The Learner's Conundrum

Resources and methods for teaching and learning New Testament Greek.

The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 21st, 2012, 10:53 pm

When an excited student of the Bible decides to go to college because they want to learn more about the Bible (both NT and OT), they most likely have many wildly unfulfillable expectations. But that’s not what they think. Some students have already picked their majors, others, not so much. In most colleges (at least in my time), a person needed to have some many credits in different dispersions of academic focus: physical education, language, mathematics and science, philosophy or religion, culture and sociology, among others. Early on, a person may have only one or two open slots to fill, and so they decide to take a class in Koine Greek, the language of the NT. Secretly, they think they might even get a minor or even major in it. How cool would it be to be able to read the NT in Greek! They may have had Spanish in high school, and depending on how they were taught, could probably converse with co-students who spoke Spanish as their native language. They are convinced, of course, that the college that they are attending is teaching the latest and greatest, the best method, after all, with Rosetta Stone and other software language learning is now soooo easy.

When they get to their first class, they are very excited. They learn the alphabet is different. They don’t hear their teacher say any Greek words other than χαῖρε. They are told that Koine Greek, the language of the Bible is a dead language. No one speaks it. They are also told that Modern Greek is very different from ancient Greek; It is by a factor of 70%, a different language, and would be little help to them in understanding any biblical Greek. Their professor, who has a passion for Greek, is filled with enthusiasm, telling the students that learning ancient Greek, a dead language is not quite the same as learning a modern spoken language. “We will be talking about Greek in English, for the most part, and after several years, you may be able to read a couple of verses, translating them into English, word by word. I know it is a lot of hard work, but believe me, the reward is far beyond all comprehension. You are reading the very words which were penned by Paul, Peter, James, Mark, and the other writers of the New Testament.”

The alphabet lesson went well. The student has been given a one-to-one corresponding sound for letter phonology mapping. Greek is much easier than English, when it comes to spelling. His teacher tells him that the pronunciation he uses is used by all of academia and was codified by Erasmus, almost 800 years ago. They are also told that modern Greek is very different than Koine Greek, and is impossible to be used when reading NT Greek). Modern Greeks use a different NT than we are using (modern evangelical or secular scholars who use the critical apparatus Nestle-Aland / United Bible Societies versions of the NT.)

The second lesson, the student being primed….”I’ve learned every letter and its sound.” is about a chart that is written on the board. “Before we can start reading any Greek, we need to learn many different nouns. Greek has about 23 different ways to form nouns, but don’t fret, this is easy. Almost all nouns are either 1st or 2nd declension. These nouns are easy and predictable. The word ἔστιν means “is.” A βίβλος ἐστὶν A BOOK. What am I holding? Yes, a BIBLOS. Very good, my student.

As the quarter progresses, the student learns that the only way he can understand an ancient language is to translate every word into English. This happens word by word. “You have to be especially careful and diligent and pay attention to different spellings,” says the teacher. “We want to exegete the NT. Every word has a different form and thus a different meaning. When you learn forms, you learn meanings. You need to memorize the forms of βίβλος.” The teacher reads the Greek words with a consistent sound rendition, but is totally oblivious that he is not accenting the words as the word is written. (The student is unaware of this.)

As time passes, the student is repeatedly made aware of the fact that Greek is a DEAD language. No one speaks it. You cannot learn a DEAD Language like a modern spoken language. You must learn the paradigms and declensions. “You have to be able to spit back out the Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative and Vocative forms of any word, both in the singular and plural. When you read a sentence, search it for the main verb, this may take a little bit of time, but remember the forms. You can recognize these words. I have confidence in you.”
When a student has master these forms, and can find the main verb in a sentence or clause, and he/she has gained the teacher’s approval by getting them correct on a test. the student is empowered. “I’m getting a hang of this.” They begin to think. “If I can just get my declensions (for nouns and adjectives) and paradigms down (for particlples and verbs), I can learn to READ the NT.”

The next five classes are classes where the teacher introduces many new charts. Its only one chart a week. Then he gets to the imperfect, 2nd aorist and 1st aorist. They are taught the Imperfect first, even though it occurs 80% less than aorist forms. At the seventh week, the enthusiastic student starts becoming overwhelmed by the number of charts he is expected to have under his/her control. It’s now up to 13 charts of 8-9 items each. That means that the student now has to have immediate recall of about 117 forms. In another five weeks, the student has been given another 12 charts to memorize. Now there are about 200 charts to memorize. He/she is told that “If you have these charts memorized, you will be able to identify them when you read any given word, and learn to associate that word with one of those patterns. It takes a while, but your mind will learn to associate these forms with the meaning the forms encompass.”

