Re: reading for vocabulary

From: G. Ross (
Date: Mon Sep 21 1998 - 17:46:34 EDT

-----Original Message-----
From: yochanan bitan <>
To: Biblical Greek <>
Cc: b-greek <>
Date: Sunday, September 20, 1998 2:27 AM
Subject: fw: reading for vocabulary

>dear gordon,
>[deleted] i was very glad to hear
>someone talk about language learning for what it is.

Thank you. :-)


>a different perspective on reading:
>although reading comprehension is great at an intermediate stage of
>language learning, many theorists would balk at teaching reading where zero
>practical skills had been developed in listening or speaking.
> reading is like a third or fourth gear in a car, great for travelling
>places and fully expanding vocabulary and understanding -- but not so
>good for starting on a hill :-) .

With regard to learning some languages, especially those whose written form
differs drastically from the native language of the learner, i.e., Asian
languages for English speakers (readers): Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc -- I
agree. However, the Greek writing system is not all that different from
English. Once one has learned how to pronounce the Greek alphabet and a
representative sample of Greek words, phrases, and sentences, one is ready
to begin focusing on developing the skill of reading comprehension. Short
grammar lessons, explained in English, a limited vocabulary list with
English glosses, short passages for reading and exercises (true/false,
multiple choice, fill-in, all in Greek and using vocabulary already studied)
are all that are necessary, in my opinion, to help the beginning student
learn to read Greek. I am talking here now of the adult student whose
native language is English and whose primary (perhaps only) goal is to learn
how read Greek. In this case, reading skills are primary; all others are

I learned elementary Greek (classical) by correspondence -- thus only silent
reading, written production of grammatical forms, and written translation --
so I didn't hear it pronounced until I took intermediate Greek courses at
Catholic University of America, where the instructors' method was to have
students read passages (already studied as homework) out loud and then
translate them "on the fly," again out loud -- a definite waste of a
student's time, in my opinion, -- but what was then, and probably still is
to a great extent, the primary method of teaching students how to learn to
read classical languages (I had the same experience in my Latin, Hebrew, and
Sanskrit classes -- reading and translating out loud).

If I were teaching an elementary NT Greek course, with regard to teaching
pronunciation, for the first few lessons I would pronounce words and short
sentences and then have the class (and possibly individual students) repeat
them after me, Then during the next few weeks I would have the students
read short passages out loud so as to ascertain whether they had learned how
to pronounce NT Greek satisfactorily without any help from me. From then
on, however, I would not ask them to read out loud but would turn my
attention to helping them learn to read silently and as fluently as
possible -- all of this, of course, in addition to explaining grammatical
concepts and forms and any necessary cultural material.

However, since I presume that the goal of most students who are studying NT
Greek is not to learn how to read NT Greek fluently but to understand as
accurately as possible the total meaning of the NT Greek text in order to
know how best to translate that meaning into the student's native language
(or, for missionaries, into the target language), the skill / art of
translation must be introduced at some time during the period of language
study. Just when and how it should be introduced are complex questions that
I won't attempt to answer here, since the answers depend on the various
needs and interests of the institutions, instructors, and students.

>i can personally say that in several languages reading only became 'fluent'
>and comfortable when i was able to orally process the language, including
>listening (1st) and speaking (2nd).

Yes, I experienced this in learning modern Japanese, although my primary
interest was in learning to read.

>some of what you envision in greek learning is already underway. e.g. a
>course with 13 cassettes that covers NT parables, aesop, and several papyri
>letters as material for the FIRST semester course. a published version
>should be available in december 98, with 15 cassettes. and yes, there are
>some 'easy readings' with multiple choice questions in greek. by all means
>keep the student in greek where possible. :- )

Great! I'll be interested in seeing the text. My impression would be,
however, that so many cassettes are not really necessary -- one or two that
introduce the letter-sound correspondences and pronounce representative
words, phrases, and sentences would be all that are needed, IMO. After all,
the goal of students learning NT Greek is not listening comprehension.

All the best --

Gordon Ross

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