet to demonstrate that in my personal learning, and in those studying with me. It’s next!

My biggest problem now is the awful paucity of resources for teaching Biblical Greek as a real language.
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Jonathan Robie » April 28th, 2015, 6:13 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:I stated things absolutely, as advice for beginners. I'm sincerely trying to understand how this is a "straw man," but the figure doesn't make sense to me in this context. "False dichotomy" I understand better.

I personally would not advise a beginner to choose "both/and" whether they were learning Koine or a living language. Consider that the two approaches are quite fundamentally different ways of learning and thinking. If a learner chooses a communicative route, he or she needs to get into a language learning mode. In early stages, dabbling in decoding interferes and pulls a person into a different way of approaching the learning and understanding the language.. I do think it is a real choice.
When you learn modern languages, you use a variety of resources. As I said before, combining Duolingo, Essential Spanish, and a tourist phrase book is a lot more useful than any one of these resources. I'd love to learn New Testament Greek the same way. We don't have the resources for that yet.

A few fortunate people have access to teachers who use the communicative approach you advocate, but that's still very few. Your advice is probably good for those few. One of the sessions at SBL 2015 focuses on finding ways to produce computer-based resources that can help with this situation. I think we're far from where we want to be. Until we have such resources, I don't think we should discourage people from using other approaches.

Reading and listening are important parts of language learning for modern languages, and I don't think that's any different for NT Greek. Many beginners are motivated primarily by interest in written texts. Dismissing these approaches as 'decoding' is not accurate, and discourages beginners from using the approaches that are probably most widely available.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Stephen Carlson » April 28th, 2015, 7:21 pm

I recently took a "living languages" approach to learning a foreign language. It was Swedish, in Sweden. I had 15 classroom hours a week for eight months, taught entirely in Swedish by a native speaker trained in second language instruction, and with ready access to Swedish speakers and Swedish media. Despite all that, though I can read Swedish with some fluency (a dictionary is still necessary, however), I still feel like a beginner when it comes to oral comprehension and production, and written composition. I can converse with fellow immigrants in our limited ways, but talking to natives needs a much higher level of competence. (We all had foreign accents, of course, so pronunciation only had to be just good enough for our purposes to distinguish phonemes.)

Though I feel like I've internalized a fair chunk of the basic core of the language (though still stumbling over the V2 syntax, the verb-particle combinations, etc.), I feel there is still a lot more to learn when it comes to reading literary texts, which employ vocabulary and grammatical constructions in ways not part of my living-language instruction. These can only be learned by substantial exposure to them.

For Koine Greek, I'm not aware of any program that allows the student to invest in this level of instruction. My divinity school offered the classroom-hour equivalent of 15% of this over a full year, and a four-week, 90-hour, intensive course comes to about 25% of this in classroom hours. It's simply not there, or if there is, it's too expensive in both time and money. Plus, if the goal is to learn to read ancient texts, one should be aware the main focus of a living language approach is on oral skills (production and comprehension). Yes, there should a trickle-down effect to reading texts, but there is nonetheless a substantial investment of time (and money) into skills that don't directly pertain to the reading of ancient texts. And even if you were able to make the investment, the level of language use in the text you want to read is beyond what any classroom can provide, so you are still in the same boat of learning a lot of vocabulary and grammatical structures not present in classroom interaction. In other words, resources like BDAG and BDF will still be necessary.

I know there's a lot of promotion nowadays about the benefits of a living language approach to Koine Greek. There is much about it that I like and support, and it you have the time and money, I recommend it. But at the same time, it is not a panacea or magic bullet to learning to read Koine Greek texts. If you want to do that, you still have a lot of work to do that no classroom can provide. You just have to spend time--a lot of time--in the texts. Everybody has to do this. There is no royal road to learning Koine.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » April 28th, 2015, 10:53 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I recently took a "living languages" approach to learning a foreign language. It was Swedish, in Sweden. I had 15 classroom hours a week for eight months, taught entirely in Swedish by a native speaker trained in second language instruction, and with ready access to Swedish speakers and Swedish media. ...

Though I feel like I've internalized a fair chunk of the basic core of the language (though still stumbling over the V2 syntax, the verb-particle combinations, etc.), I feel there is still a lot more to learn ...

For Koine Greek, I'm not aware of any program that allows the student to invest in this level of instruction. .... And even if you were able to make the investment, the level of language use in the text you want to read is beyond what any classroom can provide, so you are still in the same boat of learning a lot of vocabulary and grammatical structures not present in classroom interaction. In other words, resources like BDAG and BDF will still be necessary.

I know there's a lot of promotion nowadays about the benefits of a living language approach to Koine Greek. There is much about it that I like and support, and it you have the time and money, I recommend it. But at the same time, it is not a panacea or magic bullet to learning to read Koine Greek texts. If you want to do that, you still have a lot of work to do that no classroom can provide. You just have to spend time--a lot of time--in the texts. Everybody has to do this. There is no royal road to learning Koine.
It helps to bring this kind of perspective, and to ask oneself what you really want and what you're willing to invest to get it. It is honest too, I think, to set the same perspective before students at the outset. Your experience reminds me very much of a young friend who graduated from a seminary in London, and who is now working in southern France with university students. After a year of intensive language training in Paris, and another year on site, he is just beginning to feel like he's gaining some facility with the language - and still very much like a beginner. He is still being tutored on a weekly basis, in exchange for tutoring in English.

I would like to be able to read Koine Greek 'intelligently', meaning that I would like to be able to query the text in Greek, and to be able to weigh the 'grammar' and the 'literature' of a passage, not in an artificial way but to really 'feel' it. I would like to be able to speak / write basic sentences in Koine, and to know a good sentence from an excellent sentence from a poor sentence. I do not need to be able to dialogue at a sophisticated level, but I would like to be able, for example - extempore - to describe a passage of Greek text in Greek. As you have rightly pointed out, this involves a whole lot more than just gaining some oral skills. On the other hand, my experience with communicative so far is very promising as an aid to help get me down that path (and to help others get there).

I found it very helpful when Paul laid out clearly the program and the progress of his students, and what the expectations were after three years. Clearly, it would not be easy to implement such a program in the typical North American scene. I think a hybrid is possible.

Actually, as an afterthought, Paul's program would work very well, I think, as an enrichment program in middle or senior level schools, and a perfect way to introduce that age level to Greek.
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Jonathan Robie » April 29th, 2015, 7:47 am

I was a German literature major for a couple of years as an undergraduate, and took some graduate level classes. At the upper levels, we read texts in German and discussed them - in German - at the same level at which we would discuss an English text in another class. My German was far from perfect, but I was able to participate.

That's what I would like to be able to do in the class that I teach on Sundays, but I'm far from being able to do that. I can't even guide people through with fairly basic questions about the text. But to me, that's what fluency looks like for people who are primarily interested in discussing texts.

Language can be very specific to a domain. When I lived in Germany, I could discuss computer hardware and software and architecture in German, but when my wife and family joined me after a few months, I found that I had no idea how to say things like "diapers", "good night kisses", or "tickle", and I didn't know what "bussi" meant. I think it's legitimate to focus on the kind of language that is most important to students.

To me, Buth and his progeny are a huge leap forward. But I don't think we're quite there yet. There's a lot of work to be done.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Your Learning Approach & Pronunciation

Post by Barry Hofstetter » April 29th, 2015, 9:05 am

Let's not forget the Conversational Koine Institute:

http://www.conversationalkoine.com/
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