The student, formerly enthusiastic, now begins to think that ancient Greek is way more difficult a task than he/she first thought. “If I have to make 15 decisions about every word, how will I ever be able to read even a couple of words? “ they ask themselves. By the 20th week, and another 15 charts, they are told, “You already know these forms. You just have to interpolate them against the other forms you already know.” At this point, the enthusiastic achiever begins to think and doubt that they could ever learn to read with any degree of fluency, “It’s a dead language, after all. What was I thinking?”

At 25 weeks out, they make a decision, “This reading the NT in its original Greek is only for scholars who have years to prepare for this. I have to learn a skill and be able to provide income for me and my family. If I get some time, I really want to be able to learn how to read the GNT in Greek, but that is something that would take me 5-10 years to do. It’s going on hold, until I have more time.” Many of these students never come back. Many just settle for English translations. ‘MY PROF SAID IT WAS DIFFICULT. I WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE ABLE TO READ THE GREEK NT. I’M STICKING WITH TRANSLATIONS. THERE IS NO SHAME IN THAT, TRANSLATIONS ARE NOW SO MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE. AND IF I REALLY WONDER WHAT THE GREEK REALLY MEANS, I CAN CONSULT AN INTERLINEAR.”

Do teachers of New Testament Greek really have to settle for this somewhat typical scenario? Is this scenario stilted to the left and misrepresents teaching in colleges and universities?
Louis L Sorenson
 
Posts: 584
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 9:21 pm
Location: Burnsville, MN, USA

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Wayne Kirk » March 22nd, 2012, 9:23 am

Is the community desiring a more communicative approach truly so small? Are we B-Greekers really that far out of the mainstream? Outside of Randall Buth, Christophe Rico, and a few others, are there any serious scholars working on developing fluency curricula?

I have to wonder if the reason we don't see a larger movement within academia is that it would be viewed as an admission of failure?
Wayne Kirk
 
Posts: 27
Joined: January 1st, 2012, 11:32 pm

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 22nd, 2012, 9:37 am

Wayne Kirk wrote:I have to wonder if the reason we don't see a larger movement within academia is that it would be viewed as an admission of failure?


I don't think so. I think the reasons are very simple. Suppose you want to teach a class 100% in Greek - what textbooks do you use? What materials do you use to prepare for class? What phrases do you use for discussing grammatical constructions? What outside materials can you point people to - e.g. free online videos?

How does the teacher become fluent in spoken Greek to start with?

In high tech marketing, we speak of crossing the chasm, going from a small number of very motivated early adopters to a more mainstream market. Early adopters are willing to ignore the fact that a lot of stuff just isn't there yet, and you can harness their enthusiasm to work out the bugs, promote the approach, and develop new materials. But it won't go mainstream until the kind of person who is not an early adopter feels confident using that approach. Of course, to get that kind of confidence, you need testimonials from early adopters.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
Jonathan Robie
 
Posts: 1474
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby cwconrad » March 22nd, 2012, 9:59 am

After teaching Beginning Greek (and observing others teaching it) off and on (mostly on) for more than forty years and ten years after retirement, I'm somewhat wary of the danger of overgeneralizations about pedagogy. I think I've observed a very great range of student experiences in the first-year Greek classroom, a good deal of it counter to what I expected. I have seen extraordinary success achieved by students of better-than-average but not first-rate minds and I have seen failure by exceptionally bright students. Sometimes diligence and industry reap great rewards in classes that one wouldn't think fruitful. When I first learned Greek I had the worst textbook imaginable. I don't doubt that the better pedagogy for ancient Greek is that of immersive communication in the language, but I think also that it's not really true that students can't succeed unless they learn that way. The mix of the individual student, the individual instructor, the textbook, the method, and a few incalculables can make for widely-varied results. I think that some students come through a class emphasizing the grammar/translation method with a solid foundation in ancient Greek and go on to become scholars -- mirabile dictu! And God forbid we should ever suppose that people who can't read the GNT are excluded from a fully meaningful experience of the Biblical text. Daniel Streett had a blog entry not too terribly long ago with the rubric: "The perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good." I think that, while we endeavor to maximize the factors that make for successful learning of ancient Greek, we should be careful not to disparage schools and teachers and students doing "the best they can with what they've got." There are more factors involved in any particular successful learning experience than can be readily calculated. I reiterate that what I'm warning about here is the peril of overgeneralization. The teacher too confronts a conundrum and must make do with the students and the textbooks and the classroom resources at hand.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
cwconrad
 
