Re: reading for vocabulary

From: G. Ross (
Date: Wed Sep 23 1998 - 05:48:14 EDT

-----Original Message-----
From: yochanan bitan <>
To: Biblical Greek <>
Cc: b-greek <>
Date: Tuesday, September 22, 1998 3:30 PM
Subject: Re: reading for vocabulary


>the cassettes are only necessary if one wants to begin to internalize the
>language, to lay a deep foundation. are we serious about learning/teaching

>this leads to broader questions on language learning theory. does one
>really internalize a lnaguage from reading-only?
>would the BEST way to train to read french or spanish be through
>reading-only? for long-term retention? for life-long use? for overall

Gordon replies:

I understand what you are saying, but what is essential here is to design a
course that suits the goals of the learner(s). In this respect, it is very
helpful to distinguish between so-called "dead" languages, like classical
(or koine) Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Sanskrit, and "living" languages, like
the Spanish and French that you mention and the German that Jonathan refers
to in one of his messages in this thread. The primary goal in studying
"dead" languages is to learn to read them. The skills of speaking,
listening, and writing are secondary at best. Therefore, courses,
including textbooks, for learning these "dead" languages should focus on the
development of the reading skill. Hearing the alphabet or syllabary and
various words, phrases, and sentences read out loud and repeating them so as
to learn the correct pronunciation are, of course, very helpful skills in
the initial stages of learning to read, all the more helpful, in fact
necessary, when the writing system differs greatly from that of English or
one's native language. But eventually the "oral phase" should be left
behind so as to be able to focus on the primary goal: learning to read
silently. Of course, if one's goal is to learn to read out loud, then one
will continue to practice that skill -- which is a VERY DIFFERENT skill from
that of reading silently. One might wish to learn to read poetry out loud,
for example.

Thus one must decide what kind of reading skill (actually skills) one wishes
to develop. Is one's goal to learn how to read extensively, i.e., lots of
material rather quickly, or intensively, i.e., a limited amount of material
but in depth -- or perhaps both? Also, what kind of material does one wish
to master: prose or poetry or both? Does one wish to read all the works of
one author or one work of many authors? Does one wish to focus on
theological writings, on philosophical writings, on narrative, etc., or does
one perhaps wish simply to develop the ability to read anything in general?

A few translation exercises may be helpful -- always from the "dead"
language into one's native language, though, e.g., from classical Greek to
English. I don't understand why textbook writers continue to include
translation exercises from one's native language into a "dead" language.
After all, if one's goal is to help students learn to read, then one should
develop exercises that help them achieve that goal and no other.

The study of NT Greek is a special problem, however. First of all, the
corpus is very limited (according to Mounce in his BBG, whose calculations I
quote here, only 138,162 words). Secondly, 319 lexemes (or words in all of
their various declensions and inflections) -- I'm assuming that Mounce
means lexemes, although he refers to them as "different words" -- most of
which occur 50 or more times, account for 79.92% of this corpus of 138,162
words, leaving 5,118 lexemes to be learned as new vocabulary in the
remaining 20.08% (some 27,000 words). And thirdly, from what I have
observed (correct me if I am wrong) the goal of most NT Greek students is
really not to learn how to read it but to learn how best to translate it
into one's native language (or some other language). As with biblical
Hebrew, the focus is on translation from NT Greek to another language. It
seems, therefore, that the goals of NT Greek students are 1) the recognition
(not the production) of written (not spoken) forms and 2) the development
of the ability to translate as best as one can (however one defines "best,"
which leads to further discussion, so I won't go into that here) from NT
Greek into another language (NOT vice-versa). IMO, elementary and
intermediate NT Greek textbooks (and courses) should be designed with this
in mind.

I have more to say about their design, but it's time for bed. :-)

All the best --

Gordon Ross

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