Posts: 1278
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Wayne Kirk » March 22nd, 2012, 10:44 am

Jonathan has a very good point about "going mainstream". I spent my first ten years as a professional working in I.T. I was an early adopter of all things technical. Beta didn't matter to me. I'd play around with alpha releases. But my users would have been completely frustrated by the experience. So I completely understand where Jonathan is coming from. And please don't think I'm throwing rocks at professors who employ more traditional methods of pedagogy. I'm quite thankful for them. I just wonder what can be done to accelerate the adoption of more communicative methods.

And the statement Carl quotes about the "perfect sometimes being the enemy of the good" is spot it. I don't know. I'm certainly over my head in this discussion. I don't have 20, 30, 40 years, or more in studying and reading Greek. I'm a neophyte. As such, I look at Spanish, French, and German curricula and naively ask, why not so with Koine?
Wayne Kirk
 
Posts: 27
Joined: January 1st, 2012, 11:32 pm

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 22nd, 2012, 1:47 pm

Wayne Kirk wrote:Jonathan has a very good point about "going mainstream". I spent my first ten years as a professional working in I.T. I was an early adopter of all things technical. Beta didn't matter to me. I'd play around with alpha releases. But my users would have been completely frustrated by the experience. So I completely understand where Jonathan is coming from. And please don't think I'm throwing rocks at professors who employ more traditional methods of pedagogy. I'm quite thankful for them. I just wonder what can be done to accelerate the adoption of more communicative methods.


For what it's worth, I've spent much of my career developing alpha releases for people like you. And I do like innovation. I'm also very positive toward the Living Languages folks.

But most new work is still being done outside the Living Languages camp, because it is a very small camp at this point. So when people post to B-Greek to tell us about exciting things they have found, let's be careful not to sniff and point out that it's not taking a Living Languages approach. Especially in areas where the Living Languages camp does not yet have similar things to offer.

Wayne Kirk wrote:And the statement Carl quotes about the "perfect sometimes being the enemy of the good" is spot it. I don't know. I'm certainly over my head in this discussion. I don't have 20, 30, 40 years, or more in studying and reading Greek. I'm a neophyte. As such, I look at Spanish, French, and German curricula and naively ask, why not so with Koine?


Yes, but look at all the resources you have for teaching any of those languages with a living approach. Surely some rich person should give Randall and Louis a grant to produce materials like that, or we should find a business model, or whatever ...
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
Jonathan Robie
 
Posts: 1474
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 22nd, 2012, 9:30 pm

I wrote accurately or inaccurately

Do teachers of New Testament Greek really have to settle for this somewhat typical scenario? Is this scenario stilted to the left and misrepresents teaching in colleges and universities?


The thrust of the post is towards promotion of using language as a vehicle of communication to teach and learn it. But that's not really only what I was intending. There are few grammars out there which help one learn via living language methods (Buth, Rico, Rouse's Greek Boy at Home and First Greek Course, and Anne Mahoney's update of Rouse's book which is a complete rewrite.) The proven history of current NT pedagogy is that a select few ever learn to read with fluency. The dropout rate for all second language learners in universities (all languages), is perhaps 50%. Koine NT Greek dropouts (people who do not continue past the first year or drop in the first year) are perhaps 60%. The Ancient Hebrew student dropout rate is perhaps 75%. (I would like to get solid figures on these numbers, but do not know where to get them). Why is this dropout rate so high? What can be done to ameliorate it? What modern technologies can help?

What I was thinking about, when I wrote this post was my nephew. He is a devout believer and is enrolled at a major Christian college/university with intents to become a chaplain in the armed forces. He took Greek. He was thrilled to be taking Greek. Before he took his Greek course, he was taking passages of the Bible and comparing side-by-side seven different translations of the GNT. This was a smart kid who needed to learn Greek. He learned via Clayton Croy's fine book. He told me that his teacher taught the class, and when the teacher was done presenting the lesson, he had the students do their exercises or study in class. The teacher left 10 to 15 minutes of each lesson not speaking to the class. To me, it was a total waste of valuable time. But I don't know the teacher and I don't know if the teacher went around helping students with their work and answering personal questions.

I tried to get my nephew to attend my ending 1st year class. I opened a GNT to John 3 and asked him to see if he could translate anything. He knew a couple of words, but totally fell flat. That could have been because he was under stress of performance. I don't know. But it really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Modern day technology, and understanding of language learning, and language learning software is so much more advanced than it was 50 years ago. I know Rod Decker uses technology to make his class lively. Bill Mounce has videos. There are software packages, such as Logos and other online programs such as Eton College, and Mastronarde's sites which utilize video instruction, form recognition, and flash card applications. But none of this goes beyond the word, form, or phrase. I was excited to see Harold Kime's post about a new NT grammar that has stories and passages, and that he writes that context is needed when learners are starting to put things together. (I've looked at a few of his stories, and his grammar is definitely (especially his workbook) different from the average grammar. I think the genius of those who write grammars is in their workbooks and/or exercises).

But that aside, from that. I know that 99% of NT Greek instruction in the world happens via the Grammar-translation method. Most teachers don't really understand what methodology they are using when they are teaching. They are simply teaching the way they learned, and then fine-tuning their methods to fit their style. There are great teachers who have a good grasp of Greek grammar. But I wonder, if I give those teachers an unseen passage from Epictetus which is not full of special vocab, if most of those teachers could understand and read the passage without several hours of preparation. This situation may be different from public university to small parochial Bible colleges. One of the 'gives' of the grammar-translation method, is that you do not need to be fluent in the language to teach the language.

So how can teachers who teach via the grammar-translation method get the student to get enough repetitions of structures and read larger content than is presented in most grammars? How can they use new technology to entice and excite students of NT Greek (most of these students are people who are motivated learners, unlike those grammar school students of yester-year). How can my nephew be inspired to learn Greek, and not be satisfied with relegating to use of translations or interlinears? Should not the advancement in our understanding of how language is learned and our mastery and promulgation of technology make a significant difference in competence of the Greek student? A student in 2010 should be way more competent and learn quicker than in the 1950's. There are so many more new tools? Have we gone forward or backward in passing the ability to READ GREEK WITH EASE to our students?
Louis L Sorenson
 
Posts: 584
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 9:21 pm
Location: Burnsville, MN, USA

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby cwconrad » March 23rd, 2012, 7:21 am

Louis L Sorenson wrote:So how can teachers who teach via the grammar-translation method get the student to get enough repetitions of structures and read larger content than is presented in most grammars? How can they use new technology to entice and excite students of NT Greek (most of these students are people who are motivated learners, unlike those grammar school students of yester-year). How can my nephew be inspired to learn Greek, and not be satisfied with relegating to use of translations or interlinears? Should not the advancement in our understanding of how language is learned and our mastery and promulgation of technology make a significant difference in competence of the Greek student? A student in 2010 should be way more competent and learn quicker than in the 1950's. There are so many more new tools? Have we gone forward or backward in passing the ability to READ GREEK WITH EASE to our students?


The ability to READ GREEK WITH EASE has not been a common thing for very many people for a long time; it is certainly NOT becoming more common. My sense is that the numbers and the success may be improving slightly in colleges and universities but that it is very, very rapidly diminishing in the seminaries.

I appreciate the lamentation about the sorry state of ancient Greek pedagogy in general and I sympathize with the impatience voiced here as well as the fervent wish that the technological opportunities might quickly lead to radical improvement in the success rate for new students of Greek. Nevertheless, enthusiasm and a yearning for quick results are no substitute for patience, industry, and self-application -- especially where those hi-tech tools are not readily available and the teachers do not themselves speak ancient Greek. As Ptolemy said of geometry, so is it with ancient Greek: there is no royal road that will take one there. And the schools and teachers that have the tools and competence to help are few and far between -- and that's not going to change soon (if at all). Our discipline is at the low end of education's supply-and-demand curve and governments are not now particulary generous at funding this kind of education. If one can afford it, I'd say go to where those few teachers are now; if not, it depends almost wholly on one's own efforts to make the most of the accessible tools.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
cwconrad
 
Posts: 1278
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714

Re: The Learner's Conundrum

Postby Jonathan Robie » March 23rd, 2012, 8:56 am

cwconrad wrote:If one can afford it, I'd say go to where those few teachers are now; if not, it depends almost wholly on one's own efforts to make the most of the accessible tools.


Who are the few really good teachers of Greek? Can we make a list?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
Jonathan Robie
 
Posts: 1474
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm


Return to Teaching and Learning Greek

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest